An inspiring collection of 15 young men and women from across the commonwealth of Kentucky make up the 2021 edition of the tomleachky.com All-Resilient Team. They are saluted for their ability to handle adversity in their quest to excel or even just compete in their sports
"First, we should note that every student-athlete gets honorable mention status on this team for their resiliency in facing the most unusual set of circumstances for the past year. But these nominees faced additional obstacles and as is always the case, their stories are so inspiring," said Tom Leach, voice of the Kentucky Wildcats, who oversees this annual project along with Mackenzie Hanes of Midway University.
Nominations are sought from high school athletic directors and the team is honored at the annual KHSADA awards banquet each spring. With the pandemic, that banquet was not staged last year and will be a virtual event this year but the All-Resilient Team members still received their commemorative posters plus other awards in 2020 and will do so again in 2021.
The student-athletes are also recognized via 'salutes' on 'The Leach Report' radio show's statewide network. The awards and the radio spots are made possible by longtime sponsors Keeneland, Bumblebee Team Sports, Welch Printing and Star Manufacturing.
Ethan Chenoweth, Hart County
The surgeon who repaired a multi-ligament knee injury described it as "catastrophic" but Ethan was determined to return to the three sports in which he competed for Hart County--and he did just that in only six months and at a high level. Ethan ranked top 10 in the state in saves as a goalkeeper for the soccer team and he ranked in the top 20 for field goals for the football team while also setting a record for the longest field goal in his school's history. And he was a starter and among the best three-point shooters in basketball.
Ethan excelled in the classroom also, earning numerous honors including student-of-the-year at Hart County as a junior and he was active in several service projects in his community.
Ronnie Darnell, Bracken County
Ronnie was born deaf. He became able to hear through cochlear implants but that kept him from playing football, the game he loved. The coach at Bracken County found a company that designed a helmet to protect the implants and enable Ronnie to suit up. The pandemic and a knee injury unfortunately kept him on the sidelines until the season's final game--but what a game it was for Ronnie. On one play, from his noseguard position, Ronnie sacked the quarterback, forced a fumble and recovered it.
In an interview that night with WCPO-TV, Ellen Darnell, Ronnie's mom, said "it's exciting because it's what he's always wanted to do and finally his dream has come true. We'll remember this forever."
Jacob Danneman, Covington Catholic
Jacob excelled in both football and baseball at Covington Catholic despite having to overcome two different injuries. He was part of a state champion football team as a junior but had to miss several games with an ankle injury. And then a torn labrum in a preseason scrimmage put his football senior season in jeopardy. But Jacob played through the pain and started all 11 games at corner for one of the state's top-ranked defensive units. Postseason surgery postponed his return to the baseball diamond, the sport in which he'll play in college at Hanover.
In the classroom, Jacob was also a standout, with a 3.5 GPA with multiple appearances on his school's honor roll. And he logged more than 80 hours of community service work.
Caleb Hager, Floyd Central
A broken leg as a junior sidelined Caleb in the middle of a promising season. This unexpected curve took a significant toll on his mentally even before the onset of a pandemic. But Caleb fought to overcome the setback and return to his role as quarterback as a senior, finishing as his school's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, earning MVP honors and being named to the All-District Team for a third time.
Caleb was also a standout baseball player at Floyd Central, setting or tying 14 school records. And he excelled academically, too, as a member of the national honors society and several other organizations.
Jacob Heist, Boyle County
Jacob was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sixth-grader but it did not keep him to pursuing his passion to play high school football as a lineman for Boyle County. Unfortunately, on his senior night, Jacob suffered a torn ligament that meant season-ending surgery. His reaction--"better me than one of my brothers" and he cheered on his team to a state championship.
That spirit is what led his teammates to support him through raising funds for the Epilepcy Foundation prior to their senior seasons. It was a story that inspired legendary broadcaster Dick Vitale to send a taped video message for Jacob's senior night ceremony.
Jeremiah Hicks, Holy Cross
To say the breaks did not go Jeremiah's way would be an understatement. A broken wrist wiped out most of his junior season and heading into his senior year, he suffered a fracture in his back. The initial diagnosis had him out for the season but Jeremiah recovered quickly and led his team as a captain. Jeremiah was named to the All-District and All-Region teams and chosen as the Best Defensive Player. He was also the leading rebounder for the basketball team.
For his accomplishments, Jeremiah earned a football scholarship at Campbellsville University. "He is a natural and passionate athlete who does everything at 100 mph," said Holy Cross Athletic Director Anne Julian.
Luke Justice, Cooper
Luke was poised to be a breakout performer in cross country and track until he was sidelined with an injury. And during his recovery, an infection developed that caused nerve damage and temporary paralysis in his left shoulder. He came back to compete in cross country despite the paralysis and he was getting back to his old self just as the season ended. The pandemic unfortunately ended his plan to run track in the spring as a senior but his hard work to return from his setbacks led to Luke earning the opportunity to join the track and cross country teams at Midway University. While at Cooper, Luke also played wide receiver and cornerback for the football team.
Upon graduating from Cooper High, Luke left this message to his teammates: "treat every race like it's your last and work hard in practice but make it fun as well."
Brayden Morris, Muhlenburg County
Brayden served as manager for the boys' basketball team through his high school career despite a sometime debiliating heart condition. He was born with a congenital condition that meant the left side of his heart never fully developed. This ultimately led to numerous surgeries and tests, a stroke and finally a heart transplant. But with that new heart, Brayden's outlook is bright and after college, he aspires to pursue his love of basketball through coaching.
Muhlenberg County coach Kyle Eades said "not only has Brayden battled through all of the challenges that life has thrown at him, he has done it with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. His toughness and perseverance inspired us as players and coaches each and every day. We are all better people because of Brayden Morris.”
Isabella Newman, St. Henry
"Bella" had the skill to be an outstanding volleyball player for St. Henry but she got short-changed when it came to luck. A torn ligament in her left knee sidelined her for most of her junior season and a similar injury to the other knee derailed her senior year on the court as a right-side blocker. Through surgeries and rehab, Bella stayed connected to the squad and provided support and coaching tips to her teammates throughout the season. It is also worth nothing that she was voted the team's co-captain as a junior and achieved a GPA of 3.7 through four years of volleyball with St. Henry.
Coach Maureen Kaiser said Isabella is "one of a kind and would be a perfect candidate for the All-Resilient Team."
John Curtis Petett, Monroe County
A triumphant senior season as the Monroe County High School quarterback was the payoff for Curtis, after a grueling journey back from two ACL tears on the same knee in preceding seasons. Curtis set single-season records for completions and passing yards and finished second all-time at his school in completion percentage. He was named All-District, team MVP and he won the Top Scholar Award. And even he suited up for the basketball team as well, starting at the center position. Curtis is a student at Western Kentucky University and aspires to become a family physician.
"Curtis has shown the ability to face adversity and is a perfect example to anyone on how to continue to work hard no matter the circumstance," said Monroe County Assistant Principal Billy Joe Murphy in nominating Curtis for the All-Resilient Team.
Emma Picklesimer, Raceland
Becoming a full-time player for her senior season at Raceland was the culmination of a long fight for Emma. Through the previous two seasons, she battled issues in both legs that ultimately were diagnosed as a condition limiting blood flow and causing severe, chronic pain. Two separate surgeries led to a recovery but that was preceded by a lengthy rehab process. Emma ultimately returned to her team to play the game she loves. And through it all, she excelled in the classroom, producing a 4.33 GPA and winning numerous awards including an "All A Classic" scholarship.
"It has been truly inspiring to watch her battle to get to play. She's been one of the most inspirational players I've had the privilege to coach. She comes to work with a positive attitude and a great passion to be her best and make her team better," said coach Ron Keeton.
Drake Pyle, North Oldham
Drake personifies the concept of overcoming adversity. He spent the first 11 years of his life in an orphanage in West Africa, living on one meal a day in a facility with no clean water, no electricity and no indoor plumbing. He was eventually adopted and came to America, where he had to learn a new culture. But Drake persevered and became a standout soccer player on a North Oldham team that won 12 of 15 matches and reached the final eight of the state tournament. Drake also earned KHSAA Academic All-State first-team honors and won numerous academic awards at North Oldham.
"Drake is the definition of resilient and is very deserving of this award," wrote Oldham County Middle School speech pathologist Lorie Pyle in the letter nominating him.
Evan Schumacher, Mason County
Near the end of his junior year, Evan survived a fall from an 80-foot high cliff but his list of injuries was a long one--shattered spleen, broken femur in his left and a shattered left wrist, a jaw fracture and a dislocated left knee and right hip. Returning to the golf and basketball teams was considered a longshot but to the amazement of Evan's doctors, he was medically cleared by late summer. He helped Mason County win a regional golf title in the fall and was a starter on the 10th Region runnerup basketball team as well. And the hard work paid off in an academic and golf scholarship from Kentucky Wesleyan.
"His journey has been nothing short of a miracle," said Mason County assistant principal and athletic director Chris Ullery. "I have admired his work ethic and more importantly his positive attitude through all of this."
Abbie Slaughter, Edmonson County
As a freshman, Abbie was diagnosed with a rare and serious illness that affects blood flow to the brain and heart. For a young girl that had always been very active, hearing a doctor tell her it was best to stick to one sport was difficult to accept. So she didn't accept, meeting with other doctors, enduring more tests and finally getting the chance to play softball and volleyball and even run some cross country at Edmonson County High, all the while maintaining a high academic standing.
Abbie was a two-time team MVP in volleyball and earned numerous other awards. In softball, she was named to the All-Sectional Team was recognized with the True Grit Award, as well as another for stolen bases.
Makala Stambaugh, Jenkins
Makala played basketball, volleyball and softball, ran cross country and track and was a cheerleader at Jenkins--all while being born with only one functioning hand. She earned All-District honors in volleyball and was a part of a 4-by-200 meter relay team that qualified for the state meet and also part of a state-qualifying cross country team. Along the way, she maintained a 4.0 GPA.
And the adversity did not stop with that birth defect. Before high school, Makala lost her father and two siblings and during her her high school years, she helped care for a grandmother battling cancer. "In my lifetime, I have never and possibly will ever, meet another person with her determination, endurance, grit and resiliency. I have been blessed to teach, coach, and watch this young lady grow into this amazing human being, from whom I have learned so much more from than I could ever teach her. I could not fathom anyone else more deserving of this award than Makala," said Jenkins' athletic director Ashley Addington.
Reginald Whyte, Jr., Louisville Central
Reginald's adversity symbolizes the struggles all student-athletes faced in the year of the pandemic, with learning done virtually and sports' schedules disrupted with regularity. And for Reginald and his teammates, their school was located at the heart of social justice protests and rallies in a tumultous time for their city. Concern over contracting covid-19 and bringing it into his family prompted Reginald to put social activities on hold and to get in the best shape of his life mentally and physically, to suit up as a defensive end and tackle for Central.
Reginald helped lead his team to a one-loss season while earning All-District honors as well as an opportunity to play college football at UPike. He achieved a strong GPA in the classroom and was also a two-time state meet qualifier in wrestling.
Faith Alford, Walton-Verona
Kate Bale, Assumption
Amy Barry, Sacred Heart Academy
Chloe Boa, Oldham County
Cathryn Brown, Lyon County
Charlie Calvert, Allen County-Scottsville
Preston Dykes, Oldham County
Kaleb Givens, Tates Creek
Katie Heath, Hart County
Torie Lynn Houston, Holy Cross (Covington)
Trey McCoy, Fairdale
Jason 'Blaze' Nalley, Hancock County
Kade Neely, Mayfield
Kaylin Page, Logan County
Hayden Perkins, Muhlenberg County
Ivan Prudencio, duPont Manual
Samantha Rogers, Bourbon County
Cassidy Rowe, Shelby Valley
Abigail Thomas, Danville
Erin Toller, Sacred Heart Academy
Devin Uyhazy, Tates Creek
Rylee Austin, Raceland-Worthington
McKensey Bunch, Tates Creek
Makenzie Burns, Mercer County
Keeton Burnside, Danville
Isaac Dowdy, Hopkins County Central
Anthony Franklin, Bryan Station
Andre Green, Lexington Christian
Grace Hardy, Bourbon
Esmond Morris, McCracken
Lexie Mullins, Buckhorn
Kasia Parks, Frederick Douglas
Dylan Penick, Logan County
Audrey Rawls, Paul Laurence Dunbar
TJ Richardson, St. Francis
Benjamin Spratt, Grant County
Cameron and Cooper Stewart, Butler Traditional
Jasmine Ward, Ft. Campbell
Mia Ying Wright, Hopkins County Central
Dylan Arnett, Magoffin County HS
Tristen Ballinger, Oldham County HS
Webb Bates, Collins HS
Anna Bergman, Holy Cross HS
Grace Bringard, Assumption HS
Ashley Brown, Greenup County HS
Keaton Bryant, Union County HS
Ellie Caffee, Metcalfe County HS
Trey Crump, Mason County HS
Madison Davis, Franklin-Simpson HS
Bradley Fetherston, Tates Creek HS
Molly Franklin, George Rogers Clark HS
Matthew Givens, Green County HS
Matthew Harper, Murray HS
Natalie Hayes, Boyle County HS
Sophia Head, Oldham County HS
Anna Lauren Jacobs, Southwestern HS
Nick Johnson, Edmonson County HS
Ryan Lagestee, Christian Academy of Louisville
Skylar Lewis, Edmonson County
Sophie Metheny, Madisonville-North Hopkins
Caleb Mitchell, Corbin HS
Kristen Mitchell, Bullitt Central HS
Alexis Nelson, St. Francis HS
Tay Offutt, Lewis County HS
Nelson Perrin, Scott HS
Day Po, Butler HS
Tyler Ray, Livingston Central HS
Kristynn Releford, Mercer County HS
Allison Robertson, Notre Dame Academy
Abby Ross, Morgan County HS
Noah Sewell, Mercer County HS
Molly Skaggs, Elliot County HS
Maddie Stokes, Beechwood HS
Kylee Tyson, East Jessamine HS
Gabriel Whitehead, Fort Campbell
Bryce Williams, Bath County HS
Ben Wood, Ohio County HS
Kari Wood, Webster County HS
Travis Austin Bays, Raceland HS
Tyler Beisner, North Oldham HS
Lindsey Duvall, Bullitt East HS
Allison Ellis, Lyon County HS
James Michael England, Middlesboro HS
Haley Harkins, Assumption HS
Lara Klein, Covington Holy Cross HS
Nick Jones, Bracken County HS
Logan Mann, Anderson County HS
Andrew Pajor, Murray HS
Cory Pitsenberger, Eastern HS
Sarah Schmidt, duPont Manual HS
Alex Shea, St. Henry HS
Marquelle Rene Spencer, Dayton HS
Hiroto Takeuchi, Villa Madonna HS
Hunter Ziegelmeyer, Covington Catholic HS