2013 Musial Awards Honorees


The University of Nebraska Football Program

It was Nebraska’s 2013 Red and White spring game.  The Red team held a
26-25 lead midway through the fourth quarter.  Coach Bo Pelini needed a play.  He needed a closer.  On second-and-10 from the Red 31, the play went in.  From the shotgun formation, quarterback Taylor Martinez handed the ball off to running back Jack Hoffman.  Jack first ran to his left, then cut back right and ran for daylight.  With a caravan of red jerseys leading the way, Jack sprinted into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown. The moment was one for the ages.  Players from both the Red and White teams hoisted Jack upon their shoulders and carried him around the field as he took in cheers from 60,174 Nebraska faithful. 

Jack is 8 years old and a cancer survivor.  In 2011, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor near his brain stem.  His first brain surgery had limited success due to the tumor’s location.  Doctors recommended a second surgery as Jack’s symptoms worsened.  He suffered as many as a dozen seizures a day and his medication was not working.  Doctors advised Jack’s parents, Andy and Brianna, that a second surgery was very risky and that Jack may not survive.  Before the surgery, Andy and Jack created a bucket list of things Jack would like to do in case the procedure wasn’t successful.  High on the list was meeting then-Nebraska and current Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead.  In late 2011, the two had lunch and toured Memorial Stadium.  The meeting forged an unbreakable bond between Jack and his favorite player.  Jack survived his second surgery and courageously battled through 60 weeks of additional chemotherapy to help shrink what was left of the tumor.

The Friday before the spring game, Nebraska coaches were looking for ways to add more excitement to the event.  Ideas included getting a fan into the game or a child associated with another organization.  Pelini suggested Jack because of his relationship with Burkhead and the team.  Burkhead and his teammates had worn “Team Jack—Pray” bracelets and visited Jack regularly.  Burkhead also started a chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit that uses college football players to raise awareness and support for rare diseases.

Andy already planned to attend the spring game with Jack, but the invitation to participate on the field came as a total surprise.  Pelini invited the Hoffmans to the pregame meeting where he reintroduced Jack to the team.  He told them Jack would join them on the field that day.  Nebraska players were overjoyed and welcomed their newest teammate with open arms.  When the moment finally happened – when Jack took off for the end zone – Andy was so overcome with emotion that he couldn’t hold his camera still.
The entire series of events put life and football in perspective for the Nebraska program.  Pelini told ESPN.com, “It’s what we try to teach them every day: that there’s a much bigger picture out there other than football.  There just is.  Sometimes, we get lost with everything that goes into college football.  There’s so much pressure and so much at stake.  Sometimes our kids feel like, ‘Wow!  Football is tough and it’s difficult.’  Football is hard.  But when you compare it to what a [kid] like Jack is going through, it pales in comparison.  They should look up to the heavens every day and be thankful.”

Jack’s battle has inspired the creation of the Team Jack Foundation, which is committed to helping find a cure for pediatric brain cancer.  For more information, visit www.teamjackfoundation.org.


Casey Mack

This past season, Casey Mack was the starting third baseman for the Connecticut FCIAC champion Golden Eagles of Trumbull High School.  He earned all-conference honors, postseason awards and was signed to play collegiate baseball at the Community College of Rhode Island.  The school labeled Casey a “prized recruit.”  It turns out CCRI is getting more than just a talented baseball player.  They’ve landed a humble, selfless and inspirational individual who is a champion of sportsmanship.     

At the end of a game this spring between Trumbull and Bridgeport Central High School, Casey approached Ely Drysten, the opposing team’s head coach, and asked if he could have a word with him.  Drysten thought maybe Casey wanted to talk about getting into college or All-State voting.  Casey, unbeknownst to Drysten, had something far nobler on his mind.  Drysten recounted the conversation for the Stamford Advocate:  “He came up to me and said, ‘I love the way you coach and the way your team plays with such heart and passion.’  We didn’t play well.  We made four errors and I was really down.  Then, he said he purchased a couple of bats for us.  I was taken aback.  He took out two brand-new bats with the wrappers still on them.  I teared up.  Here is a captain of one of the best teams in the [conference] and he’s giving back to us.”

The bats Casey purchased were expensive.  When Drysten told Bridgeport Central’s athletic director what happened, he discovered that Casey had done the same thing for two other high schools.  The teams Casey chose faced budget constraints and hadn’t been as successful on the field as Trumbull.  Casey never told his own coach about what he had done, nor would he disclose the actual cost of the bats he purchased.  He would only say his effort was funded by birthday and Christmas money along with a part-time job.  Casey told the Advocate, “We’ve played against the teams the last three years and I always wanted to do something to help them, ever since I was a sophomore.  I just have a lot of respect for them.  They come out and play hard every day against the best teams in Connecticut.  I wanted them to know I respect them and what they do is amazing.  The intensity they show is amazing.  I’d be proud to be on one of those teams.”

Trumbull head coach Phil Pacelli had nothing but high praise for his former player.  He was literally at a loss for words.  “I was speechless.  That’s the kind of kid he is.  Big heart.  Unselfish.  Ninety-nine percent of the kids would have blown the money on themselves.”   When Casey heard of his Musial Awards selection, he expressed a wish that his act will inspire others to give back.  “I really hope this gets people to also try to make a difference…to help people not as fortunate as us.”


Kirsten Moore & Westmont College

Kirsten Moore is the recipient of the “All That’s Right in Sport” Award presented annually by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a longtime supporter of the Musial Awards.

In March, Kirsten Moore led the Westmont College women’s basketball program to its first-ever NAIA national championship.  For the coach, the title was an inspiring culmination to a year marked by tragedy, tears, blessings, and finally, triumph.

Kirsten and her husband, Alex, were expecting their first child in the spring of 2012.  In May of that year, Alex underwent surgery as a treatment for Crohn’s disease.  By all indications, the procedure was a success.  Alex even felt comfortable sending Kirsten home to get some rest.  But a few hours later, Kirsten received a life-altering phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night.  There were complications from the surgery and Alex had passed away.  He was 31.  Kirsten’s world was crushed.   She was suddenly a widow and soon-to-be single mom.  Coaching the Westmont basketball team was the furthest thing from her mind, or was it?  While preparing for Alex’s memorial service, Kirsten noticed two Post-it notes stuck to the wall in his office.  She recognized them as Bible verses in Alex’s handwriting.  The first read, “Encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”  The other read, “Be strong and courageous and do the work, do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord God, my God, is with you.”  Kirsten turned to her mother and said, “These are Alex’s final words to me.”

Kirsten used those verses as inspiration to continue on as a mother and coach.  Seven weeks after Alex’s death, she gave birth to their child and named her Alexis.  Weeks later, she addressed her team.  She would continue as their coach.  Westmont guard Larissa Hensley told the Los Angeles Times, “I could never coach again right after all that.  How do you get right back into it?  Wouldn’t you need to take a year off?”  Kirsten did not need a year or even a day.  She did need help though, and the Westmont community rallied around her and baby Alexis.  Athletic department wives DeAnna Odell and Jill Wolf served as babysitters during the day while Kirsten completed office work.  Faculty wife Nicole Knecht watched Alexis during practices.  Jen Shinn, a longtime friend, pinch-hit during games that Alexis’ two sets of grandparents could not attend.  Others in the community prepared meals and helped whenever possible.  Sometimes, Alexis was just a part of the team.  Film sessions were interrupted with childhood milestones.  One session in particular was halted and replaced with cheers and tears from players as Alexis crawled for the first time.  “When this child grows up,” Shinn told the Los Angeles Times, “she’s going to know who her village is.”  With a solid support system in place, Kirsten led Westmont through a historic season.  Westmont went 24-3 in the regular season and reeled off five consecutive tournament wins to claim the national title.


Upon learning of her Musial Awards honor, Kirsten issued a statement through the Westmont sports information department.  She gave the credit to her late husband and the impact he continues to have on her life.  “Alex was a motivation for trying to do things the right way and do the work.  His God was with us this year.  It was the fuel that motivated this team and me personally.  We kept doing the work this year.  Not just surviving, but overcoming so much, and ultimately finding victory.”




Ethan McConnell

Ethan McConnell is a leader.  As a senior on the Falls City (Oregon) High School basketball team, he was the point guard and leading scorer.  Ethan also played quarterback, running back and even lineman for the football team.  His leadership extends beyond athletic competition.  His basketball coach, Sean Burgett, told the Polk County Itemizer-Observer, “He’s the type of kid that gives all of his effort, makes the right choices, helps out the little kids…he’s just a class citizen and really a great role model to come out of this school.  You wish you had 10 of him.”

In late November 2012, Ethan and his Falls City teammates traveled to Mapleton for their season opener.  On the Mapleton squad was Davan Overton.  A junior, Davan has a rare condition called Dandy-Walker Syndrome, which slows brain development and is caused by a cyst on his spine.  In addition to restricting motor skills and coordination, the condition limits Davan from playing football and most other contact sports.  He can, however, play basketball under controlled conditions.  So whenever his team is on either side of a lopsided score, Davan gets his opportunity.

That’s what occurred in the Falls City vs. Mapleton game as Davan’s team pulled out to a comfortable lead in the second half.  Mapleton coach Aaron Decker put Davan in the contest with about three minutes to go.  Every other player on the school's eight-man roster had scored that night.  Davan's teammates desperately wanted to get him a bucket.  Several shots went up.  None went in.  Davan took what he thought would be his last shot with about 10 seconds to play.  Ethan grabbed what should have been the game-ending rebound.  As Davan turned to run down the court to play defense, he heard an unfamiliar voice.  Ethan yelled, "Davan!"  As he turned around responding to the voice, a perfect chest pass landed in Davan's hands.

With mere seconds left, Davan settled behind the 3-point line and took the shot.  The ball hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.  The Mapleton gym – including the Falls City players – erupted with cheers.  Ethan had delivered the greatest assist of his career.  It wasn't staged or planned.  It was sportsmanship at its best – spontaneous and life-affirming.  Mike McConnell, Ethan's dad, told The Oregonian, "You try to raise your kids with some morals and some faith.  You try to give them a mishmash of everything they might need in the world.  But you can't dictate which way they turn.  It's just such a wonderful thing to see a kid, especially your own kid, make a decision like that, to do something for someone else without really even thinking about it." 

Ethan and Davan were technically opponents that night, but Ethan treated Davan like a teammate.  It is often said that character is what you do when no one is watching.  That's not necessarily an absolute.  Sometimes character has to be shown with all of the lights on and everyone in the house watching. 


Fraser Valley Fusion '97 Softball Team

The Musial Awards are proud to honor the Fraser Valley Fusion ‘97 fastpitch softball team as the event’s first-ever award recipient from outside the United States.  The Fusion hails from Langley, British Columbia – near Vancouver.  Playing in the British Columbia Provincial Championships in Victoria this past July, the Fusion had a seemingly comfortable three-run lead against the Surrey Storm.  But with two runners on base late in the game, the Storm’s Raelyn Radovich crushed a home run – tying the contest and putting Fraser Valley’s chance at a medal in jeopardy.  However, as Raelyn rounded first base, she injured her knee.  She limped her way around second base, but collapsed after touching third when the pain became unbearable.  At that point, it was too late to insert a pinch runner.  And any assistance by her own teammates and coach would result in Raelyn being called out.  So the Fusion came to her aid.

The team decided to pick Raelyn up and carry her to home plate, preserving her game-tying home run.  “None of us really said anything.  It just kind of happened,” Fusion player Shae Domitruk told the Langley Times.  Shae joined teammates Shannon Chick and Kristan Rodrigues in carrying Raelyn.  Their selfless act brought the crowd to tears.  Fusion coach Gord O’Grady added, “It was awesome.  They did it completely on their own; they knew it was the right thing to do [and] it was a very special moment I won’t ever forget.” 

The incident was a sportsmanship déjà vu of sorts – as the Fusion’s actions were inspired by what occurred in an NCAA softball game five years earlier.  In 2008, Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace of Central Washington University helped an injured Sara Tucholsky touch the bases after she hit a three run home run.  The story made national headlines and the players were ultimately honored at that year’s National Sportsmanship Awards.  Lightning may not strike twice, but sportsmanship certainly does.  Reflecting on her opponents’ compassion, Raelyn told Vancouver’s Global News, “You know you don’t have to do that, most people wouldn’t do that.  But the fact that they did that in such an intense game, really shows a lot.”  The Fusion went on to win the game and eventually finished second at provincials.  Their playoff run will be remembered as much for their class and character as for the medal they won.  


Bri Ebenroth

aWhile the Musial Awards prides itself on its national scope, it also honors its St. Louis roots by annually spotlighting local stories that rise to the level of extraordinary sportsmanship.  This year, the Musial Awards proudly recognize two hometown honorees: Bri Ebenroth of O’Fallon, Mo., and Steve Bonastia, coach of the Seckman High School softball team in Imperial, Mo.

A 2013 graduate of St. Dominic High School, Bri Ebenroth was an academic and athletic standout.  She earned straight A’s all four years and captained the school’s soccer, cross country, and junior varsity basketball teams.  Her greatest success came as part of St. Dominic’s nationally-ranked soccer squad.  Bri received multiple all-conference, all-metro and all-state
honors.  She embodied what being a student-athlete is all about.

In the spring of her sophomore year, Bri accepted an academic and athletic scholarship to Drury University in Springfield, Mo.  She was on her way to a promising collegiate soccer career.  But last fall, during her senior year at St. Dominic, her health took a dramatic turn.  She was experiencing chronic fatigue, soreness and other symptoms.  After extensive testing and a visit to the Mayo Clinic, Bri was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a rare immune deficiency disease.  Her soccer future was in doubt.  No longer could she compete at the high level she expected of herself.  So she made a tremendously classy, selfless and mature decision.  Bri notified Drury of her medical condition and informed the soccer program she was returning her scholarship.  “The coach deserved to have a player who could perform her best at all times and produce for them,” she said.  Even though Drury was prepared to honor its commitment, Bri felt she owed the university and the coach who believed in her the opportunity to use the scholarship on someone else who could contribute.

aEven with her medical condition, Bri made the most of her senior season at St. Dominic this past spring.  She helped lead the school to its second consecutive state title.  In the championship game, she capped her career with one more gesture of exemplary sportsmanship.  With three minutes to go and St. Dominic up 2-0, Bri asked her coach to substitute her for any teammates who had not
yet played.  St. Dominic Director of Athletics Jim Welby said, “Despite being her last competitive soccer game ever, Bri wanted to take herself out so her teammates could have the memory forever.  She had the foresight, compassion and sportsmanship to think past the moment and think about her teammates in the biggest game and moment of the year.”



In August, Bri received the Sportsmanship Scholarship that is awarded by the St. Louis Sports Commission’s young professionals group – the Sports Commission Associates.  The scholarship is given annually to graduating high school students from the St. Louis region who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship in athletic competition.  Selected as the Associates’ top scholarship recipient, Bri earned $5,000 to apply to her educational expenses at the University of Missouri, where she is enrolled as a freshman.


Steve Bonastia & Seckman Softball

St. Louis area high schools Webster Groves and Seckman met on the softball field in late September.  The game was tied at two in the fifth inning.  With a runner on, Webster’s Madyson Stallcup drove a pitch deep to left field.  It went way back.  Seckman’s left fielder threw her hands up, but was the ball gone?

The ball went over the fence.  From the visiting dugout, the Webster team thought it was a home run.  The officials weren’t so sure.  They believed it bounced in play and then hopped the fence, resulting in a ground-rule double.  Webster Groves coach Bryan Gibson came out of the dugout and quietly discussed his view of the play with Mike Wyatt, the home plate umpire.  Wyatt said he couldn’t see the play clearly as sunlight was beaming directly toward his position.  “Since the left fielder threw her hands up, I thought it was a ground-rule double.  And the fact that my partner did not see it either left me no choice other than to call what I thought it was based on the best information that I had.”

With that ruling, Seckman head coach Steve Bonastia sprung from his dugout and made his case.  More to the point, he made Webster Groves’ case.  He told Wyatt that the ball hit the yellow line at the top of the fence and went over – making it a home run.  Bonastia said he wanted the Webster Groves player to get full credit for what she had done.

“Steve had a much clearer view of the play from our bench,” said Seckman Athletic Director Brad Duncan.  “He thought the hit was a home run all along.”

The call was reversed and Webster Groves took a 4-2 lead.  The home run proved to be the difference as the visitors won 4-3.  In a postgame report to the Missouri State High School Activities Association, Wyatt wrote, “This was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in high school sports.  The [coaches] displayed over-the-top sportsmanship and I told my partner, ‘you will never see anything like this again.’”


2013 St. Louis Cardinals

 

In celebration of the renaming of the National Sportsmanship Awards, the Musial
Awards is establishing a special achievement award in Stan the Man's name. Beginning this year, the "Musial Award for Extraordinary Character" will be presented annually as the pinnacle honor bestowed at the event. The recipient will be a sports figure or organization that embodies the class, dignity, generosity, excellence, civility and integrity synonymous with Stan. The award itself is special. It is Harry Weber's sculpture of the Cardinals' legend entitled "Remembering Stan the Man." The generosity of St. Louis-based Edward Jones is allowing the Musial Awards to present this one-of-a-kind award. Together, we salute the inaugural recipient of the Musial Award for Extraordinary Character –
the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals.

Stan Musial was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization as a player, general manager, and its most important ambassador for 72 years. He set the gold standard on the baseball field, holding numerous Major League Baseball and Cardinals franchise records when he retired as a player in 1963. But more than his contributions on the field, Stan embodied the virtues of dignity, respect, class and character that inspired generations of baseball fans and those who ever came in contact with him. Musial's way became synonymous with The Cardinal Way – a tangible method of teaching, competing and respecting the game of baseball, which has guided the organization's players, coaches, scouts, front office and even owners through the years. Current
Cardinals Owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said upon Stan the Man's passing in January 2013, "I can't think of another player, in any era, or representing any other team, that better
embodies the attributes that an organization looks for in a player." As St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Derrick Goold also noted that day, "Stan personified the Cardinals. He is the person the Cardinals want to be."

It was in that spirit that the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals dedicated their season to Stan, honoring what he stood for by playing with the consistency, zeal and grace that Stan the Man displayed throughout his career. While Stan set a bar few can reach personally, the Cardinals as a team aimed to reach those standards collectively. And they didn't disappoint.

Perhaps the best way to measure the Cardinals' performance this season would be to say that Stan would have loved to watch the 2013 team play every day. The roster was a mix of seasoned veterans that exemplified Stan's excellence and leadership, and young players that represented Stan's enthusiasm and hunger for success. The result was a tremendous summer for St. Louis baseball fans, who witnessed their beloved Redbirds compete against two tough division rivals and win the battle for the Central Division championship, the team's first since 2009. The Cardinals of 2013 played with purpose, and Stan's legacy was very much on their minds as they marched through a remarkable season and into the postseason. Perhaps it was symbolic, then, that this team that strived to represent Stan's ideals all season, reached the World Series with a win in Game 6 of the NLCS as a nod to St. Louis' iconic #6. By their words and actions, the 2013 Cardinals hoped they performed in a way that would make Stan proud. They did.