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Athletes of Distinction

Lea Plarski Award
2014 Lea Plarski Award - Chris Blanton
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The NJCAA national office named Lake-Sumter State (Fla.) sophomore catcher Chris Blanton as the recipient of the 2014 Lea Plarski Award Thursday. The honor is presented annually to a student-athlete that best exemplifies the NJCAA’s values of sportsmanship, leadership, academic excellence, community service and athletic achievement.

“It is a great honor to be recognized with the Lea Plarski Award,” Blanton said. “To be recognized with this distinction is something that means an incredible amount to me. Lea Plarski was an amazing ambassador for athletics and being able to win an award named for her is something I know will help carry me a long way in life and I am extremely grateful for it.”

“Chris exhibited each of the cornerstones of the Lea Plarski Award on a daily basis during his two years at Lake-Sumter State,” said Lake-Sumter State head coach Josh Holt. “I think that shows
the character of Chris and a testament to how he was raised by his parents and other people that influenced him in a positive way.”

Graduating from Lake-Sumter State with a degree in finance, Blanton maintained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average throughout his two-year collegiate career. He was recognized by the NJCAA for his academic achievements earlier this year with the Pinnacle Award for Academic Excellence.

When Blanton wasn’t in class or studying for an exam, he spent countless hours helping others in the Fruitland Park community. Blanton spent time building homes for those in need with Habitat for Humanity and was an active member with the Miracle League – a baseball league for children with disabilities. He also spent time volunteering with Little League baseball clinics and mentoring kids at the local elementary school.

“Selflessly serving people of the community and showing you are willing to help others when there is no physical benefit for yourself proves to them, and everybody around you, that you are there for the greater good,” Blanton said.

Taking on a broad perspective of the importance of community service, Blanton’s motivations for helping others derives from his firm belief in paying it forward.

“If members of the community start to notice you are willing to help other people just for the sake
of being a good person, it becomes contagious,” he said. “All of a sudden one person witnesses you helping others and realizes how good it would feel to do something selfless. He or she then goes out and does something altruistic for somebody else. Then somebody else observes that good deed take place and follows suit with a benevolent act of his or her own. The next thing you know, everybody is helping everybody and that is a beautiful thing. It becomes a domino effect of people helping people, for the sake of helping people, that leads to a better community overall.”

Despite his perfect performance in the classroom and community, Blanton still had to overcome the challenging obstacle that most student-athletes face – putting academics and service ahead of sports.

“Being able to balance academics, working in the community, and playing college baseball was all about time management for me,” he said. “Planning out what I would do and when made it to where I could have a day full of things to do and never get flustered. It was also critical for me to keep my priorities in order. I knew that whatever the situation was, school and community service were ultimately more important than whatever I may have had to do concerning baseball that day.”

Although the Plarski Award is presented to a student-athlete for their achievements in the classroom and community, Blanton excelled athletically as well. He hit for a .231 average this season, compiling three doubles and 10 RBIs along the way. Most importantly, Blanton’s dedication to the community molded him into a leader for the Lakehawks.

“I believe that in order to be a good leader for a team, you must ultimately be a person your teammates respect,” Blanton said. “That starts with being a genuine person and being a leader
in your community. I think I was able to be a leader because my teammates saw I was willing to help not only them, but others as well, showing I sincerely cared and would be there in an instant
if they ever needed me.”

“Chris’ position on the baseball team was catcher so naturally every coach would like for their respective catcher to lead through his actions on and off the field,” Holt said. “This past spring, Chris became the player that the pitching staff looked toward for guidance and opinions during games and practices. He even called his own pitches and did an outstanding job.”

Blanton’s earning of the Plarski Award was due to his commitment to academics, community service and athletic achievement, but he is quick to credit others for driving his motivation towards excellence.

“This award is something I could not have ever received without the help of so many people along the way, the most important of which is my parents and my family,” he said. “Representing Lake-Sumter both on and off the baseball field has been a privilege as well. Being the recipient of this award makes this not only an award for me, but for my family, Lake-Sumter State College and everybody who has impacted me along the way.”

With his two-year collegiate career complete, Blanton is planning on staying close to home in pursuit of his four-year degree. The Orlando-native is looking forward to attending the University of Central Florida next year. Although he doesn’t currently have a spot on the baseball team, Blanton is set to attend a walk-on tryout in September.

“While at UCF, I will be pursuing a degree in Finance, with a triple minor in Actuarial Science, Statistics, and Real Estate,” Blanton said. “When I graduate, I hope to earn a position as an Actuary.”

2013  Sierra Downs  Women's Cross Country  Mercer County (N.J.)
2012  Cassie Dumoulin  Women's Basketball  Elgin (Ill.)
2011  Abby Frances   Women's Cross Country  Bevill State (Ala.)
2010  Jacelyn Fischer  Women's Tennis  SUNY Adirondack (N.Y.)
2009  Geofrey Kalanzi  Men's Soccer  Dakota County Tech (Minn.)
2008  Christopher Glaze  Baseball  Jones County (Miss.)
2007  Angela Verbeelen  Softball  Florida State-Jacksonville
2006  Patrick Lepper  Men's Basketball  John Wood (Ill.)
2005  Kayla Shaul  Women's Golf  Daytona State (Fla.)
2004  Theresa Berry  Volleyball  Bevill State-Fayette (Ala.)
2003  Melanie Mendrop  Women's Soccer  Hinds (Miss.)
2002  Jermaine Harris  Football  Georgia Military
2001  Mindy Madewell  Women's Basketball  Connors State (Okla.)
2000  Larry Scheller  Men's Soccer  Belleville Area (Ill.)
1999  Sarah Wood  Women's Soccer  St. Louis-Meramec (Mo.)
1998  Douglas Bates  Baseball  Pensacola State (Fla.)
 Terra Sarnacki-Royer  Women's XC/T&F/S&D  SUNY Cobleskill (N.Y.)
1997  George Russell Sanders  Football  Jones County (Miss.)
 Amy Lucas  Women's Tennis  Middle Georgia State
1996  John Combs  Men's Basketball  Lees (Ky.)
 Amy Parker  Women's Basketball/Softball  Jones County (Miss.)

Photos courtesy of Lake-Sumter State Athletics.

About the NJCAA Lea Plarski Award
The NJCAA’s Lea Plarski Award is handed out annually in the name of former NJCAA President Lea Plarski as recognition of her tremendous service to the NJCAA and two-year college athletics. The former director of athletics at St. Louis Community College/Florissant Valley, Plarski helped to establish the Women’s Division of the NJCAA in 1975.  She served as Vice-President for Women from 1975-1990 when she made NJCAA history as the first female ever elected to the office of President, a position she held from 1990-1996. In honor of her numerous accomplishments, as well as her undeniable dedication to the student-athlete, the NJCAA Lea Plarski Award was created.  Since 1995, the award has been presented to an NJCAA student-athlete who exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, academic excellence, athletic ability and achievements – qualities that were the cornerstones of the Plarski “era”.

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