By Phil Stacey
---- — For six decades it has stood as a symbol of academic and athletic excellence, rewarding the best of the best from across the North Shore.
Now 52 years young, The Salem News Student-Athlete Award will once again be awarded tomorrow to a deserving student-athlete who has combined terrific work in the classroom, outstanding performances in their field of athletics, a penchant for helping others and a willingness to multitask within their community.
Where it began as an award strictly given to football players — Peter Zeitzoff of Beverly High was the inaugural winner in 1962 — The Salem News Student-Athlete Award is now open to young men and women from a plethora of athletic endeavors.
So, who gets to be a student-athlete nominee? How does the process work? And who decides who ultimately wins?
Glad you asked.
Each year, the 14 high schools within The Salem News readership area (Beverly, Salem, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead, Swampscott, Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham, Masconomet, Pingree, North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie, Manchester Essex, Bishop Fenwick and St. John’s Prep) select a student to represent his or her school for a particular year. Transcripts, resumes and letters of recommendation for each student-athlete are then sent to The Salem News.
Each candidate must combine academic excellence, outstanding athletic prowess and the ability to multitask in areas such as volunteering, working part time and/or giving back to their community.
Each student-athlete candidate is then interviewed by a panel of five judges at The Salem News’ offices in Beverly. After all the interviews, the judges discuss the candidates until they reach a consensus on who the winner will be.
Tomorrow night, each of the nominees and their families meet with the judges and members of The Salem News for a dinner and awards ceremony at Finz Seafood and Grill in Salem. Each of the student-athletes is recognized individually during the dinner, and a guest speaker delivers a short speech to the assembled audience after dinner.
This year’s speaker will be Rob Bradford of Beverly, a former Salem News sportswriter and the current editor of WEEI.com. He has covered the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox for more than a dozen years and has written two books: “Chasing Steinbrenner” and “Deep Drive: A Long Journey to Discovering the Champion Within” with former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell.
Following Bradford’s speech, the 52nd annual Salem News Student-Athlete winner will be announced.
The winner will receive a $1,000 Nelson Benton Scholarship, named in honor of longtime Salem News reporter and editorial page editor who retired in 2013. The winner will also receive a commemorative bowl signifying the win, along with his or her name engraved on the Student-Athlete trophy.
The winner’s school will also get to showcase the actual trophy, a Paul Revere-style bowl made of sterling silver, with the names of all the previous winners engraved on it.
Last year’s winner was Dylan Mann of Masconomet Regional, increasing his school’s mark of most Student-Athlete Award wins (8).
Every participating high school in The Salem News’ readership area has captured this award at least once. Student-athletes from Peabody High have captured the award six times, while Beverly, Hamilton-Wenham, Marblehead and Swampscott have been victorious on five occasions each. Ipswich and St. John’s Prep scholars have been honored four times apiece; Salem High has taken home the award three times; Danvers has done so twice; and Bishop Fenwick, Manchester-Essex, North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie and Pingree have seen their students win once.
Judges this year are state Rep. John Keenan of Salem (a former Student-Athlete Award winner); Michelle Talisman, property manager of Peabody House and chairwoman of the Peabody Chamber of Commerce; Al Dichner, COO of Aries and R & L Associates of Beverly and a board member of the American Red Cross of Northeast Massachusetts; Matt Williams, assistant sports editor at The Salem News and Phil Stacey, sports editor at The Salem News.