Clemente Jr., ex-Steeler Ward honor WPIAL's most positive athletes

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Senator John Heinz History Center was host to the third annual Western Pennsylvania Positive High School Athlete Awards on Saturday.

The event, put on by Positive Athlete Pittsburgh, hosted family members, coaches and teammates supporting the 26 students who were honored, with a boy and girl selected from each of the WPIAL varsity sports.

Athletes were nominated by coaches, principals, athletic directors, teachers and parents based on characteristics such as attitude, encouragement, servant leadership and team focus. The awards were presented by local professional athletes, including former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, Roberto Clemente Jr., son of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, and Olympic women's hockey goalie Brianne McLaughlin.

“With so much negativity in today's society, you guys are a breath of fresh air to us, to the families out there,” Ward said. “I'm sick of turning on the television and hearing of all the negative stuff that goes on out there. I think we need to have more events like this.”

Highlands was honored as the Highmark Most Positive High School for the way the football team overcame the death of player Ryan Richards at the start of the school year.

“We have a saying at Highlands that we are ‘Rams for life,' ” assistant principal Shawn Bennis said. “The manner in which these students have dealt with this situation makes the Highlands School District community proud to say that we are Rams for life.”

The event was capped by Murrysville mayor Robert Brooks presenting “FR PROUD” T-shirts to the award winners and presenters. He recognized the support that the surrounding communities expressed to Franklin Regional after 20 students and a security officer were wounded in the mass stabbing April 9. The support was still coming in during Saturday's ceremony.

“We would like to send our continued prayers, thoughts and support to Franklin Regional High School as they continue to deal with their recent tragedy,” Bennis said. “Although both of these situations were extremely unfortunate, I believe that it is a great display of Western Pennsylvania pride and a unique sense of community. We are Franklin Regional strong, and we are Rams for life.”

Of those honored, seven received additional college scholarship awards, including Allison Bartoszewicz of Vincentian Academy and Cole Blake of Moon, who were named the 2014 Mylan Labs Male and Female Positive Athletes of the Year. Steelers team neurosurgeon Joe Maroon presented the awards on behalf of Mylan Labs, encouraging the athletes to embrace the challenges that life will throw their way.

Other scholarship winners included Plum's Matt Gunsallus, Freeport's Alexis Roenigk, Mt. Lebanon's Caleb Reynolds, Greensburg Central Catholic's Deanna Dicesere, Canon-McMillan's Alex Hannigan and Mars' Lydia Dennis.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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