By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Monday night was a night to celebrate the successes of Ashtabula County’s finest football players of the past and present with the annual Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Awards Dinner at Mount Carmel Community Center.
As much as the players’ on-field success was celebrated, so was their success in the classroom, as well.
Following the presentation of the Star Beacon Ashtabula County first teams and special award winners and the induction of the newest Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame members, five scholarship winners were announced.
Candidates for the Robert L. Wiese Memorial Scholarship Award of $2,000 included Shawn Gilbert of Lakeside, Grant Nowakowski of Pymatuning Valley, Tony Chiacchiero of Jefferson, Nathan Pilarczyk of Grand Valley, Nick Blood of Conneaut, Anthony Colby of Edgewood, and Dakota Brininger of Geneva.
The Wiese award was decided based on the best combination of successes in athletics, scholarship and citizenship.
The winner was Colby, who genuinely seemed shocked.
“I never thought I would be up here to accept this award,” he said.
Totally flustered as to what to say to the huge crowd in attendance, he took the best road possible.
“I really want to just thank my mom, thank my dad, thank my teammates and coaches, and maybe most of all, thank all of you for being part of this special night for all of us.”
Next up was the William H. Phillips Memorial Scholarship Award. Named in honor of the late Jefferson coach and mentor and presented Hazel Phillips to Austin Nowakowski of Pymatuning Valley.
The Robert M. Herpy Memorial Scholarship was presented by Sue Herpy. Chiacchiero was the winner.
With the Warren G. Andrews Memorial Scholarship Award up next, it was time for another Nowakowski celebration as Austin’s twin brother, Grant, the $2,000 award.
The East Ashtabula Educational Assistance Corporation Scholarship Award went to Brininger.
Closing out the special awards was the announcement of the Robert L. Wiese award. Colby gratefully accepted the award, shook hands with several honorees and sat back down.
Several county award winners took moments to chat about the importance of their prizes.
Lakeside’s Shawn Gilbert, who had an exceptional season for the Dragons, had simple recollections of his senior season on the gridiron.
“I had so much to be thankful for this season,” Gilbert said. “I have to think the highlight of it all was beating Edgewood. They are such a good team that makes you work all night long. They are our neighborhood rival, and it was unreal for me to intercept two passes against them.
“One of them I ran back for a touchdown, and it was without a doubt, the most exciting thing I have experienced on the football field. I think it got the team and community fired up as well. It seemed like that play really brought us closer as a team, a school, and as a community. The support after that was amazing.”
Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year winner John Glavickas of Grand Valley could only smile and take in all the great atmosphere of the night and its significance.
“This is the icing on the cake, the bow on the whole package,” he said. “To see how many of our kids were represented on the first teams for the county is an honor to our program. We have such a great community that rallied around our team all year.
“After graduating a class like we did, seeing our tradition growing as it has, we got the idea to ask former players to come in and talk with the kids. It was great, and it didn’t matter who I brought in, the kids responded when they heard of the Grand Valley football traditions.”
Many seniors were honored, but there were underclassmen who were part of the program who appreciate what the night’s fesitivities mean.
Offensive Lineman of the Year Matt Fitchet of Edgewood, a junior, sees how much it all means.
“This is just an awesome honor for me,” Fitchet said. “I’m really looking forward to next year and to be part of getting us back to the playoffs again next year. We have a close group of juniors at our school, and it will be important for us to make a statement for the school and community next year, too.”
While this season’s football efforts and the superb efforts of the Hall of Fame inductees were the main focus for the gathering, there was a sidelight that was of immence significance. It was the attendance of Jessica Buskirk, the wife of the late St. John coach, John Buskirk. She was there to honor a close friend she grew to know during her husband’s battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
She had come to say hello to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“One of the things John told me while he was in the hospital at the end of his life was that he wanted me to be happy the rest of my life,” she said. “He was in the hospital and he was still worried about the things the kids who visited him and played for him were involved in. He cared so much about their lives.
“It was his focus, and he was focused on the rest of my life, too. He wanted to know if I ever heard from any of the kids, especially the seniors who played for him at St. John.”
Buskirk has moved into a new part of her life, spurred on by the enduring love between her and John.
She moved to Painesville three years ago and has remarried. She and her new fellow are now the proud parents of a young son, and she sees a bright future ignited by her first marriage to John Buskirk.
“Scott and I have a little boy, Joey,” she said. “He’s just a bundle of love for us all.”
Looking to the future as well, Jessica, sees the affects of his efforts then in his players and hopes it continues with her son as well.
“I am so grateful for the time Urban and Tim Tebow put in with John late in his life,” she said. “They were there for us any time we needed them, and were genuine in their concerns. They were so much like John, trying to build and support the young men they were involved with. They called all the time and I just had to be part of this special night to honor the football players from this season. It’s a special night for everybody, especially me.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.