True grit is recognized

May 12, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

When St. James School basketball player Matthew Rogers Orfalea was diagnosed with necrosis of the fibia in his left leg two years ago, the prognosis was grim.

"I coached him in JV and he was a very fine guard for us," St. James basketball coach Patrick Gahan said. "Then suddenly they realized his bone is dying, basically. They do surgery, and they don't know if he will ever run again."

Orfalea was determined to fully recover.

"I really like to be active," he said.

"We would finish practices and I would go into the weight room, and he would not leave until his T-shirt and shorts were soaked through to the skin," Gahan said.


Orfalea's perseverance paid off as he returned to the Saints' lineup for his senior season.

Orfalea was one of 14 Washington County athletes honored Tuesday at the 23rd True Grit Awards at Four Points Sheraton in Hagers-town.

"It was a big deal when he got on the court again," Gahan said. "As a coach, it's one of the great things to see a kid come back like that."

Stories of athletes overcoming adversity were plentiful at the awards ceremony - the first in five years following a 22-year run from 1975 to 1999. Former University of Maryland basketball star Adrian Branch was the master of ceremonies.

Because of injuries to his collarbone and knee, Williamsport's Dustin Bachtell missed most of the football season and all of the basketball and baseball seasons. Relegated to the sidelines, Bachtell made the most of his situation.

"I can think of numerous games where he called out plays or called defensive switches," Wildcats basketball coach Deron Crawford said. "He wasn't a passive observer. He knew guys' tendencies better than I did."

"The guys really had a lot of support for me," Bachtell said. "It hurt me that I couldn't be out there at times. ... Of course I wanted to play, but Coach giving me the chance to help was great for me."

The night was filled with stories of athletes who might not be the stars on their teams, but whose dedication and attitudes toward their teammates and coaches made them valuable to their teams.

"We're looking for kids who have faced challenges ... basically overcoming adversity to be a quality member of a team," said Ed Masood, supervisor of Arts, Health and Physical Education and Athletics for Washington County Public Schools. "They're the leaders of tomorrow."

The Hagerstown YMCA, through the International Management Council, held the True Grit banquet through 1999, when the council disbanded, "along with all the great things we used to do," said Tom Riford, who was part of the IMC.

The process of reviving the banquet began last year, and was launched in earnest when Riford placed a call to Frank Erck, who became the chairperson of the True Grit Organizing Committee.

"It became a wonderful, cooperative effort to bring back the event," Riford said. "Fourteen businesses committing $500 to a player from each school; that's a real commitment to the community."

"This is somebody you want to hire in your company," Erck said of the recipients. "Somebody who shows up for work every day on time and gives 100 percent. They may not be at the star position, but you need people like that in your business."

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