Four selected as finalists for Waldie/Shaeffer Award
Ryan Gillespie, Canon-McMillan senior
Jennifer Ruminski, Bethel Park senior
Chris Salerno, Chartiers Valley senior
Regan Smith, Chartiers Valley senior
The following four athletes are finalists for the Waldie/Shaeffer Scholarship Award. They will be recognized at The Almanac’s 23rd annual Premier Performers Sports Banquet at 6:30 p.m. May 19 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located across from South Hills Village. Tickets for the event are $30 and available by calling 724-941-7725, ext. 129.
Ryan Gillespie remembers he was in school on Sept. 11, 2001. He also recalls sitting at a desk in class on April 15, 2013. The one memory is foggy because he was just in the first grade. The other re-collection is most vivid because, today, Gillespie is a senior at Canon-McMillan High School.
“I had no idea back then what was going on,” he said of the terrorist attacks 12 years ago. “We were told to stay calm. Everybody was silent and eventually we all got to go home.
“But,” he said of the recent Boston Marathon bombings, “(that) was awful I wanted to do something about it. I want to be part of finding people who do things like that. I want to help us defend our country. I want to be part of that and make sure that things like (Sept. 11 and Boston) never happen again.”
Hence, Gillespie has enlisted in the United State Air Force. Eventually, he also intends to become a state police officer.
“I chose the Air Force because they are the most elite and I aspire to be the best,” said the 18-year-old son of Laurie and Jim Gillespie. “I like the idea of protecting and serving my country and everybody else. Those are big deals for me.”
Freedom, indeed, is a big deal for Gillespie because independence has enabled him to pursue many passions, including sports. Since ninth grade, he has participated in basketball as well as baseball. He has done so while overcoming much adversity. He suffered two concussions in basketball. The team captain incurred a shoulder injury that will require surgery and prevented him from playing on this spring’s section championship baseball team. Gillespie had been the Big Macs’ starting catcher.
Despite the trials and tribulations, participation in sports has prepared Gillespie for his next adventure. “The mental and physical aspects of sports is the biggest benefit,” he said. “Not only do sports keep you in shape, they push you to be the best you can be. It’s like that in the military.”
Gillespie is familiar with the Air Force because his great grandfather served as a pilot in the Pacific during World War II. “He inspired me,” Gillespie said. “He was a real good guy.”
According to his basketball coach Rick Bell, Gillespie is a good guy too. He volunteered throughout his high school summers and worked with people less fortunate by building homes and repairing houses. He also worked with the young players during camps and clinics.
An honors student, Gillespie is the treasurer of the Environmental Club. He is a Lead CM mentor and a German Club member. He was also a member of the Homecoming Court. Gillespie also participates in the Chartiers Creek Workcamp Missions.
Upon graduation from Bethel Park High School this June, Jennifer Ruminski trades her black and orange softball uniform for the dress blues of the Navy. Yet, the senior intends to apply the rules of her game to her engagements in the military.
“You play for what’s on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back,” said the 18-year-old daughter of Lynn Ruminski.
“Sports teaches you respect for others and how to deal with criticism,” she continued. “When things don’t go your way, you still need to show respect for the game, your teammates and your opponent. And, no matter what you are involved in, you need to support your end of the deal.”
Ruminski is anxious to support her part of the bargain with the United States Navy. While pursuing a nursing degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where her mother works in the physics and astronomy department, Ruminski will also be enrolling in the Navy ROTC program at Carnegie Mellon University. She hopes to become a critical care specialist and work in ICU.
“The ultimate dream though is to become a field nurse,” she said. “I want to take care of the marines when they are injured in the field of battle.”
Marines have played a vital role in Ruminski’s life. Two years ago, her brother, Randy, Jr., enlisted in the marines. Additionally, her father, Randy, Sr., is a Vietnam War veteran.
“I grew up with a military orientation and I have a desire to help others and to serve my country,” she said.
“My brother inspired me,” she continued. “I feel I owe my country and those who serve something after all they are risking their lives for me so I can enjoy my freedoms here at home.
For years, Ruminski has been free to play softball and study. She was a four-year starter at shortstop for the Lady Hawks. A two-year captain, she led the team with a .913 fielding average.
“Jenn is a positive player on and off the field,” said BP manager Heather Scott. “She is one that the other players can go to and ask questions or get an opinion. Jenn does whatever it asked of her. She has played every position on the field and has never questioned the coaches’ decisions. She is just a well-rounded kid.
There is more to Ruminski than softball. In the classroom, she boasts a 4.0 GPA. She belongs to the National Honor Society and is an academic tutor. In addition to being an umpire and a clinician at community summer softball camps, Ruminski volunteers at the local nursing home and within her church.
“I like the feeling I get when I am helping people,” she said. “There is this derire deep down in me to help others.”
Even if it involves blood, she says.
“Somebody has to do it,” Ruminski responded. She added, “I’m going to make sure that I am the best I can be at it.”
Chris Salerno beats to a different drummer. For, although the Chartiers Valley senior has enlisted in the Army, he believes peace can be gained through diplomacy rather than with violence.
“I guess I used to believe like other American, that (terrorism) just can’t happen here. But we need to do all we can and help people realize their views and that there are better ways to express them,” he explained. “We need to find a way to make more allies than enemies and then the less these things will happen.”
“I love my country and I would do anything to protect it though,” he added. “Regardless of what people think should be done, we need to put our trust in those who lead us and democracy will prevail in the long run.”
In the long run, Salerno will be an accountant. First, however, he will become a petroleum supply specialist in the Army. After he completes this basic training, he will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania and work towards earning his bachelor of science degree. In addition, he will participate in the Army ROTC program with the expectation of becoming a commissioned officer within three years.
The 18-year-old son of Joseph and Dawn has always had a strong desire to serve his country. His grandfather, Donald Bowman, served in the Air Force between World War II and the Korean Conflict.
“I’ve just always felt this was something I wanted to do,” said Salerno. “(ROTC) is a good opportunity for me. I want to be an officer and I want to serve and protect my country.”
With a sister, Joelle, 21, about to graduate in international business from American University, Salerno has personal reasons for insuring his nation is safe. “I think of her being there in Washington,” said Salernon, who also has an 8-year-old sister, Cara. “It makes me think about what could happen and I would love to protect her if I could.”
Currently, Salerno is all about protecting his baseball team’s existence in the post-season. He is a catcher on the Chartiers Valley club, which earned a share of the Section 3-AAA title as well as a playoff berth in the WPIAL tournament, which starts with first-round action this weekend.
In addition to being a three-year letterwinner in baseball, Salerno has earned three varsity letters for bowling and two for cross country. For four years, he has marched in the band. He is also a three-year member of the school’s jazz ensemble.
Additionally, he has participated in the Spanish Club for two years and the National Honor Society for three.
Born to lead. That’s Regan Smith.
For as long as anybody has known him, he has desired to be in the military. Upon graduation in June, the Chartiers Valley senior will do just that. He has enlisted in the army.
“Regan has dreamed about this,” said his cross country coach Lori Poe. “He set his goals for a future in the military and has taken the necessary steps to make that a reality. I am proud to know he is dedicating his life to protecting our freedom and I am confident he will be a success and a future leader.”
Poe has already seen proof of Smith’s ability to lead. The three-year letterwinner in track as well as cross country conducted a week-long camp summer running camp. He set a budget, raised money and generated interest among runners between middle- and high-school aged students.
Smith did an exceptional job of making the camp a fun and rewarding experience for all in attendance, says Poe. In fact, he not only planned the practices each day, he taught the athletes about different aspects of running and training. Plus, he provided planned nutritious snacks for the participants.
“The campers loved his creative practices and I received so many positive comments from parents about the wonderful experience their athletes had at the camp,” Poe said. “I was very impressed with his leadership abilities and how athletes responded to his direction and looked up to him,”
Though small in stature, Smith commands attention from others because of his demeanor, confidence and inner strength. Those qualities he has cultivated from his participation in wrestling. He lettered three years on the varsity and has competed for four seasons, including one year in the Greco-Roman style of the sport. He is a two-time sectional wrestling qualifier as well as a three-time participant in the WPIAL cross country championships.
“Running is a stress reliever for me and I enjoy the scenery change of cross county but there’s no real reason why I wrestled,” said the 18-year-old son of Richard and Renee Smith.
“Wrestling is more stressful but it’s also a sport where it’s legal to beat someone up,” he said with a laugh. When you are having a bad day, you feel better. But, it’s taught me how to fight. I know if I wanted to, I could take you down. I feel it keeps me in good physical condition because I train hard.”
While he anticipates the training to be difficult as he prepares to become a Calvary Scout and eventually work with special forces, Smith embraces the opportunity to start at the bottom.
“I wanted to enlist first and get my experience. I felt, how can I get my men to do what I tell them to do without having already done it myself. The experience I gain will make me better qualified to do what I have to and want to do.
“All great leaders start in lower positions,” he explained. “You want to trust your superiors but it’s better knowing that you are not following them blindly. You know they have learned and they have the experience. So I want to get that first.”
Smith wants to be the one who “goes in first.” Being an Army Ranger, working in law enforcement or on a SWAT team all appeal to him. And, once his body wears out, he explained that he would love to teach history. “I’d prefer that once I got out because eventually being a ‘door kicker’ takes it’s toll on you.”
While the event of Sept. 11, 2001 did not have an impact on him in the first grade, it has taken it’s toll on him as he has aged and learned more about those terrorist attacks and others upon the United States.
“I wouldn’t say I was shielded about the events. I was just too young too really understand until a couple of years later. When I did, I was angry. When my history teacher explained about the Gulf War in school, I thought to myself, ‘we better get these guys. I was happy we got (Osama bin Laden). I was very proud of our seals.”
Family members, who served the nation, instilled Smith’s pride in his country. His grandfather, Harry, battled in Korea. His uncle, Bill, fought in the Gulf War. And, his great grandfather was involved in the D-Day mission of World War II.
Today, Smith has brothers and sisters, whom he hopes to protect. He has two brothers, Logan, 20, and Grayson, 16, and two sisters, Paige, 22, and Bailey, who is a 15-year-old freshman and soccer player at CV.
“There are a lot of people I care about,” Smith said. “Actually, I want to fight those who would cause harm to my loved ones and my friends.
“I believe in the idea of standing up for something you believe in. I believe in American freedom even though sometimes there may be flaws. There is no better country or place in the world than the United States.”
Four selected as finalists for Waldie/Shaeffer Award
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