Penns Valley seniors Marissa Stecko and Max Engle remember looking around their auditorium Tuesday night and wondering who the Snyder Award winners for their school might be.
They guessed friends and peers, teammates and leaders for the prestigious prize. But they never thought it would be themselves — not until their names were announced.
“Frankly, I was taken aback,” Engle said. “Seeing my name engraved on it, I’m at a loss for words. ‘Otherworldly’ comes to mind.”
Said Stecko: “It was definitely a surprise, considering you kind of watch the award from years past and look up to the students that win it. ... It was kind of, like Max said, ‘otherworldly.’”
The James H. Snyder Awards are given in memory of Snyder, a former CDT sports editor who was killed in an automobile crash in December of 1957. The awards have become an annual county staple celebrating the community’s young leaders, a pair of seniors from each of the six county schools who embrace academics, athletics and community service.
For Penns Valley, the unassuming pair of Engle and Stecko seemed like a perfect fit.
Stecko boasts a 4.1 GPA — the highest GPA of any Penns Valley female athlete — and half of her courses consisted of Advanced Placement classes. Engle is one of the top students of Penns Valley’s graduating class and has never not been on the honor roll.
Athletically, the two share a few pages in the Rams’ record books. Engle ranks No. 13 all-time in the school shot put — “Nothing to write home about, honestly,” he said with a laugh — and, even with a torn ligament in his right ankle, served as the captain for the track and field team’s throwers. Stecko helped set a school record in the 400-meter relay and earned both district and state medals. She was also a varsity starter on the volleyball team, a key cog for the last four years.
But the two weren’t named Snyder Award winners just for their high GPAs or their athletic talents. Away from the classroom and the courts and fields, the two have set an example for their peers to follow.
“Every time I see Marissa, she’s either talking to one of her closest friends or someone she’s talking to for the first time,” Engle said. “And she treats people with the same amount of respect and dignity.”
Said Stecko: “Even if (Max) isn’t having the best day, he’s doing the best job he can to crack jokes and put smiles on people’s faces because it makes him feel better ... His character brings light into other people’s lives.”
The same could be said of both Penns Valley students, who are set to graduate June 8. Back when she was a freshman, Stecko took note of how the seniors took her under their wing — and she tried hard to do the same. She realized she succeeded when the junior high team would attend varsity volleyball games and the young girls would have her number painted on their faces.
Engle was known to many as a “mascot” of sorts for the Rams. The friendly senior knew everyone on the track and field team and every event they were in. He even offered a pep talk on the final meet of the season — “It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being authentic,” he remembered of the theme — and essentially embraced the role of player-coach.
Engle will attend McDaniel College while majoring in physics and astrophysics, while Stecko will attend Penn State (University Park) and major in biomedical engineering.
Although the two both have a diverse set of interests and activities — Engle is the VP of Diversity Club and is a five-time volunteer for Crickfest; Stecko has helped several charities and tutored students — they’ve both made a big impact in a lot of different ways.
And Tuesday’s Snyder Awards were meant to honor and commend them both on those positive influences. They may not have sought recognition — but they earned it.
“I definitely thought that students who won the award are role models for the student body,” Stecko added. “So it means a lot knowing that Max and I can be those role models for future students.”