NJSIAA Scholar-Athlete Luncheon honors 375 students

Jihad Edmond has drawn plenty of acclaim throughout his time at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood as a three-sport athlete. 
He is appreciative for those who’ve noticed his exploits as a football, basketball and track athlete, but there’s one other aspect of his scholastic career that he wished had received similar attention. 
Edmond is also an excellent student, and was proud to be selected as his school’s representative at the 26th Annual NJSIAA Scholar-Athlete Luncheon on May 19 at Pines Manor in Edison. 
Each NJSIAA member could send one student to the event that drew a crowd of 1,400. There were 375 students honored, who were each guaranteed a scholarship of at least $500 thanks to the generosity of the association’s corporate sponsors and other donors. 
“This was a great honor,” said Edmond, who will play football and study business at Bryant University in Rhode Island. “It’s great to be recognized for my academics.” 
While the majority of the attendees were successful multi-sport athletes, it was academic achievement that resulted in their attendance at the event. That point was brought home in the opening remarks delivered by Larry White, NJSIAA Executive Director, who noted that the priority of high school sports is academics first and athletics second, and the Scholar-Athlete event celebrates that fact. 
“Our whole philosophy is educational-based athletics, and this event recognizes that,” said Jack DuBois, the NJSIAA Assistant Director who coordinates the scholar-athlete program. “That’s our mission, and this program recognizes that.” 
Samantha Keller of Newark Academy is a soccer, basketball and softball player who has the distinction of being a 1,000 point scorer in basketball in addition to being a softball standout who has easily surpassed 100 career hits. But that’s not how she ultimately measures myself. 
“Throughout my high school career, I’ve defined myself as a student,” said Keller, who is bound for Vanderbilt. “That’s why this is such a nice event.” 
The scholarships were also a valuable reward for each of the athletes. 
Holly Wetzel of New Egypt is a soccer, basketball and lacrosse athlete who is headed to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She’ll focus strictly on academics in college. 
“An event like this is a nice reward for the all of the time, commitment and hard work we’ve put into our lives as high school athletes,” she said. “It’s great to be recognized, and the scholarship is also definitely helpful.” 
Her thoughts were echoed by Geoffrey Brandt of Eastern Regional in Voorhees. He’s a baseball, basketball and golf athlete who will attend the University of Pennsylvania. 
“This is very cool,” he said about the event. “Its a honor to be recognized with everyone else here for both sports and academics.” 
Since its start in 1994, the NJSIAA Scholar-Athlete program has honored over 8,000 New Jersey high school students and distributed over $2.3 million in college scholarships.

More than 60 sponsors and donors contributed scholarships at the luncheon. Among them were the New Jersey State Coaches Association (99 scholarships of $500), ShopRite (50 scholarships of $500), NJ Advance Media (30 scholarships of $500), Wilson Sporting Goods (30 scholarships of $500), Investors Bank (16 scholarships of $500), and the New Jersey Devils (four scholarships worth $2,500 apiece).

“The event is largely subsidized by our corporate sponsors and our leagues and conferences who have generously donated to this program,” DuBois said. “We thank each of them for their generosity and for their continued support.”
The inaugural Kearny Bank Strength Award was also presented at the luncheon to Joseph Fernandez of Fair Lawn. Nominations for that award were solicited throughout the year, and Fernandez was given the $2,500 scholarship for a student-athlete who sustained a serious physical injury and was able to overcome it through perseverance.