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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Westhill turns tragedy into triumph

Last year, with fall practice in full swing, the Westhill football community received stunning and sad news: former quarterback Peter Cernansky died from injuries suffered in a skateboarding accident during his first week at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont on Aug. 30, 2012. Cernansky was just 18.

After his death, Cernansky's parents, Charles J. Cernansky and Sharon L. Burley, wanted to give back to the Westhill community to honor their only child.

The inaugural Peter Cernansky Memorial Golf Tournament was held on July 1 at the Rockrimmon Country Club in North Stamford. The event raised more than $35,000.

"(His parents) came to me at the end of (2012) and wanted to make a donation," Westhill football coach Frank Marcucio said.

Marcucio said he suggested having a golf outing. "I just didn't envision it would be this big," the coach said. "They wanted about 30 percent spent on player development, like camps and clinics, and 70 percent on academic counseling. I saw where we were and thought of the perfect program to use the money."

The donation will be used to implement an Athlife Program, formerly Play-It-Smart, at Westhill, which becomes the 20th school in the country, and the only one currently in the state, to be a member of the program. New Haven was a member of Play-It-Smart before the city dropped the program.

"It is a great thing that the Cernansky's are helping us with," Marcucio said. "I said to others that they have turned the tragic death of Pete into a legacy that will continue for a very long time because of his love for football and Westhill."

The Westhill football and boys and girls basketball teams, and possibly soccer, will benefit from the program. The student-athletes will now be able to take advantage of SAT Prep Courses through the program.

Joe DeVellis, who is an assistant varsity football, girls basketball, and baseball coach and a Special Ed teacher at Westhill, will be the academic coach who will oversee the program under Marcucio's direction. Athletic Director Mike King and Principal Camille Figluizzi are also intimately involved, as is basketball coach Howard White.

"We never had anything as intense as this," Marcucio said. "It's a huge advantage when you're trying to get D-I and D-2 scholarships. There are a lot of things that we can now accomplish with this program. My goal is to get these kids into college."

From the AthLife Website: 

The Athlife Foundation is a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization, whose aim is to ensure that in our nations most challenged communities, deserving student-athletes can achieve academically, garner the skills to succeed in post-secondary pursuits, and be prepared to compete in their future careers.

The Athlife Foundation assists schools in creating the right kind of sport experiences for student-athletes through a platform that develops professional academic-athletic support positions in secondary education.

A national network of resources, organizations, and schools help the creation and long term maintenance of these key professional staff positions. Schools develop their programs based on identified resources and needs of the athletic teams targeted for support.

In addition to the intrinsic benefit to students, the schools can realize improved academic achievement, increased graduation and attendance rates, improved post-secondary planning, and true community impact through service learning.

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