Plum's Ionta, Lynch recognized by Positive Athlete Pittsburgh
Look up the word positive in the dictionary, and you might find a picture of Joe Ionta.
The longtime track and cross country coach at Plum has mentored thousands of student-athletes over his 40-plus years at the school.
He continued to do so after a leukemia diagnosis nearly a decade ago.
Ionta didn't wallow in his misfortune. Instead, he has made a difference for others with leukemia and lymphoma through monies raised for research through Pitt's Hillman Cancer Center.
Ionta spearheaded the annual Stampede in the Park race, which celebrates its 10th year next month and has raised $240,000 for cancer research.
Ionta, along with 31 other coaches and student-athletes from the WPIAL and throughout Western Pennsylvania, were celebrated by Positive Athlete Pittsburgh on June 13 for their positive attitudes in and out of the sports arenas.
A ceremony at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in downtown Pittsburgh brought these individuals together to honor their dedication to the program's seven definitions of a positive athlete: an optimistic attitude, always encouraging teammates, being a servant leader, showing heart for others, admitting imperfections, always giving 100 percent and putting the team first.
“It's humbling,” Ionta said. “I'm here because of the special kids I've coached for 40 years along with the special parents and coaches I've worked with and the great school and community that has supported me. It's special to see the kids I've coached 10 or so years down the road doing great things in the world.”
Ionta was one of three coaches to receive Positive Pittsburgh recognition. Also, one athlete for each boys and girls high school sport was honored. That included the awardee for girls golf, Plum senior Marissa Lynch.
Six years ago, at the launch of the Positive Pittsburgh program, the organization received 150 athlete and coach nominations. This year, the nominations were greater than 1,200.
Lynch made an impact on and off the golf course at Plum.
On the course, practice, focus and dedication helped her earn one of the top scoring averages on the Mustangs boys team.
Off the course, she volunteers at the sibling center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, the American Lung Association's Fight For Air program and has worked with Plum's student conservation association.
Lynch is a scholar-athlete honoree at Plum and is a member of the National Honor Society.
“It was really inspiring to hear all of the positive stories. It encourages me to be a better role model for my community,” said Lynch, who will attend Penn State Behrend for engineering and join the women's golf team.
Maxwell Reamer, a baseball player at Shenango, was awarded the annual Jeff Boynton Scholarship.
The $2,200 award, for Boynton's No. 22, honors the memory of the Plum graduate and football star whose athletic dreams after high school were cut short because of a paralyzing injury in a football all-star game.
Boynton passed away in January 2014 from injuries suffered in a car accident.
Steelers great Hines Ward helped establish Positive Pittsburgh and continues to front the organization's efforts.
“I see myself in these kids,” Ward said. “The whole mission is for me to use my platform to give back and recognize these kids. It's an honor to be able to have an impact on the region. With the schools, administrators, teachers, coaches and communities getting behind this program, it can keep growing bigger and bigger.”
Ward said he wants to see the program expand to all 50 states. Currently, it's only in Western Pennsylvania and in Ward's home state of Georgia.
“It's not always about being the most valuable player on the team,” he said, “but it's being the most valuable person they can be.”