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Nine High School Students Receive McGowen Courage Awards
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Story By: Greg Heindel



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  Originally Published on: 5/13/2014

Nine strong-willed young people are honored for their perseverence in overcoming adversity as they pursue happy and productive lives. The teens, one each from Richland County's nine high schools, are recipients of the Mansfield Rotary Club's 47th annual McGowen Courage Awards. The awards were created by Salvation Army Brigadier and Rotary Club member Bill McGowen, to recognize and honor students who demonstrate tenacity and fortitude in the face of hardship. 267 young people have received the award since 1968. This year's honorees are Jacob Stolsmark of Lucas, Hannah Hawkins of Crestview, Nathan "Chance" Smith of Ontario, Mariah Gorrell of Saint Peter's, Eric "Ricky" Hoover Junior of Madison, Nathaniel "Nate" Holvey of Mansfield Christian, Tim Gesouras of Lexington, Ma'Tia Porter of Mansfield Senior, and Phyllis "Ashley" Wyrth of Clear Fork. Congressman Pat Tiberi was there to support the awards and the brave people they honor. Each Rotary McGowen Courage Award recipient gets $1000 from an education fund from Richland Bank and the Richland County Foundation, a commemorative plaque, certificates from Congressmen Tiberi and Bob Gibbs, Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, and the Richland County Commissioners, and an American flag that has flown over the U-S Capitol building in Washington.

2014 Rotary McGowan Courage Award Recipients


Ma’tia Porter - Mansfield Senior High School


Ma’tia’s hearing loss was discovered around age four. She developed her own learning style in school with the help of hearing aids. In middle school she was often teased by other students who took advantage of her because she couldn’t hear well, to the point that she stopped wearing her hearing aids. Her grades suffered because she missed so much of that was being taught by the teachers. She has adapted by learning to read lips and has become a better student.


Thanks to the encouragement of her mother, Ma’tia began to realize that it didn’t matter what other people thought of her hearing loss. What did matter was how she felt about herself and her family. She has learned the hard lesson of ignoring the people who treat her poorly because of her disability, to live her life to the fullest, and not worry about what cannot be changed. While she still struggles at times, she has family and friends who support her. Her goal after graduation is to attend college at North Central State.




Tim Gesouras – Lexington High School


Tim has been challenged with Asperger’s Syndrome but has not let the condition define him. While he has struggled with understanding social cues, fearful thoughts and anxiety, he has faced these problems by getting involved in school and community.


Tim participates in the school chess club, Leo’s Club, Spanish and Japanese Club, the high school orchestra, Mansfield Youth Strings Aid Orchestra, Renaissance Youth Drama Theater, and plays piano. He volunteers with Feed the Needy, and is involved in his church youth group. He has been named Student of the Month twice, has received the Exceptional Event Award, and is greatly appreciated by his peers.




Phyllis “Ashley” Wyrth – Clear Fork High School


Ashley has shown tremendous courage, will power, and determination to overcome her struggle with Autism. She has not allowed her disability to hinder her growth as an individual overcoming timidity and sometimes social backwardness.


She has become self-sufficient, independent, and developed an interest in reading, watching movies, and volunteering at the local library. She has also worked at the Bird Sanctuary and enjoys photography; some of her photos have won awards.


Although socialization is something that Ashley struggles with daily, she has changed from a shy young lady into someone who is more confident and who now takes pride in herself as a person. Ashley is an inspiration to others by demonstrating how to embrace being different and adapting to life challenges.


Eric “Ricky” Hoover, Jr.  – Madison High School


Ricky began to exhibit the characteristics and challenges of Autism at a very young age. He was unable to sit with other students or take part in group activities. He struggled to make face to face eye contact and to speak with other students. Any type of schedule or routine change produced great fear, stress, and anxiety resulting in running around the room, flapping his hands, talking to himself and crying.


Throughout high school Ricky has shown the ability to overcome the challenges of Autism. He has developed a rapport with his fellow students as he continues to mature socially. Ricky has shown great ability in the field of interactive media, where he is able to assist the classroom instructor and connect with his peers through strong technical skills. Due to his perseverance, positive attitude, and work ethic he will graduate with a 3.96 grade point average and a rank of 6th in his class.



Mariah Gorrell – St. Peter’s High School


When Mariah was very young it became necessary that she be placed to live with her grandparents. She loved her grandparents very much and helped them as much as they helped her. When her grandmother died when Mariah was in 7th grade, she endured the loss along with her grandfather and they became very close, taking care of each other. When her grandfather became ill there were times when Mariah was unable to come to school. She grocery shopped, cleaned the house, and paid the bills. It broke her heart when her grandfather died.


While Mariah knows what it is like to suffer great loss at a young age, she has learned to accept her circumstances and shares with others the depth of her faith encouraging them to trust in God, whom she knows as her Father. Mariah’s experience and the exemplary way she handles it, is a positive influence to those around her teaching us all about the grace of God.



Nathaniel “Nate” Holvey – Mansfield Christian School


Four years ago Nate was playing in a soccer match when he sustained a painful broken tibia in his right leg. The break required that Nate spend the summer on crutches and in a heavy full length cast. Following a five month recovery and physical therapy he was able to return to the soccer field, but soon re-injured his leg. The next year, during a soccer scrimmage game his leg was broken again requiring surgery. During the surgery an emergency occurred as his blood pressure began to rise and he experienced pain in his chest. It was then that it was discovered Nate had a congenital heart condition with decreased blood flow to his legs. Heart surgery followed which was complicated by a narrow aorta and an abnormal heart valve.


Nate determined that soccer was too risky for his leg so he joined the swim team and has since remained injury free. He has been able to overcome his physical trials to the point where he could volunteer for two mission trips with his youth group at his church and he became certified as a life guard.


Hannah Hawkins – Crestview High School


Hannah has a profound hearing loss and wears hearing aids in both ears. At age five she was diagnosed with Pendred Syndrome which is a mercurial condition. It is unknown what the future holds regarding her ability to hear.


In spite of her condition, Hannah has taken the toughest classes offered at her school including physics, AP English, Pre-Calculus, and Spanish 3, receiving A’s in each course. As a senior, her grade point average is 4.0, and she is President of the National Honor Society at Crestview. Hannah has been her class President for four years. She is an accomplished musician and can play bass guitar, piano, and flute. She works part-time at Arby’s to save money for college and plans to attend Adrian College in Michigan and will study Spanish Education.




Nathan “Chance” Smith – Ontario High School


Chance has a form of Autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. He has worked hard to overcome problems related to social skills and communication with others. His improved awareness of communication skills and nuances has helped Chance accept situations and respond positively.


Chance’s strengths lie within the use of technology, goal-setting, and reading. He excels in the area of computer drafting courses in school and carrying a grade point average of 3.6. His outside school interests include participating in the Special Olympics Basketball Team along with his love of cats and video games. Chance enjoys pleasure reading and has authored some of his own stories.




Jacob Stolsmark – Lucas High School


When Jacob first started school he was more or less non-verbal and struggled with Autism which made it difficult to adjust to the daily routine of the school setting. Interpersonal skills that include social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, that many take for granted, are areas that Jacob’s parents and sister worked hard to help him learn to communicate better and to handle stressful situations improving his life tremendously. He has a great sense of humor which helps earn the support of classmates.


Jacob has been able to get his driver’s license which gives him a needed sense of independence. Jacob attends the Pioneer Career and Technology Center through Lucas High School where he is completing Website Design and Programming while carrying a 3.8 GPA; he plans to attend North Central State College.



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