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NCAA names 2018-19 sportsmanship award winners

Longtime Luther coach recognized with Bob Frederick Award

By Kelsey Boyd

The NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct has named Janelle Perry, track and field athlete and public relations and communications major at Ursuline, the 2018-19 NCAA Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award winner. The committee also will honor Jeff Wettach, recently retired head men’s and women’s track and field coach and assistant professor at Luther, with the 2018-19 Bob Frederick Sportsmanship Award.

The committee chose three other students and one team to receive this year’s NCAA Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Awards: Fiona Caulfield, diver and psychology major at American; Bryant Christian, ice hockey player and accounting major at American International; Zach Parisella, cross country runner and theater major at Eastern Connecticut State; and the members of the 2017 Western Michigan football team.

The awards recognize the athletes and administrators who exemplify sportsmanship, a core principle of the NCAA.

Janelle Perry, Ursuline

Janelle Perry earned her third career national championship after winning the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division II Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2018. While at the meet, she watched the 800-meter run and witnessed Coker senior Darroneshia Lott shatter the Division II record to win the race. Twenty minutes after the conclusion of the race, Lott was notified that she had been disqualified due to a lane violation and was not the national champion.

When Perry learned of the disqualification, she sought out the would-be champion at the team hotel and gave Lott her own national championship trophy. Perry thought Lott deserved recognition for her accomplishment in the 800 meters and wanted to show her that her work was inspiring.

“Honestly, I would’ve never imagined a complete stranger offering me their championship trophy,” Lott said. “I know how much that trophy means to her, and for her to just give that to me is absolutely incredible.”

Among the student-athletes selected as divisional winners, the committee elected Perry as the overall NCAA Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award recipient for her act of kindness.

Jeff Wettach, Luther

Jeff Wettach, who retired after the 2018 outdoor track and field season, created a legacy at Luther. For over 33 years, he remained an inspirational member of the college’s athletics staff as well as its health and physical education faculty. Wettach filled the roles of head track and field coach, assistant football coach, assistant professor and academic advisor during his tenure. Nominator Amanda Bailey, women’s basketball coach and senior woman administrator at Luther, called Wettach the core of the Luther athletics staff, saying he “stretched his reach as an educator to go beyond the field and classroom.”

Jake Nimrod, a former student-athlete who was on Luther’s football and track and field teams, admired that Wettach always was dedicated to engaging in competition the right way.

“He has never cut corners on sportsmanship, integrity or competing ethically,” Nimrod said. “Coach Wettach not only cares about the sport(s) that he has coached over the years at Luther but is a leading fan of every single Norse team that the college puts on the field of competition.”

The Bob Frederick Sportsmanship Award recognizes a coach, administrator or staff member (past or present) who possesses a demonstrated history of sportsmanship. Recipients have displayed the utmost respect for college sports and all who participate by leading by example and promoting positive fan involvement in and out of the competition setting. Just as Frederick, a former athletics director at Kansas, was, recipients of this award are known by their dedication to preserving the integrity of college sports.

Wettach’s ability to connect with Luther students and his respect for everyone around him left a profound impact. He prioritized the student-athlete experience throughout his time as a coach. One year, in preparation for a home track meet, he discovered that a participating school missed the entry deadline for one of its best competitors. As meet director, when Wettach noticed the school missed the deadline, he contacted the coach and determined it was an error. Wettach showed true sportsmanship and care for the student-athlete experience when he allowed the coach to correct the error so the athlete could compete.

“Jeff was an outstanding teacher, coach and role model, and he created an environment that enhanced the student-athlete experience,” said Joe Thompson, retired athletics director at Luther. “Jeff was the type of coach that made me proud to work in this profession, and he truly epitomized the philosophy espoused by the Bob Frederick Sportsmanship Award.”

The 2017-18 track and field season marked Wettach’s 32nd year as head coach for the men’s program and his 13th for the women’s program. During that tenure, his student-athletes recorded 516 all-conference performances, 25 indoor conference titles, 80 outdoor conference titles and 46 All-America honors. He served as the head coach of the men’s cross country program from 1997 to 2005, coaching two All-Americans, one conference champion and league MVP, 12 all-conference performers and seven all-region performers. Wettach also served as an assistant football coach from 1985 to 2006 and again during the 2015-16 season.

Fiona Caulfield, American

Fiona Caulfield entered the 2018 Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships as the returning 3-meter diving silver medalist, making herself a strong contender as a senior. During the championship meet, Caulfield’s teammate had the wind knocked out of her after finishing a dive flat on her back, putting a pause on the event. Instead of continuing to mentally prepare for her dive, Caulfield immediately helped her teammate recover and finish the event. Caulfield’s selfless and honorable sacrifice left only four minutes to prepare for her dive. In her last collegiate meet, she missed her chance for a podium spot by only a few points.

Over the course of her career at American, Caulfield never missed a practice or meet. She showed respect to those around her through her words and actions. In the pool and in the classroom, Caulfield led by example. She was the first to arrive at practice, and the last to leave, conducting herself with class and sportsmanship and guiding others to do the same. In 2018, she emerged as American’s Top Academic Female Athlete.

“Fiona’s positive attitude is unwavering. She is always laughing and radiating good energy to those around her,” said Shannon Exley, former swimming student-athlete at American. “At most meets, diving concludes before the swimming portion does. Instead of sitting and relaxing after a tiring competition, Fiona is on her feet at the side of the pool cheering on the swim team in their final races. Fiona has a tremendous amount of respect for college athletics, and this is the reason she has been a premier diver in the Patriot League for four years now in addition to an all-around phenomenal scholar, leader, teammate and friend.”

Bryant Christian, American International

At American International, Bryant Christian served as both an alternate team captain and a team captain as a senior on the men’s ice hockey team. As a captain, he took pride in being vocal, doing the little things and putting his teammates before himself. In American International’s final game of the 2017-18 season in the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs, Christian suffered a severe leg injury early on. The team was forced to continue without its captain and best defender.

While many athletes would have chosen to return to the locker room or move on to medical screenings, Christian refused to leave the bench; he wanted to continue to encourage his teammates. With 15 seconds left in the game and American International down 3-0 to Canisius, Christian returned to the ice with his fellow seniors to skate one last time in a Yellow Jacket uniform.

Zach Parisella, Eastern Connecticut State

In September 2017, Eastern Connecticut State cross country’s Zach Parisella produced a memorable act of kindness and sportsmanship during a meet at Massachusetts Dartmouth. Late in the race, a runner from Massachusetts Boston dropped to his knees on the hot day, unable to continue. After noticing him, Parisella turned around and ran back to the runner, took him by the elbow and encouraged him to keep going. The two ran the last mile together, sprinting as they neared the finish.

When his coach asked if he knew the other athlete before the competition, Parisella said, “No, but we’d run the entire race together; I wasn’t just going to leave him there.”

2017 Football Team, Western Michigan

Western Michigan football coach Tim Lester received a special request from Southern California coach Clay Helton ahead of the two programs’ 2017 season opener. Helton asked Lester for his help in allowing long snapper Jake Olson a free attempt on an extra-point snap during the upcoming game. Olson, born with cancer in his retinas, lost his right eye at age 10 and left eye at age 12. However, he worked to live out his dream to play football for Southern California.

A close game between Western Michigan and Southern California turned in the Trojans’ favor late when they took a 17-point lead with about three minutes left. Lester, who had kept the Southern California coach’s request from the Western Michigan team until that point, talked to his players about the plan that would allow Olson to make the conversion snap without a block attempt. They were on board. Olson’s clean and accurate snap led to a successful kick and Southern California’s 49-31 win. Olson became a letter winner at the school of his dreams. After their act of sportsmanship, Western Michigan players congratulated Olson on his feat and left the game with a new admiration for those who overcome adversity.