MERIDEN — From time to time, we like to spice up the “Best of the Bunch” with a specialty award.
You know, something that makes note of an exemplary display of sportsmanship or character.
Platt softball player Ashley Gallo was recognized for the former in our first event in 2016. Platt football/track athlete Ian Agnew was recognized for the latter a year ago.
This year, we’re issuing a Perseverance Award. While the scholastic year was abbreviated, it featured a remarkable number of athletes who either played through bad breaks and bruises or found a way to return from major injury.
This included a young man who, due to an almost unbelievable string of bad luck, missed virtually his entire high school career, yet is still going on to play college football.
More on him in a moment. Ladies first, and that’s senior Lyman Hall field hockey player Kaitlyn “K.K.” Nolan, who continued to play for coach Stephanie Lavado-Berghorn despite breaking her right index finger.
We’re not talking some hairline fracture. The break required surgery and several pins to repair.
Even with the injury, Nolan didn’t shy away from the thick of the action at center-back. Coaches of opposing teams voted her All-SCC Second Team and we selected her to the All-Record-Journal Team.
Our second finalist is Platt wrestler James Rondini. You remember James. He was just here yesterday, a finalist for Wrestler of the Year.
At the start of February, Rondini was cruising along in his senior season, undefeated at 34-0. Then he suffered a dislocated elbow in practice.
The injury required a follow-up procedure to pop it back into place. With the state tournaments just two weeks away, it looked like Rondini’s high school career was over.
It wasn’t. While Rondini missed the Maloney rivalry match and the CCC conference tournament, he was medically cleared to return the day the Class M state tournament opened in Guilford.
There, despite being sidelined for two weeks, Rondini reached the 132-pound final. The bout was tied 2-2 until Rondini’s opponent escaped with seven seconds to go.
Rondini went on to the State Open and finished his career at 144-32, the third winningest wrestler in Platt history. He will continue wrestling at New England College
Our third finalist, Southington football and basketball player Zach Zembrzuski, is the young man on his way to a college career after having injury shut the door on so much of his high school tenure.
It started in eighth grade, when Zembrzuski suffered his first knee injury.
He was OK for his freshman year, but broke his ankle going into his sophomore year.
Junior year, Zembrzuski was poised to break into the starting ranks on the football team. In the final scrimmage of the preseason, he tore his knee.
Zembrzuski rehabbed from the surgery that repaired that injury only to re-tear the knee within the year. Another procedure, another rehab.
Finally, in the fall of his senior year, Zembrzuski was cleared to play. He returned to football in November, making 15 tackles on the defensive line, and had a full season of basketball, averaging just under five rebounds a game.
Throughout the long parade of injuries, Zembrzuski continued as best he could to work out with his teammates. That work ethic, combined with a 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, made Zembrzuski viable in the eyes of college scouts.
A glass struggling just to stay half full was, at last, on the rise. Several weeks ago, Zembrzuski committed to play football at Western New England University.
The Record-Journal “Best of the Bunch” awards video airs next Thursday, June 18 on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. and will be on myrecordjournal.com after that. The R-J is giving away an iPad Mini to one person who watches the event live on Facebook. Enter at myrecordjournal.com/ipad. Up next: Wendi J. Kemp Scholarship.