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Scholar athletes honored at banquet

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, June 3, 2004

Steelers draft pick Ben Roethlisberger recalled not being able to play a baseball game in elementary school because his grades weren't good enough.

He quickly learned the importance of academics.

Roethlisberger, a quarterback, has since become a student of another game --- football. He was surrounded by a room full of such scholar athletes on Wednesday night as one of the honored guests at the 30th annual YMCA Scholar Athlete Banquet in the Grand Ballroom of the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel.

"Look at these kids who have put in countless hours in their sports and in their school work," he said. "This is a great way to honor these young men and women and congratulate them on everything they have accomplished."

Roethlisberger sat with the 138 student athletes as they were individually recognized for their dedication in the classroom as well as on the playing field. Among the senior student athletes -- many of them valedictorians or team captains -- was Clyde Ledbetter of Oliver -- the only student athlete chosen for tennis. He said he was grateful to be honored for his work on the court and in the classroom.

"You could be the best player in the world, but if you can't get into college what good is it?" said Ledbetter who will attend Lincoln College in the fall.

Rochester track and field student athlete Melissa Davidson wanted to make sure she attended the banquet despite having a finger on her right hand operated earlier in the day. She had been to the banquet in previous years and was not about to miss her chance in the spotlight. Davidson is co-valedictorian of her class of 96.

Central Catholic hockey player Conor Hickton said being among his peers who are talented athletes and quality students is the best of both worlds. He added these individuals will be better able to balance many facets of life because they've already shown they can.

Shady Side Academy swimmer Brett Murphy said he was honored to be among a group of such well-rounded individuals. He especially enjoyed the many speakers who addressed the student athletes. Among them were Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, who was named YMCA 2004 Person of the Year. Dixon, who took over as Panthers head coach this past season, said he was honored to be chosen for the award but added the night belonged to the student athletes.

"They are goal-oriented, and they will be successful in whatever they chose to do," Dixon said. "I look for those types of individuals for my team."

In addition to Dixon, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was presented with the Tribune-Review City of Champions Award. Upper St. Clair soccer player Greg Stehura was given the Fuhrer Outstanding Performance Award, which is given to a senior athlete who has shown exceptional fortitude and courage in overcoming physical adversity. Stehura was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma and an inoperable tumor was found at the base of his skull in April of 2003. He was treated with chemotherapy and returned to the soccer field last fall leading the Panthers to the PIAA Class AAA championship.

Other special guests included Steelers coach Bill Cowher, Olympic Gold Medalist Roger Kingdom, Pitt basketball players Jaron Brown and Julius Page, Pittsburgh Passion quarterback Lisa Horton, Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith, University of Illinois basketball player Cindy Dallas, Duquesne basketball coach Danny Nee, St. Joseph's University basketball coach Phil Martelli and Steelers offensive co-coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

"I think of all the banquets I have been a part of in the past 20 years, this was the most balanced group in terms of academics, athletics and volunteerism," banquet chairman Ken Horoho said. "These kids have realized at an early age the importance of athletics, academics and giving back to their communities and that is what this banquet is all about."

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