Writing a story about one of the remarkable CIAC Scholar Athletes should not be this difficult. Take any one of the 344 students being honored at the ceremony on May 3, and there is a story about athletic and academic achievement that makes your jaw drop. So why has this blank page been sitting there for weeks, daring to fill it up with glowing words about some sensational senior who has excelled in every possible way during their high school career? It turns out when presented with the accomplishments and resumes of one of these students – when they become real and no longer abstract, the task of summing up those achievements is overwhelming. Such is the case when attempting to craft a profile of New Fairfield High School’s Gabrielle Richichi.
She is just one example of the students who will be honored at the 2015 CIAC Scholar Athlete Banquet – the 31st year the event has taken place. Yet her achievements are impressive enough that any glowing words seem inadequate to match the effort she puts forth. Even the idea of a humble CIACsports.com profile seems insufficient. The things she and her fellow honorees have done deserve more than that –parades, their own television shows, billboards trumpeting their successes. Anything to help illustrate that these are the sort of stories, and not just the wins and losses, that best represent what high school sports is about.
Maybe that is too much to put on the shoulders of Richichi or any other honoree, but if her body of work is an indication, there are not many challenges for which she will not rise to the occasion.
In the classroom those achievements include ranking as the valedictorian of her senior class with a stellar cumulative GPA while piling up a slew of honors and accolades such as being selected to the National Honor Society. Her stirring explanation of the impact athletics had on her life was rewarded with a selection as a State winner of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) scholar essay competition and will move on to the national competition where she will be considered for national selection as one of the scholarship recipients.
The honors and achievements pile up and are overwhelming enough that it becomes hard to find the appropriate words. Fortunately others have taken on the task of summing up Richichi’s work and their words can offer an assist.
“There are many adjectives one might choose in describing this young lady; there is one common thread that permeates everything she does, and that is excellence,” New Fairfield Athletics Director Mary Stolle writes in her NIAAA recommendation letter. “Gabrielle strives to be the best she can be no matter what the endeavor. She is the true embodiment of being a student-athlete, and a very successful one.”
Those successful endeavors carry well beyond the classroom for Richichi who has built a resume as one of the top distance runners in the State. Her many achievements on the trails and the track include Honorable Mention All-America honors after a 16th-place finish at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships this fall, qualifying for the New Balance Outdoor Track and Field Nationals in the 5,000 meters last spring, numerous individual state titles, helping her team to a Cross Country Class MM Championship in 2013, earning multiple All Northeast Region, All New England, All State and All South West Conference (SWC) honors, and setting a plethora of SWC and school records in both sports.
It’s an astounding slew of accomplishments, and when paired with her academic prowess and leadership achievements (team captain, class vice president) it becomes clear why trying to paint a just picture of all that she — and the other Scholar Athletes — does is such a challenge.
What do you do to try and highlight high school students like Richichi who are so exceptional and driven in every aspect of what they do? A story feels insignificant, as if a few words typed into the internet are going to do enough to shine a light on these wonderful students. Once again maybe some words from those who have seen her work up close can help offer more insight.
“Despite her [Richichi] athletic and academic ability, she equally matches her gifts with an unprecedented sense of work ethic, drive and concern,” New Fairfield Assistant Principal Mike Chapleau noted in the recommendation letter. “Possessing traits rarely seen in most, Gabrielle is truly extraordinary.”
Extraordinary. That is probably the word; the word that best describes all that Richichi and her fellow Scholar Athletes achieve. It is these folks that serve as a reminder when we occasionally focus a little too much on the wins and losses, or any other high school sports controversy might be garnering the attention.
It is the reminder that high school sports can be about those wins and losses and other stories, but primarily it should be about students benefiting from the educational component of athletics and helping them develop as students and people. Something Richichi articulated in her winning NIAAA submission essay where she details how the determination and mental toughness developed in cross country carried over into the classroom.
Her essay expresses the sentiment far more eloquently and with much greater elaboration, but the idea is paramount to the mission of high school athletics. And it is one that fortunately Richichi and her fellow Scholar Athletes embody and represent every time they step out onto the track or field.