Central Florida's Josh Harper has been named the 2017-18 Lea Plarski Award winner, given annually to the NJCAA student-athlete who best exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, academic excellence, and athletic ability.
Harper, a two-year pitcher on the Patriot baseball team not only excelled on the field athletically, but was a leader to his teammates as well as a committed member to the community. Harper's accolades and community service embodied the ideal recipient of the Lea Plarski award.
"This award means a lot to me," Harper stated. "First off, I'd like to thank god for giving me the opportunity to attend Central Florida. I'd like to thank the coaches and Patriot staff for nominating me for this award. I loved everything about Central Florida and it gave me two of the best years of my life. I'd also like to thank the community for welcoming me during my time at Central Florida."
A native of Ocala, FL, Harper received the Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA) Bill Tuten Scholar Athlete of the Year given to the most outstanding baseball player in the state of Florida that exemplifies the highest character and performance in the classroom, in the community, and on the field.
With a 3.83 GPA as a Nursing major, Harper graduated summa cum laude from Central Florida where he was a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society inductee, was awarded the 2018 Central Florida Scholar Athlete of the Year, and the James D. Harvey Department of Athletics Achievement Award winner.
"Josh Harper is a tremendous young man and we were very proud to have him in our program," stated Central Florida Athletic Director Bob Zelinski. "He is a perfect example of the type of student-athlete we are privileged to work with every day at the two-year college level. Josh is a great student who also excels in athletics and is committed to working in the community and providing service to others. "
Harper's awards were only a part of his path to success at Central Florida. A member of Ocala United, Harper serves his community where he works to renovate homes, prepares meals for the homeless, and volunteers with a music program. Harper's commitment to giving back has led him to service opportunities in Cuba, Canada, and Honduras where he has helped feed and interact with children. Harper recently made his fifth trip to Nicaragua with Honoring the Father Ministries.
Harper's passion for giving back was replicated on the pitching mound as the right-handed hurler guided the Patriots to 31 wins in 2018, a 14-win improvement from the year before. Harper excelled in 2018 with four wins in 42.1 innings of work, third-most on the team. As a go-to guy out of the bullpen, Harper led the Patriots with 19 appearances in each of his two seasons in Ocala.
"Josh is such a great kid," commented Central Florida head coach Marty Smith. "The team loved him, the community loved him, he's just a very giving guy. Josh brought a lot of great qualities that everyone loved about him and really helped our program."
Harper becomes the first Central Florida student-athlete to earn the Plarski award and is the first baseball player to land the honor since Chris Blanton of Lake-Sumter State (FL) in 2013-14.
Harper's relentless ability to succeed in all facets of life led him to Liberty University where he is currently studying biomedical science.
About the 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".