Jun. 18—HAVERHILL — At first glance, the 2021 Moynihan Lumber Merrimack Valley Scholar-Athlete winners could not be more different.
Our boy winner, Central Catholic's Osamuyimen "Uyi" Osayimwen relies on strength and is athletically more of a specialist, with football sprinkled in with some track his main focus.
Female winner Stephanie Tardugno banks more on her speed and athleticism and, while her primary sport is softball, she's also been a mainstay in soccer and basketball for Methuen and even added indoor track this year.
Yet, as was drawn out at Thursday's Moynihan Lumber awards banquet at Haverhill Country Club, the two winners have a lot in common as well. They're both great leaders (3-sport captains) who excel in the classroom and have been active in their community.
Central Catholic football coach Chuck Adamopoulos raved about Osayimwen's leadership qualities and spoke of how much he improved, and so quickly, as a football player — a testament to his hard work and diligence.
Similarly, Methuen softball coach Jason Smith lauded Tardugno's leadership qualities.
"She's one of the best captains and players we've had," said Smith, who has been head softball coach since 2006. "She makes everyone around her better which is everything you want in a captain. You only come across someone like Steph every once in a great while."
Smith jokingly said that this was "Steph Tardugno Week" because he spoke about her for an award at a School Committee meeting Monday, she got the 100th hit of her career Tuesday, she was named Methuen's Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year on Wednesday and was recognized by Moynihan Thursday.
And next Monday, she'll be honored at Fenway Park while receiving a prestigious district scholar-athlete award from the Boston Globe.
Both recipients thanked their parents and family for all their support and the family contributions were noted by Eagle-Tribune presenter Mike Muldoon and guest speaker and E-T sports editor Bill Burt.
Also honored at the banquet were Haverhill's Art Zaino and Methuen High's Matt Curran, for community commitment.
Zaino has been taking pictures at his own expense for the Haverhill High wrestling team since early 1980s and, with wife Judi, helped start the first Haverhill booster program in the middle 1980s.
He has also taken photos for Whittier Tech wrestling and softball and, at times, provided photography support to his church (Sacred Hearts) and to the Haverhill Fire Dept.
Curran, a former basketball standout at Methuen, has been the athletic director at his alma mater for five years, quickly establishing himself as both conscientious and focused on making student-athletes feel appreciated.
Whether it's promoting Methuen athletes to the newspapers or on social media, while offering unwavering support to his coaches, Curran has no equal in the region.
Also recognized Thursday were the 2020 Moynihan Scholar-Athletes of the Year, Emily Downer from Central Catholic and Windham's Jacob Kuczynski, who are attending Middlebury and UCal Berkeley, respectively. They missed out on a banquet last year due to COVID restrictions.
In closing remarks, Burt stressed that, with so much going wrong in the country over the last two years, we need leaders like Tardugno and Osayimwen to continue on their path to affect people and the nation in a positive way.
No one doubts that Tardugno and Osayimwen, as well as Downer and Kuczynski, will do just that.