Good morning. To begin, I would like to thank the Skelton family on Jon’s and my behalf for honoring us with this generous award. The Skelton Award is one that signifies excellence in academics and athletics, as well as leadership and charitable service and was established by the late Bill and Peggy Skelton, two individuals that I wish were here with us today. Every athlete in this room is deserving of this award, and as such, I am very grateful and humbled to have been chosen as one of its recipients.
When I was first told I would have to give this speech, I was trying to think of themes and two things came to mind. “Who is responsible for my receiving of this scholarship” and “How can I repay those individuals?” My speech, I can only hope, will do both justice. So “who is responsible?” The list is as long as it is wide, and for this reason I will discuss those individuals in groups.
The first group I would like to recognize is my parents. Softball became part of my life at an early age, as I spent many hours of many summer days sitting in diapers in a dugout behind a baby-gate watching my parents play on a co-ed team. Once I began swinging the bat and running the bases on my own, my parents became fixtures in the stands. One of my most memorable moments was at the age of six, upon seeing my Dad sitting in a wheelchair watching me slide into home for what would be the last game he would ever see.
From that day on, my mom took the reins and helped me continue in the sport that she and I both loved. She made sure I played on competitive teams, had coaches that were respected, rides to every game and practice, and money to pay for all of the equipment and fees. Once I became a teenager, however, she started making me be responsible for my own travel arrangements and scheduling, encouraging me to become self-sufficient and independent. Had I not handled my own affairs at an early age, I probably would not have pursued college opportunities outside of Georgia and today’s scholarship would never have happened.
Playing for Coach Thomas would never have happened, either, which brings me to the second group I feel played a role - my coaches. From slow pitch to fast pitch, travel ball to high school, and ultimately to Virginia Tech my coaches played an integral role. Without their faith in my abilities, patience in teaching me the game, and wisdom on and off the field, I would not be receiving this scholarship nor would I have been able to compete at the Division I Level. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to attend Tech was because my hometown batting instructor is good friends with Coach Thomas, having coached together in earlier years. You see, it was fate or possibly divine intervention that brought me here and I am grateful for it. Coach Thomas has taken the skills I learned at an early age to a new level, increasing my confidence and helping me mature as a player.
And how could I leave out Freddie and Erin, my athletic trainers and new-found friends. We spent countless hours agreeing and disagreeing on what methods and amounts of time would be necessary for me to recover from both my back and shoulder injuries – injuries responsible for my missing the most of my sophomore year and being redshirted the next. At a time when I should have been enjoying what I now know will be the best years of my life, I was losing confidence, scared that I might never play again. Softball is more than just “a game” to me. You see, it has always been my passion and an outlet for my stress. At some point it became how I saw myself and how others became to see me, so when I couldn’t play I had a difficult time adjusting to my new life without the little “yellow ball;” Freddie and Erin helped me see through that.
Ironically, through it all I learned the more injuries you get the smarter you get. To quote former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vernon Law, ‘Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” I’ve learned my lesson well.
Related to my coaches is a third group I would like to recognize for their role in making this morning a reality - my teammates. My success today is their success. My teammates are my family in Virginia and I wouldn't have made it through these four years without them. Ten years from now I won’t remember that ball I missed or that strike out in the bottom of the seventh, but I will remember the impressions they have made, the relationships we’ve built, and those great moments that come along with the game! And I know that none of us will ever forget the afternoon we spent together in the bus that broke down on the way to Pitt just last week or the night we spent in the Chicago airport to finish out our 12-day spring break in 2013.
And, I cannot talk about my teammates without mentioning how their families have been indispensable. With two younger sisters at home who also play sports, my mother cannot always make the seven-hour drive to the games, so I have become the adopted daughter to many. Kylie and her parents were integral in making my transition to VT easier during our freshman year, always fitting me into their car and feeding me with meals I never would be able to afford. I can always hear Lauren’s mother cheering for me above the crowd at a time when I need it most. And, Bailey’s parents and now her father have never let a game go by without telling me how well I played, even if I went 0-4 with two errors that day. Michelle and her dad are the latest addition to my extended family, both with whom I have never enjoyed more when talking about game winning strategies. It would be impossible in this short period of time to mention how every girl and their family members have made a difference in my life, so to all of you I want to take a moment to say “thank you” and to let you know you how truly special you all are.
And who could forget my professors, always having to put up with my missing class for games and my emails at two in the morning from the bus with questions about what I had missed. My internships at General Electric and Lockheed Martin are directly related to the quality education I received from being in their classes. One professor, in particular, deserves special recognition and that is the late Dr. Torgersen. Not only was I fortunate enough to be a student in his class, but also his assistant during his last years of teaching. As most of you know, Dr. Torgersen was an avid fan of Tech athletics. Not a day went by without his asking me how softball was going or why we lost certain games. He was genuinely interested and was one of my biggest fans. In fact, just the other day I learned that his son, James, called Coach Thomas to ask how the Pitt series went, and in particular, how well I did. It seems that according to James, this was an ongoing concern of his father’s after every game. I wish Dr. Torgersen was here today for me to be able to thank him in person for all that he taught me inside and outside of the classroom. He will always have a special place in my heart.
So what can I do to “pay everyone back,” when I know that no feasible way exists? What I know I can do is to continue on the path that led me here in the first place and as I near its end, support others along the way as they have supported me. I will make my mother and the Skelton family proud, paying them back by pursuing my future interest in engineering to let them know that their contributions were not in vain.
To pay back Coach Thomas and the staff, I promise to follow your advice, continue to train hard and grow as a player. The road to regionals and beyond is within our grasp, and I want you to know I will do everything I can to contribute to our success.
To my teammates, I can only hope to be able to pay you back by being a tutor or a friend if you need one and a fellow athlete whose thirst for a division and regional championship will not be quenched until won. And to the special players with whom I began my freshman year, I hope to mentor next year’s rising athletes in your honor, as we were mentored by the existing experienced players just four years ago.
To my professors, I promise to use all that you have taught me to become the best woman that I can be. Being a Virginia Tech student and having the opportunity to earn a degree from this prestigious university is a privilege that I can only pay back by continuing to strive for academic excellence. I can only hope to be able to represent the university at the level that it deserves to be recognized.
And I think at this point in my speech, there is One here amongst us that deserves more from me than I could ever give and that is the Lord, himself. For I know that without his love and guidance, I would not be standing here before you today. To quote theologian Neibuhr Reinhold, it is God who has “given me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the ability to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It was through his divine intervention that I have been blessed to meet all of you.
In conclusion, I want to thank the Skelton family, my parents, coaches, teammates, and professors one more time and to let you all know that I am truly and honestly grateful for this award. You all have given me the chance to live my passion, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Go Hokies!
Jon Woodcock and Kelsey Mericka hardly know each other, but they certainly have big plans for their futures.
Woodcock, a starting pitcher on Tech’s baseball team, will be pursuing a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering next fall, while Mericka, the starting third baseman on the softball squad, will spend the next academic year wrapping up coursework toward a degree in industrial and systems engineering and finishing classes on minors in green engineering and statistics.
Their academic successes, along with their success on the field and in the community, led to both receiving the 2015 Skelton Award for Academic Excellence in Athletics – the highest designation handed out by the Tech athletics department. Both received the honor at the annual Athletics Director’s Honors Breakfast held April 26 at the Inn at Virginia Tech.
The Skelton Award, named after the late Dr. Bill and Peggy Skelton, goes each year to a rising junior, senior or fifth-year male and female student-athlete who has participated in intercollegiate athletics for at least two seasons at Tech and who holds an overall grade-point average of 3.40 or better. Each recipient receives a scholarship of $5,000.
“I was surprised,” Mericka said. “There are a lot of other athletes just like me that have done well in classes and done a lot of charity service and stuff like that and done well in their sport. I was honored and surprised.”
“I didn’t know how competitive and how prestigious an honor it was until I got the award,” Woodcock said. “Whit Babcock [Tech’s AD] called me, and Coach [Pat Mason] announced it at practice one day.
“I was pretty pumped. It’s a $5,000 scholarship, so that will help out with school a good amount. I didn’t know the extent to how tough it was to win it, so I was pretty excited once I learned more about it.”
Mericka, a native of Kennesaw, Georgia, is a two-time member of the All-ACC Academic Softball Team and a two-time member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Her original plan called for graduating this spring with her degree in industrial and systems engineering, but she tore the labrum in her shoulder a year ago and missed all of last season. Thus, she took a redshirt year, giving her another year of eligibility.
She then decided to spread out her coursework and get an additional minor in statistics. She worked as an intern last summer at General Electric in Atlanta, and this summer, plans on working as an intern for Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia.
On the field, Mericka leads the Hokies with 15 home runs and ranks second on the squad with 39 RBIs. In the community, she volunteers to help with Micah’s Backpack, a local organization that packs lunches for children from low-income families. She also volunteers with Special Olympics.
Woodcock will graduate with a degree in psychology in a couple of weeks. With a year of eligibility left, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, so he researched graduate degrees at Tech and saw that the industrial and systems engineering department accepted those applying for a master’s with psychology degrees. He applied, was accepted and now he plans on pursuing a master’s degree in that field.
Woodcock, who sports a 4.56 ERA in 10 starts with 55 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, made the All-ACC Academic team a year ago and figures to make it again when the ACC announces it later this spring. He often participates in the team’s 19 Ways events – an program initiative designed to help others within the campus and New River Valley community – and he recently helped with Special Olympics and read to children at elementary schools in Christiansburg and Radford.
Other student-athletes recognized at the AD’s Honors Breakfast included the more than 300 who achieved a grade-point average of 3.0 or better during one or both semesters in the preceding calendar year.
The department also recognized Courtney Dobbs from the cross country and track and field team and Devin Carter from the wrestling squad as its ACC Female and Male Scholar-Athletes of the Year, respectively. Dobbs, a native of Glen Allen, Virginia, holds a degree in accounting and is wrapping up a second degree in finance. Carter, a native of Christiansburg, Virginia, owns a degree in psychology, is getting a master’s in instructional design and technology and plans on pursuing a doctoral degree in industrial organizational psychology starting next fall.
In addition, the athletics department recognized its Scholar-Athletes of the Year, an honor that goes to those with the highest GPA in the 2014 calendar year. This list of honorees included Alexandra Watt (women’s cross country), Maggie Mitchell (HighTechs), Shannon Mayrose and Katie Yensen (women’s soccer), Michelle Prong (softball), Kristen Lee (women’s track and field) and Brad Gross (video).