John Lynch introduces Plant City High's Jarod Dicks, the male high school Star of the Year winner
John Lynch joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993 and soon developed into a rare NFL commodity – a star both on and off the field. In 1998, Lynch and his wife, Linda, joined with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to start the John Lynch Star of the Month program, and quickly learned a very encouraging fact. Every year, there are many student-athletes in the Bay area who follow in Lynch's path, excelling in athletics and making a difference in the community while also starring in the classroom.
On Thursday, the Lynches honored the most remarkable of those student-athletes at the annual John Lynch "Salutes the Stars" banquet.
Each spring, the Salutes the Stars banquet culminates the year long Star of the Month program, which recognizes student-athletes for their athletic achievements, academic accomplishments and community involvement. On Thursday, all of the 2002-03 Stars of the Month were honored and several awards were announced, including 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.
"Our mission at the John Lynch Foundation is to develop quality young leaders," said the Bucs' Pro Bowl safety as he kicked off this year's banquet. "The youth that we're here to honor today represent the best in leadership, character and values. In doing so, they also inspire us. They inspire their peers, they inspire their teachers, they inspire their coaches and they will inspire you."
Lynch also spoke of dreams, and the hard work that is necessary to make them a reality, using his own playing career as an example.
"One of my dreams was to become a World Champion, to win a Super Bowl," said Lynch, before disappearing behind the podium for several seconds.
When Lynch re-emerged, the crowd erupted in applause as he thrust his right hand in the air and revealed a very recognizable visual aid. It was the representation of the completion of his professional dream, the Lombardi Trophy. "This shows you that dreams can come true," beamed Lynch, as the applause continued.
After safely tucking away the Bucs' Super Bowl bounty, Lynch introduced the afternoon's first winner, the recipient of the Lynch Community Champion Award. This honor goes to an individual who, through his or her efforts is making our community, country and world a better and safer place to live.
This year's recipient was Lieutenant General Michael P. DeLong, the Deputy Commander of the United States Central Command, and the men and women of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.
DeLong was grateful that the Lynches would recognize the men and women serving our country and implored the youth in attendance to recognize the leadership of their host as an admirable example of success.
"For the people who want to emulate leadership, especially leadership here in Tampa, the Lynches and the people up here at this table that give their time and money back to the community are a shining example," he said. "If you youngsters give back to the community, you make this a better world. Remember that."
Each month during the school year, high school athletic directors nominate one male and one female student-athlete for the John Lynch Star of the Month award. A volunteer review committee then meets to score the nominations and select male and female monthly recipients. 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.
"We started it because we had learned so much from being student-athletes," said John Lynch. "I've talked to so many great leaders in this world and they often come back to that. General Tommy Franks told me that all the lessons he learned as a leader, he learned on the football fields in Texas. It's just a great metaphor for life. You learn about how to deal with success, about how to deal with failure and about hard work."
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 monthly 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 meet 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."
Then, in 2002, the Lynches added two new awards that would recognize those that helped make the dreams and achievements of student/athletes possible. Thus began the Most Valuable Teacher/Coach of the Year and the Community Champion Awards.
After Lt. Gen. DeLong's brief but powerful speech, Lynch introduced all 56 Star of the Month winners, a complete list of which can be found at the bottom of this page.
Before moving on to the Stars of the Year, Lynch invited teammate Anthony McFarland on stage to help him with the and to help with the announcements. McFarland, a Louisiana State University graduate and another very community-minded Buccaneer, took a moment to praise all of the students for their commitment to both athletics and academic endeavors.
"It's an honor to be here," said McFarland. "I'm just glad I could participate in something that has this much impact on the youth in our community."
McFarland also spoke briefly about his own program (I Can Wait), which works with Hillsborough County Middle Schools to educate kids on making informed decisions about issues such as smoking, drinking, using drugs and relationships. Each year, McFarland adopts two middle schools in which he presents a video, passes out informational material and answers questions about how to handle the decision-making process and make educated decisions.
McFarland and Lynch then introduced the four Star of the Year winners.
The middle school Stars of the Year were Johnathon Dupree of Tomlin and Meredith Moukawsher of Tarpon Springs.
Dupree is enrolled in gifted and honors classes, holds the school record in the 220-yard dash, won the outstanding sixth-grade athlete award, is a member of the basketball, soccer and flag football teams and volunteered at the Strawberry Festival to earn money for his school. Moukawsher has earned straight A's all three years in middle school, serves as the President of the National Junior Honor Society, participates in basketball and ballet, won the "Most Dedicated Player" award at her school and has volunteered at the Bayview Nursing Home for the last eight years.
The high school Stars of the Year were Jarod Dicks and Sara Hall, both of Plant City High. Jarod is in the top 1% of his junior class, won the Western Conference All-Academic Award for swimming, is a three-time state qualifier in swimming, a three-year letterman in tennis, an Eagle Scout, a Boys State representative and a participant with the Special Olympics. Hall is her class salutatorian, a member of the PCHS Math Hall of Fame, a member of the Governor's High School All-Stars, the state's 10th-place finisher in cross country, the captain of the track, soccer and cross country teams. She has logged over 325 hours of community service with the Special Olympics and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
The Lynches then announced the four Disabled Star of the Year Winners. In turn, Kenjy Asin (Plant), Ryan Rupp (Riverview), Kyle Mattina (East Lake) and Kyle Romano (Plant) all were called to the stage to receive their awards and have their stories of achievement told to the crowd.
All four stories were exceedingly inspirational, but the most moving might have been that of Romano, a quad-amputee who still participates in football, skateboarding and many other athletic endeavors. The rules of the games might be slightly modified - for instance, in football, when the ball hits the big wheel on Kyle's wheel chair it's a completion, and for him to be touched down, he must be touched with two hands on his body – but the competitiveness and joy of sports remain the same. With the help of his younger brother, Kent, a loving family and some great friends, Kyle enjoys activities that many would believe impossible for him.
Lynch was as amazed at the rest of the crowd at the obstacles overcome by the Disabled Stars, but was even more impressed with the athletes' outlook on life and how they view what others consider disabilities.
"In our disabled stars, you have great stories of kids that have challenges, but don't look at them as challenges," said Lynch. "It's amazing what these kids do and overcome. They don't think they have disabilities, just different abilities."
Next was the Most Valuable Teacher/Coach award. With an overwhelming response this year from students, the Lynches chose to honor two such individuals this year. As John said, "The best thing about having your own program is you get to make the rules."
And neither Bitha Wodrich (Carrollwood Day) nor Joey Fernandez (Armwood) would argue with the decision to double the awards. In honor of their selections, Wodrich, who serves as the athletic director and volleyball coach at Carrollwood Day, and Fernandez, who is Armwood's baseball coach, each received a $500 donation to their schools from the John Lynch Foundation.
Finally, John and Linda presented the Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships.
The winners were Edward Chapman (Palm Harbor), Zahirina Natova (Northeast), Paul Spisak (East Bay) and Caroline Young. This year, each winner received a $5,000 scholarship to use towards his or her college tuition, bringing the total number of scholarships distributed by the John Lynch Foundation to 22 and the total amount distributed to $106,000.
Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden then took to the podium to say a few words to the student-athletes.
"I would like to congratulate all the award winners and all of the parents of the award winners," said Gruden. "Because it takes a team to get it done like you guys have done it and I'm excited to see all that you have achieved. To be recognized for these kinds of awards shows dominance in education, in discipline, and how you guys maintain these GPA's and these standards is beyond me. It's remarkable in terms of the amount of accomplishment that is here in this room."
Gruden spoke about leadership and education and also addressed the responsibility that comes with success and the drive needed to maintain excellence.
"With these awards come more responsibility, now," said the fiery head coach, fixing the student-athletes with his trademark stare. "When you're at the top of your field, the challenges are maxed out and I think it's a challenge to all the people here that are recognized for being great to maintain your greatness and be all you can be to max out your potential.
"The last thing I would like to do is to issue two challenges to all of the young people here. Number one, find your passion. Whatever it is, find your passion and max out and apply yourself to it. If you do that, you'll be great, you'll be awesome. The second thing is to be a tempo setter. Keep turning your work in on time, doing the extra credit, keep setting the standard and never forget that it's a competitive world and we're counting on you to lead us into the future."
After Gruden addressed the audience, the person responsible for bringing everyone together summed up what the afternoon was all about.
"To me, leadership is all about someone making those around them better," said Lynch. "It's about taking people to heights that they never thought they could achieve. We pick these student athletes for their achievements, but much more importantly for the values they represent and their character. All of these kids are leaders in their own right."
The Star of the Month winners were: Christian Giammugnani (Carrollwood Day), Amanda Miller (Keswick Christian), Timothy Willis (Blessed Sacrement), Katherine Tittle (Dixie Hollins), Marc Sawyer (Canterbury), Deanna Jackson (Armwood), Mildred Paz (Ferrell), Trey Warnock (Plant City), Kyle Chapin (Tarpon Springs), Noelle Voges (Carrollwood Day), Lizzy Giroud (Shorecrest Preparatory), Kathryn Crandall (Plant City), John Thomas (Chamberlain), David Platt (Brandon Academy), Joseph Fabrizio (Seminole), Claire Odioso (Carrollwood Day), Johnathon Dupree (Tomlin), Sarah Michele Vilaret (Blessed Sacrament), Jennifer Hansen (Seminole), Eric Baumann (Armwood), Michael Moody (Shorecrest Preparatory), Kaitlin Baker (Armwood), Erin Horgan (Carrollwood Day), Garrett Hellman (Ferrell), Alicia Nalley (Guardian Angels), Rachel Paroulek (Seminole), Muneca Oliver (Armwood), Scott Eason (Plant City), Aaron Connelly (Shorecrest Preparatory), Kristen Jones (Tomlin), Michael Fekete (Tomlin), Joseph Civello (Madeira Beach), Lauren Friedberg (Shorecrest Preparatory), Kevin Gleim (Shorecrest Preparatory), Meredith Moukawsher (Tarpon Springs), Chinyere Okpaleke (Tampa Tech), Brandon McArthur (Armwood), Steven Bennett (Tarpon Springs), Anne Hubbell (Carrollwood Day), Daniel Fernandez (Carrollwood Day), Laura Mosby (Chorecrest Preparatory), Nathan Bender (Pinellas Park), Ashley Aplin (Chamberlain), Neil Kumar (King), Ashlyn Wedde (Tarpon Springs), Jarod Dicks (Plant City), Mark Wheeler (Tarpon Springs), Becky Vyzas (Carrollwood Day), Ricardo Miquilarena (Adams), Lindsey Walker (Seminole), Jeffrey Taylor (Seminole) and Sara Hall (Plant City).