Champions are not born, they are made.
On Wednesday, March 18, Villa Maria Academy held its 27th Annual Physical Fitness Dinner Awards Ceremony inside the school’s Visitation Center.
For the past 27 years, Michael Bernard, VMA Physical Education director, has tested Villa students on the New York State Physical Fitness Tests and those who earn the highest achievement scores are invited along with their families to attend this prestigious event.
The eventful evening unfolded as a star-studded awards ceremony with the honorees traveling onto a 15-foot long red carpet to receive trophies recognizing their hard work and determination.
“We want them to feel as if they’re at the Academy Awards being recognized for all of their hard work,” Bernard revealed.
Last Wednesday’s event featured Captain Frank Parisi, United States Marine Corp. Harrier pilot and veteran, as the evening’s keynote speaker. Captain Parisi is a class of 1996 alum.
Another Evening of Champions event honoring the achievements of fourth through eighth grade students was held this Wednesday, March 25 and featured Special FBI Agent Megan Ahl as the evening’s key note speaker. Ahl is a class of 2000 alum.
“Our keynote speakers were once sitting in the same seats that these kids are today. We want to show them that nothing is impossible and they can achieve their same level of success,” Bernard explained.
A self-described ‘farm boy’ from Tulare, California, Bernard participated in the state’s Physical Fitness Test in the 1960s and reminisced about meeting his hometown hero, Bob Mathias, a two-time Olympic Decathlon Champion.
“He left a lasting impression on me as a kid, so I try to do the same for my students with all of our Evening of Champions keynote speakers,” Bernard revealed.
He revealed this event has two intended goals. They are to promote life long physical fitness through physical education and for the event to be a successful fundraiser to help the school.
Past projects this fundraiser has aided include the construction and reconstruction of the school’s track following the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Sandy and renovating the playground.
Although still too early to tell, Bernard said funds raised during these events may aid in building an awning for parents to wait underneath for their children while protecting them from the elements.
“I have taught at this school for nearly three decades and besides loving to work with my students and teaching them, I believe the volunteer work that these parents do for me and my programs is second to none!
“I could not offer these events with out parental support and the huge support that our principal, Sr. Teresa Barton gives to me and to the Physical Education Department,” Bernard expressed.
Bernard thanked Jean Marie Piccininni, his administrative assistant; Christina Caldarola, his daughter, P.S. 36 teacher and event planner; Tina Laing, parent volunteer who helped him test all Villa students for three months; John Marano, Community Board 10 first vice president and Villa parent; John McGrath, John Oliveri; James Scerbo; Mike Pennisi; and local businesses which donated money and food to help run these two events.