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Washington County athletes show their True Grit

May 14, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

They called it True Grit.

It's a nice, tidy title for the award given to 14 Washington County students who defeated odds just for the chance to compete in athletics. They were honored for their work by family, coaches and area sponsors on Tuesday during the 27th annual banquet held at Fountain Head Country Club.

True Grit was the moniker, but it meant so much more.

It defined why the honored athletes chose to face the odds in the first place.

Athletes like St. Maria Goretti's Julie-Ann Festivo, St. James' Andrew Bonds and South Hagerstown's Wes Samples were a few of the winners who chose to put up the fight against their circumstances.

"You earned this," said Cathy Parson, Hagerstown native and former Howard University women's basketball coach, who was the event's keynote speaker. "Anything is possible if you believe it can be done. It can't be presumption. You have to do what you have to do to get to the next level."

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Parson admitted she knew what it was to have True Grit. She has reached significant heights as a women's basketball player and coach since graduating from North Hagerstown in 1979. But lately two instances - being released by Howard and the death of her father - have tested her foundation.

"I'm not at the top of the mountain, but I'm not in the valley either," she said. "I have a little thing called faith. I will rise again. If you open up your mind and your heart and you are willing to go do what you want to do, you can do it. Your future is bright."

Samples defied medical odds for his chance to play football for South Hagerstown. After suffering torn knee ligaments as a sophomore and a displaced kneecap as a junior, Samples worked to get behind center for the Rebels as a senior. His drive came from the love for the game.

"I love to play football," he said. "My coaches and parents helped push me and my knee kept getting stronger. Everything just fell into place.

"I've always been able to play. My dad taught me the game when I was 5 and I've been playing ever since. My goal is to play in college. That bar is still ahead of me."

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Bonds also endured injury problems in his time at St. James. He injured his knee while playing lacrosse last spring, threatening his chance to play football. But surgery and hard work brought him back in time.

"True grit is the ability to have the perseverance to see your goals even when things aren't going well," Bonds said. "It all started with the knee injury. I had a lot of people pushing me. I remember stepping back on the field for the first time. My hands were shaking."

The injury bug hit Bonds again as he broke his collarbone during the season, but still got back to play again before season's end.

"The injury helped me, in a way," Bonds said. "It made me work harder. It makes you stronger as a person and you appreciate things more."

Festivo went after the chance to play softball for the Gaels when everything was telling her not to.

She battled against epilepsy to get back to play in her senior year. The disease affected her play as sophomore and made her choose not to play as a junior. But Festivo decided she had to play as a senior.

"Last year, I gave up. This year, I came back because I missed the sport a lot," Festivo said. "When I started this year, I was scared."

After having her medication adjusted three times since September, she played the season free of seizures.

"My coach was proud of me," Festivo said. "He didn't expect much from me and I did more than anyone expected. I wasn't going to let epilepsy take control over my life. I looked at it as that I could have been handicapped or paralyzed. With this, I could get by by taking my medicine. I'm not scared anymore."

Also honored were Emily Ahalt (Broadfording Christian), Valentine "Angelique" Bagirimvano (Highland View), Cody Breeden (Hancock), Sean Connelly-Richardson (Williamsport), Andrea Clark (Heritage Academy), Megan Everett (Grace Academy), Jacob Macomber (Boonsboro), Kyle Malcolm (North Hagerstown), Matt Rhodes (Hagerstown Community College), Brett Turner (Clear Spring) and Kaitlyn Yoder (Smithsburg).

Each athlete received a $500 scholarship, a plaque and a one-year membership to the Hagerstown YMCA.

But in reality, like Bonds, each won their personal battle for so much more.

"Giving up wasn't an option for me," Bonds said. "I had high athletic goals and I wasn't going to let injuries take me out of it."

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