JOHNSTOWN - The Holiday Inn in Johnstown played host to the 26th Annual Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Sports Award Banquet Wednesday night.
Friends, family and school personnel from around the county gathered to celebrate the athletic accomplishments of some of the areas top sportsmen and sportswomen.
The event recognizes the top athletes from each school in Fulton County, as well as the Championship Teams from each school from the preceding athletic year. Ultimately, the top male and female athletes in the county are announced. The Sports Award Banquet dates back to 1988 when Gloversville High School's Tom Ciaccio and Broadalbin Perth's Katrina Springer were announced as the first recipients of Athlete of the Year honors.
Matt Shell speaks to the audience at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown on Wednesday at the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Sports Award Banquet. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Mark Kilmer, the President of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce kicked off the evening by introducing the Master of Ceremonies, WENT-AM news and sports director Tom Roehl. Roehl opened appropriately by addressing the parents in the room, a sentiment that would be echoed throughout the banquet.
"You, my friends, on this night, are the definition of dignitary," Roehl said. "You are important people in your children's lives."
And after all in attendance enjoyed dinner and dessert, Roehl introduced the evening's keynote speaker, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football coach Matt Shell.
Shell was an all-state wide receiver for the Gloversville Huskies in 1987, catching balls from Ciaccio. He was honored at the inaugural Sports Award Banquet along with his award-winning quarterback. After a successful football career at SUNY Cortland, Shell earned a Master's Degree at SUNY Albany before beginning his teaching and coaching career at Burnt-Hills Ballston Lake High School in 1992.
Shell took the reigns as head football coach in 2001, so far amassing a career record of 98-23 and leading the Spartans to six Section II Class A championships. In 2012, Shell led the Spartans to a state championship.
Shell centered his address on three areas that he said mean a lot to him as a person and a coach: perspective, competitiveness, and the acronym P.R.I.D.E.
Shell echoed Roehl's sentiments by thanking his parents, who were in attendance and speaking to the important role parents' play in shaping a young athlete. Shell was raised by two parents who weren't heavily involved in sports.
"My father took me to a field and hit fly balls to me, not because he wanted me to be the best player," Shell said. "He just knew that I liked it."
Shell shared how his parents helped him to have the proper perspective on things.
"It's not as much about the game as it is being a good person," Shell said.
By keeping a proper perspective, Shell says he was able to adopt the competitive attitude that carried him through high school and college athletics and into his coaching career.
"I tell my kids at Burnt Hills all the time that even when they think they are done and they don't think they can work much harder, take that next step, "Shell said. "This is what winners do."
Before describing the acronym P.R.I.D.E., Shell shared some very personal battles he has dealt with in the past decade.
Both Shell and his son Jacob are cancer survivors.
"We know first hand that the battle of cancer is harder fought and sweeter won than any game, any championship," Shell began.
Seven years ago Shell was diagnosed with squamous-cell cancer. Shell powered through using the perspective and competitiveness that was instilled in him at a young age.
Pausing and speaking through tears, Shell described how in 2009 Jacob was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma. After a year and a half of constant treatment, stem cell transplants, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries, Jacob, too, was declared cancer free.
"I think my family got through those battles using the same philosophy I preach to players," Shell said. "That's the acronym P.R.I.D.E."
Shell explained how poise, respect, integrity, discipline, and enthusiasm are important to anyone's success in life.
"For me [this acronym] has proven to be a philosophy for a successful and fulfilling life," Shell explained.
Shell closed by congratulating the athletes in attendance and urging them to pursue individual goals and face life challenges with P.R.I.D.E.
Roehl proceeded by announcing Fulton County's 2012-13 championship teams and athletes, with representatives from each team accepting gifts on behalf of their program.
Next, 34 student athletes from the Broadalbin-Perth, Gloversville, Johnstown, Mayfield, Northville, and Oppenheim-Ephratah school districts were honored with medals for their outstanding achievements in athletics.
Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. Alexis Capasso, a standout soccer and softball player from Gloversville High School, and Joseph Nellis, a wrestler and baseball star from Johnstown High School were announced as Athletes of the Year, marking the seventh time an athlete from each school took home honors in the same year.
After plaques were presented to the winners, the evening came to an end with closing remarks from the Chairman of the Sports Award Committee, Jim Landrio.