On a night when University of Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese spoke of caring for your team more than you care for your own honors, two young student-athletes that perfectly demostrate these characteristics stood forward in a room of incredibly accomplished young men and women, Monday evening, all honored as their school’s 2015-16 Unsung Hero, to each claim a $40,000 Charles Perry McCormick College Scholarship.
Joseph Schildwachter, a football player at Concordia Prep, and Alyssa Rasmussen, a girls' basketball player at Sparrows Point High, were unaware of their good fortune as they heard their stories read in front of an audience of more than 700 invited guests, comprised of Baltimore area officials, school administrators, coaches, Unsung Hero honorees and family members, at the 76th annual McCormick Unsung Heroes Banquet at Martin's Valley Mansion in Cockeysville. As the details were revealed, however, it soon become apparent to both that they were the winners of an award that can postively impact the rest of their lives.
"It's an incredible experience. I'm so happy and blessed that God has put me in this position in my life," said Schildwachter, who plans to attend the State University of New York Brockport. "I'm just hoping he'll continue to work through me for the rest of my life."
Schildwachter and Rasmussen were chosen from a total of 108 honorees, representing 69 Baltimore area public, private, parochial and independent schools. Both are seniors, a requirement of the program.
Rasmussen’s positive influence and support benefited the team both in the games and from the bench. In fact, her coaches and teachers expressed how she set herself apart from her peers by giving teammates the spotlight, as well as being an ever-present source of positivity and energy - qualities that went beyond what even the coaching staff could express to the team themselves.
She helped to organize events like team dinners, a holiday gift exchange, and fun practice sessions that helped boost the team’s dynamic throughout the season. Rasmussen’s coach, Shanira Hall, remarked that she is the school’s Unsung Hero because “her success and contributions often go unrewarded, though they never go unnoticed. All the young women listen to her because she has gained their respect.”
"If there was any problems, she was always someone we could go to," added Hall. "The kids knew they could talk to her and she could make them feel better."
"I know that chemistry is important, on the field and off the field, because you want to have a good relationship with the girls you are playing with. I just wanted to get everybody together and keep our good relationship," said Rasmussen, who will use her scholarship to attend Stevenson University where she plans to play soccer. "I just know what is right and wrong and the team comes first."
Schildwachter played no less than eight different positions during the football season and did whatever he could to bring success the team. Unfortunately, his football season was cut short due to a low number of eligible players, and cancellation of the last two games of the season.
Even with this adversity, Schildwachter always led by example, gaining the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates in the process. He was elected team captain in the second week of the season, simply because of the effort and leadership he presented every day in practice.
Schildwachter also serves as student assistant to Concordia athletic director Dave Merritt. Merritt said Schildwachter, whose older siblings graduated from Concordia (formerly known as Baltimore Lutheran) and father Paul is a longtime faculty member and baseball coach, is part of the school's fabric.
"Joey has a servant's heart," said Merritt. "From washing the floors to getting water ready - anything that will better the school as a whole, he will do. He loves Concordia."
Schildwachter’s former coach, Scott Merbach said, “[He] was continually encouraging younger players to put forth the effort to succeed. As guys would get tired and frustrated he would encourage them to keep pushing and to never give up.”
"Eventhough the season got cut short it was fine in the end," said Schildawacther, who will use his scholarship to attend the State University of New York at Brockport. "I thought it banded us together as brothers."
Schildwachter and Rasmussen are the first Charles P. McCormick Scholarship recipients from their respective Baltimore County school. Dunsin Fadojutimi (Eastern Tech) and Alcedo Hodge (Maritime Industries Academy) were the Unsung scholarship recipients last year.
Frese has led the Maryland women to unprecendented heights since her arrival in College Park in 2003, including 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, 12 20-plus win seasons, six 30+ win seasons, three trips to the Final Four, and the 2006 national championship.
Frese discussed her basketball journey, from a little girl who fell in love with "bouncing a little orange ball" to earning a college scholarship to play the game and her rapid rise up the coaching ranks.
"My first head coaching job was at Ball State. When I called my first recruit on the phone she said, 'really, you're calling from Penn State,'" recalled Frese. "People asked me why would you want to coach at Ball State, they don't have a player over 5-11. I didn't look at it that way. I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to coach Indiana-born players who knew how to play the game the right way. That's the way I look at things. I never worry about the reasons why something cannot be done, I look for the reasons how we can get it done."
The late Charles Perry McCormick Sr. founded the McCormick Unsung Heroes program in 1940 to recognize athletes for unselfish team play and highlight the efforts of those who contribute to the success of their teams without acclaim. In 1969, the scholarship was added to the program in his honor.
Note: Check back often as we will be uploading all of the video intereviews conducted before the event in the coming days.