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Female athletes are honored at annual banquet

February 09, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

During a Sunday event in which about 40 Williamsport student athletes were honored, a former star athlete reminded them of the special qualities of the local community.

About 200 people attended the ninth annual Williamsport Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration banquet at the Williamsport Fire Hall.

The event honoring current and former female Williamsport athletes was part of the 18th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which was Feb. 4. The day was chartered by Congress in 1986 to honor female athletic achievement and to recognize the importance of girls and women participating in sports and fitness routines.

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The guest speaker Sunday was Jessica Rouse, who was honored at the event in 2002. Rouse was a volleyball standout at Williamsport High School before graduating in 1998. She went on to set records while attending Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in Westminster, Md.

She is a teacher and coach at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Md., but still lives in Williamsport.

Rouse said she always knew there was something special about the town, with its community support for athletes and athletic programs. But just how unique the town's athletics accomplishments are became crystal clear recently when her roles were reversed.

"You don't know how awesome and intimidating the program is until you leave and return," she said.

In the fall, she returned to Williamsport High School, where her Frederick school's junior varsity volleyball team was going to face off against her alma mater.

"Wow, coach, did you really go here?" Frederick students asked, she said, as they looked at the awards on the walls listing the school's accomplishments. "Are we really going to play here?"

They did and they lost, she said.

Rouse questioned during her remarks whether she really had anything of value to tell the audience or if they even know who she was. She repeated a knock-knock joke her brother told her when she said she was going to be the event's guest speaker.

"Knock knock," she said.

"Who's there?" the crowd responded.

"Jessica Rouse," she said.

Laughing, people shouted back, "Jessica Rouse who?"

"Exactly," she said.

She talked about her experiences with athletics through the school system, from trying cross-county racing with her friends - "often staring at the back of their heads and bringing up the rear" - and other sports.

Over time, she discovered the sports at which she excelled, and she learned the importance of teamwork and the quality of the teachers and coaches in Williamsport, she said.

"Anyone raised here has the groundwork to be successful," she said.

Now that she is a coach, Rouse regrets the times when she gave her coaches a hard time, she said. She apologized for those actions and thanked the coaches for their collective wisdom.

She said she is trying to find a way to get the community support and intensity at her school that she had in Williamsport.

As part of the awards ceremony, scholarships are given to outstanding females who have excelled in sports in elementary, middle and high school, and in college. High school and college students are given $100 scholarships, while younger students are given $100 savings bonds.

Rouse won in the high school category in 1998 and in the college category in 2002.

This year's winner for collegiate sportswoman is Ashley van Norden, who graduated from Williamsport High School in 2000. She plays basketball for the Shepherd College Rams in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

In previous years, van Norden won the category awards for her high school and middle school athletic performances.

The first Williamsport banquet for the cause was held in 1996 and honored all former national and state champions with an award of excellence.

For each of the following years, students who competed during a decade, beginning with the 1940s, were given special recognition.

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