Last Sunday, former Penn State hockey coach Joe Battista addressed an auditorium full of the Centre Daily Times’ Inspiring Athletes.
“We all in this room have a shared passion for sports,” he said at the podium in Dreibelbis Auditorium at Mount Nittany Medical Center. “Let’s use this power of sport for the greater good. That’s the challenge I have for you. Go out of here, and use the fact that you are an inspiring athlete, and go change the world for the better."
Changing the world for the better might sound like a tall task for ballplayers, sprinters, swimmers or wrestlers. But as a photographer for the CDT, one who’s covered our county’s high school student-athletes every week for more than seven years, I’ve seen firsthand how these young men and women are already changing the world.
They are inspiring to photograph, whether it’s their attitudes in the face of adversity or the sincerity in their voices when talking about the bigger picture.
During the wrestling state championships in the Hershey Giant Center, fans cheered on the four local athletes eying gold. They came up short and wound up with silvers — an impressive feat by itself — but I was more struck by the poise and maturity they showed.
Our reporter shared with me his interview with Bald Eagle Area’s Seth Koleno, after his only loss of the season. “It’s an honor, it’s awesome,” he said of being able to compete for the state title. “It’s more than just wrestling.” You could hear how genuine those words were in his voice.
Witnessing the entire Bald Eagle Area wrestling team crammed into 84-year-old terminally ill Rita Palmer’s living room was uplifting, but when they all joined hands and said a prayer together, that was something special.
I don't remember all the scores of the games I've been to, but moments like that, are ones I will always remember.
I remember all the purple stickers on the helmets of Philipsburg-Osceola athletes as Emily Whitehead fought for her life. Watching cross-country runners head back to the course after crossing the finish line to run along side an opposing schools' athlete, encouraging her to the finish line.
Seeing Carl Mundt, who has a form of autism, be part of the Rams wrestling team. Watching the wrestling community across the county rally to help an assistant coach battling cancer. I remember State College’s Brandon Clark owing his team’s success to its feeling of family — not individual talents.
It's exciting to photograph the broken records and important milestones, the hugs and tears of joy. But hearing the motivation for their sport is just as exciting. Finding out BEA girls’ soccer player Charlee Harris was going to be a kicker for the football team. “I want to show people it doesn’t matter what you look like or your gender or what you do,” she told one of our reporters, “that you can go out and do anything anyone else can.”
Capturing the action of high school sports is what my assignment usually is. But being able to capture the positive impact on the lives of the athletes and those around them is inspiring.
Battista challenged our county student-athletes to go out and make a difference. And I believe they will — because I’ve already witnessed an incredible headstart.