The North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) is proud to annually announce its Sportsmanship and Inspirational Award Winners.
The NEAC Sportsmanship Award is presented annually (if
applicable) to at least one female student-athlete, male
student-athlete, female team, male team, and/or one institutional
winner. The winning selections have consistently demonstrated good
sportsmanship and ethical behavior in his/her/their daily
participation in intercollegiate athletics. They have exemplified
the values of respect, caring, fairness, civility, honesty,
integrity and responsibility, while also demonstrating good
citizenship outside the sports setting.
The NEAC Inspirational Award is presented annually (if applicable) to an individual who has endured personal hardships that have led to bravery and/or dedication within athletics through participation, volunteerism, coaching, and/or administrating.
In 2006-2007, The NEAC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee worked together to create and foster a new sense of sportsmanship throughout the conference. They created the NEAC sportsmanship statement and slogan which is endorsed throughout the conference:
student-athletes of the North Eastern Athletic Conference uphold
sportsmanship by demonstrating leadership, positive attitudes, and
respect so that all collegiate participants will
maintain the integrity and character of the
conference. We strive to achieve these
ideals through a commitment to fair and honest
“Stay Classy NEAC!!!”
^No selections in 2009-10 and 2007-08
The NEAC is proud to announce its Sportsmanship and Inspirational Award winners for the 2013-14 academic year.
The Wells College men’s soccer team was this year’s recipient of the NEAC Sportsmanship Award, while Penn State Abington senior Phil Curry (Lawncrest, Pa.) and SUNY Institute of Technology graduate student Taviot Jackowski (Lafayette, N.Y.) were both selected as the NEAC Inspirational Award winners.
Wells College, Men’s Soccer Team
The Wells College men’s soccer team was collectively selected for the NEAC Sportsmanship Award after its acts of class both on and off the field.
Off the field, the team displayed a genuine act of kindness towards another NEAC Student-Athlete earlier this fall. The Express put together fundraising efforts to benefit the family of Lauren Smith (Homer, N.Y.), a Cazenovia College women’s volleyball player, whose father, Mike Smith, passed away last August. Smith was a long-time soccer official in the Finger Lakes Region who regularly officiated NEAC contests, including several at Wells over the years.
“As a referee, he was fair, honest and consistent,” said John “Doc” Cook, the assistant coach for the Wells College men’s soccer team who also serves as a local soccer referee. “He allowed the games to be competitive without sacrificing sportsmanship and fair play among the players and coaches. He will be missed on soccer fields throughout the area.”
On behalf of the men’s soccer program at Wells, Cook reached out to Cazenovia College with fundraising ideas to help benefit Smith’s daughter, a first-year student-athlete with the Wildcats. The Cazenovia women’s soccer program responded enthusiastically, matching the fundraising efforts of the Wells student-athletes, and the monies raised were deposited into a trust fund for Lauren.
Smith was recognized with a moment of silence prior to the Saturday, Oct. 26 men’s soccer contest between Cazenovia and Wells. The head referee, Barry Winters, concluded the moment of silence with a loud whistle in Smith’s memory.
The team’s class was exhibited on the field throughout the season as well, as the program was one of only five men’s soccer college programs nationwide to earn Silver placement on the 2013 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Ethics and Sportsmanship Award list. The honor recognizes teams that exhibit fair play, sporting behavior and adherence to the laws of the game, as reflected by the number of yellow caution cards or red ejection cards they are shown by referees throughout the season.
The Express earned a Silver Award after collecting only five bookings across their 16-game schedule, making them one of only two NCAA Division III men's programs to earn a Gold or Silver placement. The mark also left them as the first NEAC men's soccer program to collect five or fewer infractions on the season since the men's soccer team at former conference member Baptist Bible College recorded only three yellow cards in 19 games during the 2006 season.
Phil Curry, Sr., Penn State Abington, Men’s Soccer*
Phil Curry, a senior at Penn State Abington and three-time captain for the Nittany Lion men’s soccer team, earns the NEAC Inspirational Award for maintaining a level of excellence both on and off the field despite going through a heartbreaking personal tragedy.
In 2012 during his junior season with the team, Curry tragically lost his mother to breast cancer after she fought the disease for over a decade. She had fought a tremendous battle, not once, not twice, but three separate times. After treatment the first time around, when Curry was just nine years old, she went into remission for six years, only to find out the cancer had come back. This time, she had surgery, and once again the doctors told the family that the disease was not supposed to return. Finally, for a third time in his life, Curry got word that his mother had once again been diagnosed with cancer.
"It was hard – you don't plan on having to deal with it again and again," Curry said.
When she began chemotherapy during her third battle in 2012, she started feeling well again, allowing her to attend her son’s game against fellow NEAC member Penn State Berks and happily watch as Abington captured a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory. Sadly, though, this would be the final game she had the chance to see before passing away just days later. In between those tough final days was another Abington contest, which Curry decided to play in.
"I probably could've skipped the game, but my mom was so involved in my sports life," Curry reminisced. "She really motivated me, and something about the opportunity was like, 'I want to play this for her.' I gave her a kiss goodbye, played the game, and she passed away the next day. That was my final goodbye."
To deal with this devastating loss, Curry used soccer as an outlet. He returned to the field a week later and remained with the team into the postseason, where he helped lead the squad to the NEAC championship match.
"It was refreshing being back on the field the rest of that season," Curry said. "It is great, because soccer is something I do to preserve my mom's memory. I've never liked the cliché 'She's watching over you while she's up there in heaven,' but I just like that bond where I play soccer and she loved to watch me play, and that memory is nice, something I'll have forever."
Through the entire ordeal, Curry tried to keep the details of his situation from public knowledge so he was not a distraction to the team. He was also adamant that the team not treat him any differently as well, allowing head coach David Castellanos to coach him the same as he did the rest of the squad.
"We've always had a policy of, 'Let's always be honest with each other,'” stated Castellanos. “As a leader of the team, I couldn't let him off the hook; I wanted at least 90 minutes of solid effort out of him."
Everyone was still aware of the situation though, and Castellanos, the team and many others in the Abington community wanted to help Curry get through this difficult time. Castellanos and the entire Abington team attended the funeral despite having a game the next day, where they then began a season-long ritual of wearing black armbands during game days in honor of Curry’s mother. The women’s soccer team also showed their support by providing homemade dinners and desserts to Curry, while head athletic trainer Julie McNulty provided impromptu grief counseling through heart-to-heart discussions since she had also tragically lost her mother to cancer a few years prior. That department-wide show of support definitely helped Curry though the dark time.
“The whole Penn State Abington organization was great,” he said. “That span of a month could've been really bad if I hadn't had (them) there."
Through his own strong will and with that aforementioned support from the rest of campus, Curry was able to enter his senior season stronger than ever as a player, leader and person. That summer, he attended a leadership summit to hone his skills as a team captain and help guide the younger players on the team. He went on to become a NEAC All-Conference First Team selection for the second straight season while leading Abington back to the conference tournament, which helped him also earn the team’s MVP award for the third straight year. That added to his already impressive list of hardware that included the Penn State Abington Outstanding Male Student-Athlete of the Year honor in 2011-12 and recognition as the school’s Andrew Eisele Award winner, which is presented annually to a men’s soccer student-athlete that “demonstrates leadership, attitude, teamwork, character and dedication to soccer.” He also took home the Fred Striet Award at the athletic department’s 2013 awards banquet, which is presented to a student-athlete who “demonstrates leadership and character, pride in academics and growth and perfection through sport.”
Curry was able to continue his excellence in the classroom through it all as well, making the Director’s List in both the fall and spring semesters after maintaining at least a 3.0 grade point average. Being so well-rounded, Curry was also hand-picked by coach Castellanos to represent the team as its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative, where he participated in multiple community service events that included helping organize a canned goods drive for a local food bank. That was in addition to finding time to help clean up a local park through volunteerism with his church.
“It is Phil’s strong will and determination that makes him respected by the entire Abington student-athlete population and athletics department,” said McNulty. “He is a great role model in that he tries to promote good morals and values amongst all athletes. He has gone through a horrific situation in losing his mother, but in the end, he has come out on the other side of it stronger than before.”
*Some of the content above was pulled from an extensive feature on Phil Curry that was written by the Penn State Abington sports information office. To view that entire article, please click here.
Taviot Jackowski, Grad., SUNY Institute of Technology, Women’s Volleyball and Women’s Lacrosse
Taviot Jackowski, a graduate student and two-sport athlete at SUNY Institute of Technology, also receives this year’s NEAC Inspirational Award after overcoming a devastating injury.
Jackowski, who plays volleyball and lacrosse for the Wildcats, was on pace to graduate from SUNYIT in just three years with a degree in accounting as she entered the 2012-13 academic year. That year also marked her third season as the setter for the women’s volleyball team, where she was off to another strong season. However, with seven matches to go, Jackowski would unfortunately suffer a torn ACL and be lost for the rest of that fall season. The devastating injury had an instant impact on the women’s volleyball squad, as they would lose those final seven matches and ultimately suffer one of their worst seasons ever at 12-22 overall.
She went on to graduate as planned that spring, but Jackowski was determined to not let her injury deter her from playing the sports she loved. Thus, she decided to pursue an MBA at SUNYIT in part to be able to use her final year of NCAA eligibility for both volleyball and lacrosse, so she continued to rehab and strengthen her knee in time to return for the fall season. She did that and more, leading the women’s volleyball team to its greatest season ever with a 29-5 overall record, which included a win streak of 24 straight matches that was the nation’s longest active streak when it ended. The squad also took home a share of the NEAC Regular Season Championship behind the remarkable comeback of Jackowski, whose efforts landed her on the NEAC All-Conference First Team for the first time in her four-year career after she was second in the conference in assists per game (9.08) for the season.
Playing two sports is hard enough for anyone in college, but doing so under a year removed from such a major injury was a true sign of Jackowski’s dedication as a student-athlete. Although her tireless work ethic allowed her to return to the lacrosse field the spring following the injury, it was in a noticeably diminished capacity and not the way she wanted to go out. So, as was the case for volleyball, her countless hours spent during the rehabilitation process also allowed her to return to the lacrosse field better than ever this past spring, where she started in all 13 Wildcat contests and shared the team lead for assists (11) while placing second in draw controls (39). Her stellar play landed her on the NEAC All-Conference Third Team and helped vault the Wildcats to the playoffs with a 5-4 conference record.
Her tremendous work ethic was seen in the classroom as well. In addition to graduating early and currently being on pace to complete her MBA ahead of schedule, Jackowski has been a receipt of the SUNY Chancellor’s Scholar-Athlete Award, which recognizes a combination of academic excellence and outstanding athletic achievement at the Division I, Division III, and NJCAA levels. She was also a four-time selection as a NEAC Scholar-Athlete, which requires a combined two-semester GPA of at least 3.4 each year.
She also found time to be highly involved with the Wildcats’ SAAC group despite her busy schedule, participating in many of the organization’s initiatives throughout the year that included the Special Olympics bowling event that occurred on one of her few off days during the lacrosse season. These commitments did not go unnoticed on campus.
“As a Co-SAAC representative at SUNYIT, I have had multiple opportunities to work with Taviot off the court,” said SUNYIT sports information director Dan Benz. “It is both satisfying and inspiring to see an athlete who has already done so much for SUNYIT, and who has many substantial time commitments, continue to make time to do the little things that make a difference on our campus and in our community. She has been a pleasure to work with over the last four years, and the entire SUNYIT family was delighted to see her come back from such a difficult injury and have the success – and the ending to her SUNYIT career – that she so richly deserved.”