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Baldwin cross country runner Kelly's leadership, versatility recognized with prestigious honor

Positive Athlete Pittsburgh | For The South Hills Record
Baldwin senior George Kelly, at left, is congratulated by former Steelers receiver Hines Ward.

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By Alex Oltmanns
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Athletes are often judged by their performances during games or within the confines of their respective sport.

But for one day in late April, 28 local athletes, including Baldwin High School's George Kelly, were awarded for their contributions to the sport outside of simply in-game situations.

On April 20, Kelly was voted Western Pennsylvania's “Most Positive High School Athlete” in boys' cross country by Positive Athlete, an organization founded by former Steelers receiver Hines Ward.

The event took place at the Sen. John Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. For Kelly, a junior cross country and track athlete, it was an honor.

“It was a really incredible day,” he said. “I met some fantastic athletes there with some incredible stories from everybody.”

Kelly, who attended the event with his parents, friends and Baldwin co-cross country coach Rich Wright, had an inspirational story of his own for everyone in attendance.

“The story I told is just that I deal with asthma and it can be a little difficult to run with at times,” Kelly said. “You know, you have to be able to breathe to run. But it's not as bad as what some other people deal with, especially my coach, Bunny (Schmitt), from cross country who's beaten cancer three times, and she's always there for us and smiling and cheering us on.

“Even at times when her illness will keep her from wanting to be there, she'll still solider on and be there for us.”

Kelly was nominated for the award by his coaches.

“He's a tremendous young man,” Wright said. “He's very well-versed. If anyone has a bad race, he's the first one there to warm up or cool down with them. He's always the true, ultimate teammate.”

While positive off-field actions often go overlooked, they have not been glossed over by Ward.

“This is the second year for the Positive High School Athlete Awards, and the stories of our nominees continue to amaze me,” Ward said in a press release. “I was always credited with having a positive influence on my team during my days with the Steelers, but the stories I hear about kids like George really inspire me to be a better person.”

On the track, Kelly is a diverse runner. He participates as a member of the 3,200- and 1,600-meter relay units, as well as running in the 3,200-, 1,600 and 800-meter races, if needed.

Wright credited Kelly with being a team player who the coaches often need to run in different events as each meet draws to a close.

Said Wright, “He's the kind of person you can go to at the last moment and say, ‘Hey, you're not running the 3,200, you're running the 4x400,' or ‘We need you to go out and win the 3,200.' He's very versatile like that.”

Kelly also shows his versatility off the track, as he has a keen interest in playing the guitar, acting, directing and screenwriting. He hopes to major in the arts in college.

While only a junior, Kelly already has shown the leadership abilities of a senior, just another reason to merit his selection as one of the area's most positive athletes.

“I try to do the best I can to help out any of my teammates, whether they are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior,” Kelly said. “Whatever I can do to help somebody, I'll be there for them.

“To be a leader I think sometimes you're not asked to lead, but you have to just kind step up and do it.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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