John and Linda Lynch flank Plant City High's John Dicks, one of four Lynch Family Legacy Scholarship winners
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch has been to the Pro Bowl four times during his nine-year NFL career. Those all-star bids are one way that Lynch's status as one of the league's elite defenders is confirmed.
High school student-athletes don't always receive such obvious recognition, but Lynch has worked hard to change that in the Bay area over the last four years. At his fourth annual "John Lynch Salutes the Stars Banquet," on Thursday, Lynch recognized a group of student-athletes from Hillsborough and Pinellas County middle and high schools who are, in their own right, Pro Bowl caliber.
The annual banquet is the culmination of the year-long John Lynch Star of the Month program, which recognizes student-athletes for their athletic achievements, academic accomplishments and community involvement. At the banquet on Thursday, the Lynch Stars of the Month were honored, along with the Star of the Year, the Disabled Star of the Year, the Most Valuable Teacher or Coach, the Community Champion and the Lynch Family Legacy Scholarship winners.
"This is something special here today," said Lynch, as he addressed the crowd of over 600 people. "It's special because of what these kids represent. It's special because of the kids in this room and what they stand for."
Lynch went on to touch on the key topics that would form the backdrop for the ceremonial presentation of the awards, the characteristics he hoped the student athlets would take away from the afternoon.
"You're going to hear today about leadership, about character, about values and you're going to see examples of it," he said. "Today is a celebration of the human spirit and what can be done when a person puts their mind to it. You're going to leave here today feeling better about yourself, better about our community and better about the future of our community and our country."
In 1998, the Lynches joined forces with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission (TBSC) to create the John Lynch Star of the Month Awards. Each month, during the school year, athletic directors nominate one male and one female student-athlete for the award. A volunteer review committee then meets to score the nominations and select a male and female Star of the Month. Winners receive an autographed football in an acrylic case, merchandise, local media recognition and the opportunity to meet with John and Linda Lynch to receive their award at One Buccaneer Place. This unique experience is a huge thrill for the winners and their guests.
At the end of the school year, each John Lynch Star of the Month winner becomes a candidate to win the prestigious John Lynch Star of the Year award, which is announced at the banquet. Each winner is invited as a guest to the banquet where the crowning award is announced.
In addition to the Star of the Month and Year awards, the Lynches have been providing Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships since 1998, giving financial assistance to varsity student-athlete seniors who excel in academics, athletics and community service. The scholarships can be applied towards tuition at the college of the winner's choice. Applicants must adhere to certain minimum qualifications, which include a minimum GPA of 3.0, participation in interscholastic athletics and significant community involvement.
In 2000, the Star of the Month/Year program added a Disabled Sport division. Disabled athletes are also recognized for their outstanding achievements, based on the same criteria as able-bodied athletes. As Lynch said, "We wanted an award that recognized these athletes for their abilities, not their disabilities."
Despite all of these programs, the Lynches still found a way to add two new awards this year. The additional awards were the Most Valuable Teacher/Coach of the Year and the Community Champion Award.
Following Lynch's introduction, Command Chief Master Sergeant Lew Monroe of the MacDill Air Force Base spoke to the assembly about what the outstanding young student-athletes in attendance meant for the future of the country.
"The qualities that we see here today (in these student-athletes) are drive, dedication, determination," said Monroe. "That is what describes the young faces that I see here today. You (the honorees) have been accountable and reliable to your team, your coaches and your school. So whatever you've done to get here today, I ask that you remain responsible, disciplined and accountable to your communities. It's things like this that make me proud to be a U.S. fighting man."
After Command Chief Master Sergeant Monroe's rousing speech to the audience, Lynch introduced the 56 Star of the Month winners and the 4 Star of the Year winners. All of the Star of the Month winners are listed at the bottom of the page.
Following the recognition of the Stars of the Month, Lynch handed the microphone over to a fellow Pro Bowler in the Bucs' secondary, cornerback Ronde Barber. Barber was on hand to introduce the Star of the Year winners, but the University of Virginia graduate (commerce) took a moment first to praise all of the students for their commitment to both athletics and academic endeavors.
"Right now, my focus, besides my family, is singular," said Barber. "My focus is to get up every morning and be a professional football player. Your focus as a student-athlete is immensely more difficult. You have at least two focus points outside of family. And those are your academics and your athletics. You are students that not only excel on the field, but also in the classroom. Your presence here signifies to me, to John Lynch, to your coaches, to your family that you are outstanding among your peers. And I think you should be very proud of that."
With Barber's words still hanging in the air and the tension palpable among all of the 56 monthly winners, the middle school and high school Star of the Year winners were announced.
The middle school Star of the Year winners were Desmond Washington of Washington Middle and Staci Watson of Tomlin Middle. Washington has a 3.85 GPA, mentors young children of divorced parents and is the captain of his school's baseball, basketball, football and track teams. Watson scored in the 99th percentile on the FCAT, works with inner city parks to run day camps and evening concerts and participates in basketball, soccer and track.
The high school Star of the Year winners were Carolynn Chinn of Dixie Hollins High and Eddie Ivery of Chamberlain High. Chinn is her class valedictorian, volunteers at Paz de Christo homeless shelter and plays varsity flag football and softball, in addition to being the captain of the volleyball team. Ivery maintains a 4.1 GPA, works with Urban Youth Development and has lettered in track while leading his team to the state championship football game this past fall.
After the announcements of the middle school and high school Stars of the Year, the Lynches introduced the four Disabled Star of the Year Winners. In turn, Corbyn Pingel (Walker Middle), Mickey Hebert (Sligh Middle), Stephanie Schreck (Pinellas Park High) and John Cruz (Tampa Catholic High) all were called to the stage to receive their award and have their stories of achievement told to the crowd.
The next award was new to this year's event and recognized Stacey LeCorchek of A.J. Ferrell Middle School as the Most Valuable Teacher/Coach of the Year. LeCorchek, who coaches boys' soccer and girls' basketball and volleyball, was acknowledged for her commitment to her students on the field and in the classroom. In addition to the award, LeCorchek received a $500 donation to her school from the John Lynch Foundation.
After the Most Valuable Teacher/Coach of the Year Award, Lynch broke from the script and presented an award to the Orange Grove Middle School for its hard work and dedication to the community, crowning them the John Lynch Foundation's Community Champion. Lynch bestowed this honor upon Orange Grove after the students raised money to purchase one of the $1,000 tables at the Salute the Stars banquet and then donated the remaining money directly to the Foundation.
"We thank you guys so much," said Lynch, to the students representing Orange Grove Middle School. "It really moves me and touches me that you guys would give to this program and help keep it running. Thank you."
John and Linda then presented the Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships.
The winners were Dara Altman (Gaither High), John Dicks (Plant City High), Melissa Moukawsher (East Lake High) and Michael Morsenti (Palm Harbor University). This year, each winner received a $5,000 scholarship to use towards his or her college tuiton.
Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden took to the podium following the announcement of the Scholarship winners to say a few words to the student-athletes.
"I just want to congratulate everybody that was honored here today," said Gruden. "The amount of accomplishment is exciting to see. It's a privilege for me to be here. Tampa Bay and America is looking for emerging stars and I think a lot of you are here today."
Gruden spoke about leadership and education during his speech, but ended by telling the honorees one thing that seemed close to his own heart. "I just want to tell you to find your passion, whatever it may be," said Gruden. "And when you find your passion, work at it and you will be great."
After Gruden addressed the audience, the person responsible for bringing everyone together summed up what the afternoon was all about.
"There are a lot of special people here today," said Lynch. "I just want to thank the kids for what they do. These are the leaders of tomorrow and we are looking to them to inspire their peers and the next generation of leaders."
The Star of the Month winners were: Staci Watson (Tomlin Middle), Juan Toledo (Tomlin Middle), Laurie Norris (Keswick Middle), Blake Engelhardt (Keswick Christian), Lauren Rodriguez (Chamberlain High), Eddie Ivery (Chamberlain High), Jamie Toon (Shorecrest High), Lindsey Moffenbier (East Bay), Ryan Bennett (Plant City High), Katie Reid (Boca Ciega High), Christopher Waechter (St. Petersburg Catholic), Marah Dolan (Tomlin Middle), Chip Bowden (Turkey Creek Middle), Amy Nolsheim (Seminole Middle), Christopher DeGraeve (azalea Middle), Amber Grippin (A.J. Ferrell Middle), Kellen Derr (A.J. Ferrell Middle), Becky Abrahamson (Seminole Middle), Gregory Feldman (Tarpon Springs Middle), Christina Dolan (Plant City High), Rolf Steier (Berkeley Prep), Carolynn Chinn (Dixie Hollins High), Mathew Mosbey (Shorecrest Prep), Kelly Nelson (Shorecrest Prep), Jonathan Crosby (Plant City High), Christopher Mellnick (Seminole High), Andrew Nowels (Seminole Middle), Courtney Chatman (Tomlin Middle), Jason Renner (A.J. Ferrell Middle), Renay Curry (St. Petersburg Christian), Christina Genualdi (Plant City High), Chancie Housholder (Plant City High), Robert Hallback (Plant City High), Jordan Smith (Seminole High), Michael Abrahamson (Seminole High), Natalie Concepcion (A.J. Ferrell Middle), Nicholas Schlereth (John Hopkins Middle), Desmond Bratton (Washington Middle), Elisabeth Croy (Seminole Middle), Jaclyn Johnson (Burns Middle), Alexander Maldonado (A.J. Ferrell Middle), Kari Thomas (St. Petersburg Christian), Justin Larson (St. Petersburg Christian), Sherer Byrd (Plant City High), Joshua Smith (Gaither High), Stephanie Murr (Dixie Hollins High), Aaron Fitzsimmons (Shorecrest Prep), Jamie Smith (Carrollwood Day), Kristopher Panter (Terrace Community), Maria Perez (St. Petersburg Catholic), Ryan Luker (St. Petersburg Christian), Laura Templeton (Sickles High), Srinivas Rajendran (Plant City High), Carly Brieske (Countryside High) and Ben Pevarski (Shorecrest Prep).