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Athletes honored for courage at True Grit banquet

May 12, 2010|By DAN KAUFFMAN
  • Former Baltimore Colts running back Tom Matte, center, talks with attendees at the True Grit Awards banquet at Fountain Head Country Club on Tuesday evening.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Williamsport High School senior Kaelii Stout would prefer you to believe she's just like every other high school senior.

But Stout isn't like every other high school senior. Very few high school seniors are state track and field champions.

"It was pretty amazing to know I could accomplish something so big with everything I've gone through," Stout said.

Oh yeah, that other thing. That would be cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that impairs normal respiratory and digestive functions. Stout was diagnosed with the condition in 1994 as an infant, and takes dozens of medications daily.

"A lot of people don't realize what I go through on a day-to-day basis," Stout said. "I just want to be like everybody else, do what they do and not let (my condition) stand in my way."

Stout has competed on the Wildcats' girls soccer and track and field teams, and won a state title outdoors as part of Williamsport's 4x800 relay team last spring.

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"A lot of teammates and friends tell me I'm their inspiration," Stout said. "It feels really nice. I don't expect them to say that, but it feels nice to know I've impacted their lives."

Stout was one of 13 Washington County athletes from 12 high schools and Hagerstown Community College who were honored at Tuesday night's True Grit Awards banquet at Fountain Head Country Club. The award is presented to a senior student-athlete who has demonstrated the ability to overcome hardship to become or remain a member of an athletic team.

Clear Spring's Alec Long overcame a tough battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- a form of cancer that attacks the immune system, and led to him contracting pneumonia and nearly dying near his 16th birthday -- to play for the Blazers' boys soccer and tennis teams his junior and senior years.

"I wanted to get back on the soccer field and get back in school with my friends," Long said. "I loved all the support. My family was the biggest supporters, and my friends were always texting me and wanting me to come over even when I couldn't."

Long scored six goals last fall to earn Herald-Mail All-County Second Team honors. In tennis, Long has teamed with Brandon Kesselring to go 14-4 at No. 2 doubles this spring.

"Francesco (Scotto di Carlo, a former soccer teammate) told me he thinks of me as a hero," Long said. "I get goose bumps when I think of that. It makes me smile and brings tears to my eyes."

Boonsboro golfer Troy Hartle has battled Crohn's disease -- which attacks the intestines -- since last spring. He fought through the pain to play for the Warriors last fall.

"I enjoy playing, and I have my friends on the team," Hartle said. "A lot of them are my best friends and I know they care. (Golf) is more of an escape for me. I don't need to compete, I just enjoy playing.

"I'm usually a pretty emotionless person, but this (award) puts a smile on my face and makes me happy."

Keynote speaker Tom Matte, who played for the Baltimore Colts his entire NFL career, from 1961 to 1972, spoke about the three Rs -- "respect, responsibility and religion" -- and complimented the award recipients.

"True Grit awards are something people appreciate," Matte said. "They look up to kids who hang in there and stick to the task at hand."

Stout, Long and Hartle were joined as True Grit Award honorees by:

* Gabriel Hirsch, Broadfording

* Andrew Michael, Grace Academy

* Wade Miller, Hagerstown Community College

* Hannah Creek, Hancock

* Agnes Jogoo, Highland View

* Daniel Rutherford, North Hagerstown

* Fraser MacPherson, Saint James

* Ashley Ferguson, Smithsburg

* Xavier Richardson, South Hagerstown

* Hilary Shoop, St. Maria Goretti

Each True Grit Award recipient received a $500 post-secondary scholarship, a plaque, a photo with the school's corporate sponsor and a one-year membership to the Hagerstown YMCA.

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