St. Maria Goretti outdoor track and cross country coach Mike Spinnler took the podium at Tuesday’s 32nd True Grit Awards banquet like a minister in front of his congregation.
The keynote speaker of the awards spoke of 2011 keynote speaker Susan Graham-Gray, the only legally blind athlete to ever qualify for, compete in and complete the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials.
Through story after story of his experiences, Spinnler summed up the theme of the awards: “When you get your teeth kicked in, you have to get back up.”
The True Grit Awards banquet, held at Fountain Head Country Club, honored 13 Washington County high school seniors and one Hagerstown Community College sophomore who demonstrated the ability to overcome hardship to become or remain a member of an athletic team.
“It’s too early for them to realize it, but they’re going to be better people for overcoming what they’ve had to go through,” Spinnler said. “You don’t want it to happen to these kids, but if they persevere through it, they will be better people 20, 30 years from now. God has a plan for everybody.”
“I feel really honored to receive this award,” said Bobby Leatherman, a football and baseball player for Saint James. “I make the joke that all I did to earn it was get hurt a lot, but I’ve worked hard to get back onto the field. That’s what True Grit is all about.”
Leatherman suffered his first major injury his freshman year on the football field when a normal running play resulted in a dislocated shoulder and surgery to insert two pins.
Later on, he made a visit to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Alabama about chronic pain in his pitching elbow, though Dr. Andrews assured him it was just a stretch of the ulnar collateral ligament that could be rehabbed. However in 2010, Leatherman underwent Tommy John surgery that robbed him of his sophomore season. He came back from the surgery to earn All-County honorable mention in baseball and Most Improved Player for Saint James in 2012.
“You just have to keep going. You can’t sit there pitying yourself, you just go out and keep playing,” Leatherman said. “I just kept my teammates encouraged. This was the first year we had a winning record (Saint James won 13 games this season), which was a great way for me to go out. You just have to stay positive.”
Leatherman’s challenge off the field may be his biggest, however, as he and his family help his father battle cancer.
“He’s been staying positive and doing well. There have been some low points, but I never thought he was gonna lose. He makes my injuries seem small.”
Broadfording soccer and basketball player Ben Cradduck has not dealt with injury, but with a learning disorder. After several years of struggling with academics, it was discovered he has Dyslexia.
“It’s something that I just sort of live with,” Cradduck said. “I just do the daily routine.” Despite the difficulty that he lives with every day, Cradduck earned his way into the starting five on Broadfording’s varsity basketball team. Cradduck has called basketball his release.
“(The Dyslexia) doesn’t really affect me on the court. It inspires me to work harder. Sometimes following directions can be a little difficult, but I have fun regardless,” Cradduck said.
Also recognized Tuesday were:
• Adam Barnhart, North Hagerstown, Unified bocce and Unified track and field
• Dalton Beaver, Williamsport, football, wrestling and outdoor track and field
• Jared Brant, Clear Spring, football, basketball and baseball
• Abby Duncan, Boonsboro, track and field and soccer
• Paige Goebelbecker, HCC, track and field and cross country
• Saul Herrera, Smithsburg, wrestling
• Devon King, South Hagerstown, basketball
• Justin Osoro, Highland View Academy, basketball
• Alisa Shives, Hancock, track and field, volleyball, basketball and softball
• Kara Stamper, Heritage Academy, volleyball
• Camryn Steward, Grace Academy, soccer and baseball
• Mitchell Swope, St. Maria Goretti, cross county, swimming and track and field
The True Grit Awards are sponsored by the Hagerstown YMCA, The Herald-Mail, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Washington County Public Schools and the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club.