By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Students representing six Michigan high schools have been selected as winners of the inaugural Community Service Awards sponsored by the Michigan High School Athletic Association and Lake Trust Credit Union for their efforts to improve the lives of others in their communities.
Brighton senior Bailey Brown, Newaygo senior Justice Ottinger, Ann Arbor Huron junior Katie Sesi, Utica Ford senior Nikki Sorgi, Colon High School’s “Yard Squad” and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek’s Cougar Athletic Leadership Council have earned $1,000 awards to be applied to individual college scholarships, credited to their schools’ athletic departments or gifted to the groups helped by the honorees. In addition to the $1,000 award, the Lake Trust Foundation is awarding an additional $500 to each honoree, to be donated to a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization of the awardee’s choice.
The MHSAA and Lake Trust received 70 applications for the first-time awards from schools and students serving communities in both peninsulas and every region of the state. Individual athletes, teams, and other school groups with athletic ties at MHSAA member high schools were eligible for the awards. Nominations were accepted from students, coaches and school administrators.
“We hear all the time about the wonderful contributions athletes are making in their communities by sharing their talents off the field, and it was great to see so many examples of this work all in one place as we selected this first class of honorees,” said MHSAA assistant director Andy Frushour, who oversees brand management and student services for the Association. “We’re glad for the opportunity with Lake Trust to be able to highlight some of this great work being done all over our state.”
One honoree will be profiled daily beginning May 21 on Second Half.
Below are brief summaries of the community services provided by this year’s award winners:
Bailey Brown, Brighton: Diagnosed as a freshman with amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, causing nerve pain that eventually resulted in multiple surgeries, Brown dedicated her effort to children hospitalized while undergoing cancer treatment. American Girl offers dolls that do not have hair; Brown endeavored at first to buy two dolls for children whose hair had fallen out during chemotherapy, and instead raised more than $5,000 to purchase 48 dolls and other toys.
Justice Ottinger, Newaygo: Ottinger was the recipient of a donated kidney in June, 2016, and organized the “Ball is Life, Organs Are Too” event to honor his donor, Mark Linsley, and raise awareness of the need for organ donors. Hosting the event during a basketball game, Linsley signed individuals up for organ donation and sold T-shirts he had designed; more than $4,000 was raised for Gift of Life Michigan and 13 donors signed up.
Katie Sesi, Ann Arbor Huron: Earning donations by playing violin at the Ann Arbor Art Fair since she was 6, and collecting more than 300,000 cans and bottles beginning when she was 9, Sesi has raised $40,000 for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan to benefit children with cancer. She has donated $10,000 every two years since 2010, contributing to multiple efforts including the creation of an indoor playground.
Nikki Sorgi, Utica Ford: After first organizing a toy drive for hospitalized children in 2013, Sorgi and her older sister Alex for the last three years have directed a blanket drive designed to provide homemade fleece blankets for patients of any age. Sorgi has helped in providing more than 400 homemade blankets including through Kids Kicking Cancer in Southfield and the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
“Yard Squad,” Colon: Sophomores Andrew Smolarz, Isaiah Fellers and Andy Stoll, and freshmen Phillip Alva and Austin Stoll – members of the track & field team – answered a request for students to help clean up an elderly person’s yard. They’ve since cleaned three yards during weekends and while all five are playing multiple sports during the spring – and with more calls for help coming in as the Squad’s reputation grows.
Cougar Athletic Leadership Council, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek: The Council, a group of student-athletes created to serve the community, produced a Suicide Prevention Awareness event in coordination with a Stoney Creek basketball game Feb. 28. The co-chairpersons of the Council’s Special Events Committee – Isabella Ubaydi, Nate Davis and Kevin Price – planned the event and spoke during halftime on how suicide and mental illness have impacted them and their school community. Funds from T-shirts sold, concessions and additional donations allowed CALC to donate more than $4,700 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“Lake Trust Credit Union is proud to partner with MHSAA to recognize and support these hardworking, dedicated community members,” said Lake Trust Credit Union Vice President of Culture + Engagement, Brandalynn Winchester-Middlebrook. “These students exemplify commitment to their teams and neighbors, while making remarkable impacts in our communities.”
Lake Trust Credit Union lives up to their name, with branches that stretch from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. With over 175,000 members and $1.7 billion in assets, they’re the sixth largest credit union in Michigan. By participating in and supporting over 100 local events, they reach across the state to create stronger communities. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in their 35 county service area. Visit www.laketrust.org.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.