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ST. LOUIS SPORTS COMMISSION’S YOUNG PROFESSIONALS GROUP AWARDS $8,000 IN SPORTSMANSHIP SCHOLARSHIPS

THREE AREA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS ARE RECOGNIZED FOR EXEMPLIFYING CLASS AND CHARACTER ON THE PLAYING FIELD

ST. LOUIS – June 12, 2014 – Erin Birschbach, Kayla Hezel, and Kenny Pleimann are the recipients of the 2014 Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarships.  The scholarships are awarded by the St. Louis Sports Commission’s young professional group, the Sports Commission Associates.

Birschbach, a 2014 graduate of Fox High School and incoming student at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., will receive a $5,000 award to apply to higher education expenses.  Hezel and Pleimann will each receive $1,500 scholarship awards.  Hezel graduated from Mehlville High School and is attending the University of Missouri.  Pleimann graduated from St. John Vianney High School and is enrolled at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.  A photo of the scholarship recipients is available at http://stlsports.org/2014-carl-fricks-sportsmanship-scholarship-recipients/.

The Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship is presented annually to graduating high school students from the St. Louis metro area who demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship.  The scholarship recognizes individuals who exemplify integrity, civility, selflessness, kindness and compassion in athletic competition.  It is unique in that candidates are evaluated strictly on their approach, character and respect for others on the playing field.  Athletic performance is not a factor in the selection.

The Sports Commission Associates created the Sportsmanship Scholarship in 2009.  The program supports the mission of the Sports Commission’s Sportsmanship Foundation, which promotes sportsmanship in the community.  The Associates raise funds for the scholarship and select its recipients.  In six years, the group has awarded $36,000 in academic scholarships to 16 college-bound students – including the three 2014 Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship winners:

Erin Birschbach

A three-year captain of the Fox High School varsity girls’ basketball team, Birschbach led the school to its first district championship in 23 years and finished her high school career with the third most points in Fox history.  The class and character she exhibited on the court surpassed her statistical accomplishments.  Birschbach was lauded for the respect she had for officials and the camaraderie she shared with opponents.  One game in particular exemplified her selflessness and compassion.  In February, Fox played at rival Windsor High School on senior night.  A week earlier, Windsor’s top player suffered an ACL injury that ended her senior season.  Birschbach wanted to help brighten the opponent’s spirits, understanding how devastated the four-year starter and captain was to miss her final home game.  So Birschbach and her coach devised a plan to allow the injured player to be on the court for the start of the game and score an uncontested basket.  Birschbach was the one who “lost” the opening tip.  She said seeing her injured competitor catch a pass from a teammate and make the shot was “an amazing moment.”  In his recommendation letter for the scholarship, Birschbach’s coach, Jeremy Donald, mentioned that his seven-year-old son often gets to watch Fox’s practices and games.  Coach Donald said, “I can teach him the skills and talk to him about what is right and wrong.  However, having the opportunity to watch a girl like Erin Birschbach is the most in-depth lesson he’ll ever receive in what true sportsmanship is all about.”  Birschbach is continuing her education at Jefferson College.

Kayla Hezel

Kayla Hezel competed in multiple sports at Mehlville High School and served as captain of the varsity softball and soccer teams.  Her on-field compassion and civility stood out throughout her high school career.  She was praised for offering her hand to fallen players, going out of her way to congratulate opponents even after difficult losses, and consistently thanking referees for their hard work and professionalism.  Hezel said in her mind, sportsmanship is the most important aspect of the game.  Among her actions that back that up was an incident that occurred when Mehlville played Cor Jesu in softball.  The Cor Jesu team was running late for the game and upon arriving at Mehlville, had to hurry down a steep hill to get to the field.  A player carrying the squad’s water jug tripped, busting the jug open and sending it down the hill.  As the Cor Jesu players stood in disbelief, Hezel told them not to worry and encouraged them to start warming up.  Hezel and a teammate then picked up the jug, filled it with water and ice, brought it to the Cor Jesu dugout, and wished her opponents good luck.  Mehlville soccer coach Thomas Harper said, “Kayla understands that competition helps shape character and develop attitudes and values that will last a lifetime.”  Hezel is continuing her education at the University of Missouri.

Kenny Pleimann

Kenny Pleimann served as a student assistant for the football, basketball and baseball programs at St. John Vianney High School.  He is the first student manager to receive the Sportsmanship Scholarship – a tribute to the extraordinary sportsmanship he displayed in the role.  Although he never ran for a touchdown, made a basket or scored a run, he stood out among athletes at Vianney for his class, integrity and unselfishness.  Pleimann had an amazing rapport with officials and opposing teams.  His favorite thing as manager was walking the line with his team after every game to shake opponents’ hands and tell them they played a good game.  Multiple opposing coaches and players commented to their counterparts at Vianney about Pleimann’s positive attitude toward the opposition, even when Pleimann’s teams were on the losing side.  Perhaps the most powerful testament to Pleimann’s sportsmanship is offered by Vianney basketball coach Kevin Walsh, whose young son serves as the team’s water boy.  Coach Walsh recounted how after games his son would tell him about the sportsmanship lessons Pleimann taught him at the end of the bench.  Pleimann would explain to him that he can’t act poorly when a referee makes a call against Vianney because it reflects badly on the team.  He would remind the boy that cheering when an opponent missed a shot or booing when one was made was not the right way to act.  Coach Walsh said, “As a coach, I am so proud of Kenny for understanding the importance of sportsmanship.  More importantly, as a parent, I am thankful that Kenny was the person sitting next to my son and educating him on why it is so important to have good sportsmanship.”  Pleimann is continuing his education at McKendree University.

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The Sports Commission Associates participate in a variety of activities that help fulfill the Sports Commission’s mission to make St. Louis a better place to live, visit, work and play through sports.  The Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship is one of the group’s primary volunteer initiatives.  On Saturday, Aug. 23, the Associates will host their fifth annual Trivia Night to raise funds for the scholarship.  The Trivia Night will take place at THE HEIGHTS in Richmond Heights.  To register a team or obtain more information, call 314-345-5101.  Information on the 2015 Sportsmanship Scholarship will be available next winter.

In 2013, the Sportsmanship Scholarship was named in honor of the late Carl Fricks, whose daughter, Holly Yoakum, chaired the Associates group.  Holly was – and remains – a passionate champion for the scholarship, and her father embodied the virtues the award seeks to recognize.