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Powerful thoughts, words

Having a strong faith, believing in others, being thankful for the gifts in your life, never forgetting to help others and remembering the impact a single person can have on the life of another are things for everyone to remember.

Reminders about how important those qualities are came Wednesday evening when the Franciscan University of Steubenville held its 52nd-annual Baron Club Awards Dinner.

Supporters of the university who gathered in the Finnegan Fieldhouse had the opportunity to hear from this year’s four honorees, as well as listen in as a panel that included persons familiar to Pittsburgh Penguins fans discussed hockey and life. Moderating the talk was John Buccigross, the Catholic Central High School graduate who now works at ESPN.

Money raised during the evening, which was organized by Mike Florak, executive director of community relations at the university, and his staff, helps to support the university’s athletic program while, as its mission statement says, recognizing the role its Christ-centered approach to athletics has on its student-athletes, the community and society at large.

“The honorees who are here tonight are perfect examples of what it means to bring hope to those in despair, faith to those who have none and to show love to competitors while competing with every ounce of effort that the lord has given them,” Scott Greve, the school’s athletic director, explained.

His words certainly describe the Rev. Jason Elliott. Pastor of First Westminster Presbyterian Church in Steubenville, Elliott said his time as a student at the university provided a strong foundation.

“When I’m out doing work in the community, I run into a lot of folks from different Christian denominations, and one of the things they push back on is when they find out this Presbyterian minister is a graduate of Franciscan University,” he said. “I’m quick to remind them of the life lessons instilled in me here that shaped and formed a Franciscan heart, one that is devoted to sharing love and compassion with others, one that lets one’s actions speak louder than one’s words.”

Elliott is involved with many organizations around the area, including a youth sports basketball league that reaches more than 300 elementary school pupils throughout the region. It’s name, E.D.G.E., stands for Education + Determination + God = Excellence.

“I’m very proud and grateful for our ministry team at E.D.G.E. sports,” Elliott said. “A group of local guys, ecumenically, got together for Bible study, and out of that Bible study grew a vision to create a hook for a way to impact kids by sharing Christian values through competitive sports. I’m grateful for their devoting their time and effort, and for the coaches, the community and the businesses that step up.

“It’s unbelievable the partnerships we have,” he continued. “Thank you to the business owners who very often let their actions speak louder than their words.”

Dan Enich also believes in the lessons that can come thorough sports. The director of the John D. Rockefeller Career Center, Enich is a longtime coach and educator who’s had an important influence on thousands of young men and women who have gone through Hancock County schools.

“I’ve never been involved in middle school or high school athletics, but I have been very involved in middle school and high school academic-based athletics,” he said.

Sports, he explained, teach physical discipline, moral lessons and social development. Involvement in athletics, band, clubs, organizations and the arts are proven indicators for higher graduation rates, he added.

“Academics is by far the first priority, but we have to use everything at our disposal to accomplish our goals,” Enich said. “Nights like this and the words I have heard reinforce my belief that the strong link between academics and athletics is essential. I will continue to bang my drum about the positive outcomes of this linkage as long as people are listening.”

And, while education philosophies change over time, Enich said, there are some items that are non-negotiable.

“In my opinion, the things that are not up for discussion when contemplating change are ethics and morals,” he said.

Tom Korab was not able to attend the dinner, but if he would have been there, he would have had the chance to spend time with several members of the 1971 Catholic Central football team that he coached to an undefeated season and the state title. The respect and admiration the players still have for Korab was not lost on his son, Scott, who accepted his award.

Gary Kessler, meanwhile, discussed the importance of being thankful. The owner of Steel Valley Tank, Kessler, who was adopted as a baby, supports many different organizations and charities throughout the region.

“In my first 30 days of life, I received three tremendous gifts,” Kessler said. “The first was from my birth mother — she gave me the gift of life,” he said. “Any chance of that happening today is slim and none, and it’s probably none, but that was the mid-1940s and not January 1973 — Roe v. Wade. I never saw this woman. I never spoke to her. I never even knew her name, but if I would have met her, I simply would have said one thing to her — thank you for the gift of life.”

The second gift, he explained, was his family, and the third was the doctors, nurses and their assistants who provided the care he needed in the days after he was born.

“Without the field of medicine, I would not be here,” Kessler added, saying it’s important to help others.

“You have to pay it forward — that’s what I try to do for all of the gifts I have had in my life.”

Remembering to give back also was shared in the panel discussion that included former Penguins players Phil Borque, Colby Armstrong and Bryan Trottier as well as longtime announcer Paul Steigerwald. Some of their discussion centered on Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, the two greatest National Hockey League players of their eras and, arguably, two of the greatest players of all-time.

“We are so fortunate to have seen such great hockey players,” Steigerwald said. “I guess the similarity is that they are both phenomenal people and phenomenal hockey players and they’re both great leaders and champions.

“They’ve made our lives that much richer because we’ve been able to experience the success they have had on the ice.”

Trottier, a hall of famer, explained they are leaders on and off the ice.

“You only get one chance to make the first impression, and that’s what Mario and Sidney do to kids,” he said. “They make that profound first impression, and they don’t say ‘How’s your girlfriend?’ they say ‘How’s school?’ or ‘Are you working hard?’ Those things leave an impression on young athletes. I think that’s profound that these great players have that ability to make that huge first impression.”

It was just another reminder that reaching out can make a big difference in the lives of all who are around us.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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