Most of those honored during Monday’s annual Jay H. Dakelman Greater Middlesex Conference Scholar-Athlete Banquet are known more for their exploits on the playing field than their success in the classroom.
Unlike stories in the sports pages, however, the league’s scholar-athlete program detailed not only the athletic highlights of the 65 male and female honorees, but provided insight into their volunteerism and academic credentials.
Ten colleges offered Bishop Ahr soccer player Zachery Hill merit scholarships and grants totaling $890,000.
J.P. Stevens volleyball player Lorraine Mackiewicz helped raise more than $2,000 for a “Dig Pink” fundraiser for breast cancer awareness.
Henna Akbarzai, a basketball player at the Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences’ Woodbridge campus, scored 2272 on the SAT.
St. Joseph’s James Ziemba, who will attend Duke University on a partial baseball scholarship, boasted a 4.7 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
Monroe soccer player Sean Doyle is a Eucharistic Minister at his church.
“It’s my favorite night of the year because it honors the best of both worlds,” said GMC President Carl Buffalino, noting National Honor Society induction ceremonies and letterman award banquets focus exclusively on academics or athletics.
So, for a student-athlete such as Anthony Ashnault, the first four-time undefeated state champion in New Jersey high school wrestling history, Monday’s night’s banquet at the Pines Manor was an opportunity to celebrate his accomplishments off the mat.
“Being around all these student-athletes, learning what path they went through to get here is just really incredible,” said Ashnault, who will attend Rutgers University on an athletic scholarship. “There are some amazing individuals here.”
Buffalino spoke of Ashnault during his opening remarks in the context of the bright futures of all the honorees.
“We have in attendance tonight possibly the best high school wrestler ever in the state of New Jersey,” he said, “but we also may have in attendance future doctors and scientists who may one day find a cure for cancer or develop different kinds of fuel or energy for our future.”
Most in attendance were aware of Ashnault’s unblemished 170-0 career record, but few knew he has been an honor-roll student while taking AP and honors courses, or that he received the Scholar-Athlete Award at the USA Wrestling Tournament.
“It’s another side of me that I’m very proud of,” Ashnault said. “I think it’s important to be an Academic All-American, not just an All-American. If you are a good student, you are usually playing well in your sport. If you are playing well in your sport, you are usually doing well in school.”
Ashnault is also a member of the Executive Board of the Student Council, Peer to Peer Leadership and Heroes and Cool Kids, where he inspires youngsters to reach their full potential.
“With all the success Anthony has had this past wrestling season, he remains a humble, caring individual to his senior classmates and the community,” Ashnault’s bio in the scholar-athlete program read.
“With all of these honors he continues to be a family-oriented young man who has always placed his team above individual honors. He is a very special young man, an athlete whose work ethic is responsible for his great success.”
Four student-athletes, selected at random, received scholarships totaling $1,000 and the GMC announced that Cardinal McCarrick’s Gil Pritchard was its Athletics Director of the Year.