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Not only are rugby players impressive on the field, so many of them demonstrate respect, integrity, and leave a lasting impact on their community. In anticipation of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) on June 2-3, 21 outstanding individuals have been nominated for the Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award for the impact they have had on their program, their communities and the people around them.
Each year, the award is presented to a collegiate student-athlete participating in the CRC to honor the values of both the rugby community and Penn Mutual. The contenders exemplify notable values – such as integrity, respect, and loyalty – not only on the rugby pitch, but off as well, by serving as a mentor, giving back to the community or working with a charitable organization.
Of these 21 individuals, there are six National Small College Rugby Organization players and four female nominees. It is the largest group of nominations to date with 13 states and Venezuela being represented in 2018.
Below is a list of nominees and a description of their remarkable commitment to a better future for all.
Abraham Asante, The Claremont Colleges, from Newark, NJ, faced adversity from his earliest days growing up in a single parent household in Ghana. After his mother remarried and moved his family to the United States, his step father passed away. Abraham quickly stepped up to help raise his two sisters. He delayed graduation by a year to improve his grades, was accepted to Pitzer College and has become a leader and support system for the rugby team.
Nick Carey, Harvard University, from Pittsburgh, PA, has traveled throughout the United States each summer since middle school serving underprivileged communities. He has worked with Meals-on-Wheels, volunteered with a special education gym class, assisted in the development of a peer counseling program for Orphans in Swaziland and spent this spring break on a relief trip to Puerto Rico working with Mar Azul to rebuild the community of Arecibo after the devastating hurricane.
Scout Cheeks, Pennsylvania State University, from Pittsburgh, PA, and is known for her true sense of integrity. Scout spent her spring break building homes with Habitat for Humanity and has participated in other humanitarian efforts.
Matthew Crowe, Iona College, from Malverne, NY, serves as the Campus Minister at Iona College and organizes 30 students a month to do a Midnight Run in NYC that distributes clothes and food to the homeless. A leader of Iona College Life Talk, he's had Mariano Rivera come on campus multiple times to discuss faith, attracting members from different religious groups. Matt is a participant in My Fellow Campus Ministers which initiates projects that deal with helping orphans, retired priests and the elderly and has organized an event for Iona Rugby in which players helped children, whose parents are incarcerated, with their schoolwork.
Riley Curtin, Boston College, from Malvern, PA, spent the last academic year working at James Otis Elementary School in Boston. Every week, Riley would devote an entire day there to spend time with the kids during lunch, play with them during recess, and teach them subjects to help them become successful, productive, and responsible citizens in society.
Mark Dombroski, Saint Joseph’s University, from Media, PA, was nominated in Memoriam due to the lasting impact he had on the community. Mark died tragically this spring while on a rugby tour in Bermuda and the response from the rugby community was indicative of his quality of character and charm. Mark spent time volunteering for Habitat for Humanity helping improve the lives of others and left a lasting impact on those around him.
Jonathan DiBacco, California Maritime Academy, from San Pedro, CA, has worked with Hands of Mercy for the past 11 years, building hundreds of homes for those without in Ensenda, Mexico. On campus, he is a leader in InterVarsity helping students cope with college struggles.
Caring De Freitas, Lindenwood University, from Caracas, Venezuela, faced poverty and oppression throughout her childhood and despite this, became the youngest player to reach the Venezuela National team. Working two jobs to pay for school at Lindenwood, she finds time to balance her academic requirements and rugby commitments and still manages to volunteer with local groups like Girls on the Run and Rookie Rugby in St. Louis. De Freitas has also participated in “Rugby Para Todos” or “Rugby for All,” which takes rugby to severely impoverished neighborhoods in her native Venezuela.
Tess Feury, Pennsylvania State University, from Morristown, NJ, is an active member of THON, a student-run philanthropy group at Penn State committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. Their yearlong effort culminates in a 46 hour dance marathon, one in which Tess danced all 46 hours straight to raise money for the cause.
Gardy Lebon, United States Naval Academy, from Greenwich, CT, is a leader for the Navy Rugby team on and off the pitch. Gardy spearheads all the fund raising initiatives with the Midshipmen and also organizes their charity commitments including the Travis Manion Foundation where he recently spent the day teaching young kids to play rugby.
Marc Lerebours, Endicott College, from Norwalk, CT, was raised by a single mother and is the first member of his family to attend college. He's currently on the verge of obtaining his M.B.A degree from Endicott's graduate school and is the epitome of a student-athlete, exemplifying maturity, respect, sportsmanship, and a high level of character where ever he goes.
Jesse Linsenmeyer, Mount St. Mary’s University, from Glenelg, MD, has organized team service work with local children’s hospitals, Pennies for the Poor, and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Every night he returns home to attend to his ailing grandmother and is often an outlet for his teammates that are struggling because of his focus on others.
Timothy Marra, Christendom College, from Clifton Park, NY, spent his last two spring breaks on mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Peru, spending time rebuilding homes and improving community infrastructure. He also participates in Sports Are For Everyone (SAFE) where he helps disabled children learn and play baseball.
Patrick McMahon, University of Notre Dame, from Oakton, VA, has been captain of the Notre Dame Rugby team for the past three seasons. Known for his kind nature and genuine leadership skills, Patrick’s impact on the rugby team has been felt on and off the pitch.
Elizabeth Pittman, United States Naval Academy, from Garner, NC, was involved with Relay for Life, volunteered at YMCA, and participated in mission trips to New Orleans and Virginia that served underprivileged communities and helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Upon arrival at the Naval Academy, Liz continued to give back by participating in Wreaths Across America and Girls on the Run.
Jason Riekena, Life University, from Missoula, MT, was introduced to rugby by his brother Jack. Jason and his family suffered a tremendous loss when Jack committed suicide at age 15. Jason turned his grief into a passion for building suicide prevention awareness by creating the annual Jack Riekena Memorial Rugby 7s tournament in his hometown. In its fourth installment, the tournament raised $8,000 towards suicide prevention.
Raaqim Rispress, United States Military Academy, from Columbia, SC, earned the Lt. General Hal Moore Award, which is given to two cadets who closely exemplify the characteristics of Lt. General Moore, who led the 7th Cavalry Regiment into combat during the Vietnam War. Known for outstanding work ethic, Rispress spent two years on a mission trip in Mozambique and after returning has taken initiative to mentor younger cadets.
Cristian Rodriguez, Lindenwood University, from Hawaiian Gardens, CA, used rugby to remove himself from a dangerous area and establish a life at Lindenwood University. He has worked with the Alternative to Gangs Membership Program (ATGM) to help kids from his neighborhood avoid going down a bad path. After graduation, he plans to return and get involved with the group more extensively.
Earl Smith, New Mexico Highlands University, from Las Vegas, NM, has been volunteering at a local nursing home spending time with elderly. He has also spent time at Corner Stone church helping out with the youth at bible study where has been mentoring kids about life and been a positive force for good.
Robert N. Waterman, United States Air Force Academy, from Highland Park, TX, set an example of perseverance and dedication by remaining a positive force on the team despite suffering from cancer. In 2017, he took precious time off to escort a young lady with cerebral palsy to her senior prom back in his hometown. Serving as an eagle scout, he helped complete a landscape project for a therapeutic horseback riding center and has volunteered with the Special Olympics and other charitable organizations.
Isayah Young-Burke, Susquehanna University, from New York, NY, is a talented member of the University Choir and an active member of the Black Student Union, advocating for racial equality and social justice. Isayah serves as a liaison to Student Government, participating on several committees to address student and faculty concerns related to residential life and dedicates at least 25 hours a semester to serving the Selinsgrove, PA community.
The chosen recipient will be recognized at the 2018 CRC and upon winning the award, a $5,000 contribution will be made to a charity of the athlete’s choice. The winner’s rugby program will also receive $1,000 in Rhino Rugby gear for equipment needs.
Watch Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship on ESPN and its family of networks to see who wins the 2018 Life of Significance Award.