DANBURY, Conn. – Eastern College Athletic Conference Commissioner Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss announced Andrew Avelino (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.) of the U.S Military Academy, Heather Hartman (Fredericksburg, Va.) of the University of Delaware, Josh Morgan (Foster, R.I.) of Plymouth State University, and Richard Suarez (Voorhees, N.J.) of Rowan University as the winners of the 2014 ECAC Award of Valor. All four student-athletes will be recognized at the 2014 ECAC Honors Dinner on September 28th at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in North Falmouth, Mass.
The ECAC Award of Valor is awarded annually and was established in 1985 to honor Eastern College Athletic Conference student-athletes whose courage, motivation and relentless determination serves as an inspiration to all. The recipients of the Award of Valor exemplify strength of character and perseverance deserving recognition as being truly triumphant.
Andrew Avelino, of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., is a three-year gymnast at Army even after suffering a life-altering setback during his freshman season. In November of 2010, Avelino suffered a ruptured artery during a training session that resulted in the amputation of his right foot and part of his right leg. Although the freak accident put his gymnastics career in jeopardy, the undaunted Avelino was determined to return to West Point and re-join the gymnastics team. Spending his time rehabbing at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Avelino was given a new start with a prosthesis on his right leg. From learning to walk, to learning to run again, Avelino overcame adversity at every turn.
In August of 2011, Avelino returned to campus ready to take on the challenge of being a full-time cadet and a member of the gymnastics team. Recruited as an all-arounder, Avelino showed great versatility in focusing his efforts on the pommel horse and high bar after his injury. On January 14, 2012, a little over a year after his injury, Avelino made his collegiate debut at Penn State, posting Army’s second-highest score on the high bar. Following the Penn State meet, Avelino received the Gene Wettstone Award as the meet’s Most Outstanding Competitor and was named ECAC Gymnast of the Week.
Avelino is expected to graduate from Army in December with a degree in Foreign Studies.
Like Avelino, Josh Morgan, a standout football player at Plymouth State, overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve great things on the gridiron. A four-year letterman for the Panther football team, Morgan began his career as a back-up quarterback during his freshman and sophomore seasons, before moving over to linebacker as a junior. Following the move to the defensive side of the ball, Morgan flourished. In 2012, Morgan earned All-Conference recognition after leading the Panthers with 75 tackles. During that junior season, Morgan struggled with a number of sicknesses, colds and sinus issues, but never missed a practice or training session. Following his breakout season, Morgan was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in February of 2013. In May of that year, Morgan had surgery to remove his thyroid.
Following the surgery, Morgan was scheduled to undergo iodine and radiation treatments. Reluctant to miss his senior season or have the treatments deter his performance, Morgan received approval from his doctors to delay the radiation until after the 2013 season. As a senior and team-captain, Morgan once again earned All-Conference honors after racking up a team-high 72 tackles, to go along with a sack, a fumble recovery and 7.5 tackles for loss. Morgan started Plymouth State’s final two games at quarterback, while also never missing a snap on special teams.
In December, Morgan received the New England Football Writers Association Nason Award. The prestigious honor is given to a New England senior who has persevered against all odds to succeed on the football field.
Heather Hartman was a rising Delaware field hockey player when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the spring of 2012 after noticing a lump near her collarbone. While undergoing extensive chemotherapy to battle the disease, Hartman insisted on still taking classes. The Elementary Education major finished the spring semester with a 3.94 grade point average despite the energy-draining treatments. Despite battling her own adversity, Hartman showed great courage and unselfishness by continuing to help others. Hartman asked all money that was raised for her in a variety of fundraising events be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to benefit others instead.
Following the completion of her treatment, Hartman started the climb back to once again compete at a Division I level. As a junior, she appeared in all 20 of the Blue Hens’ games, starting 17 and leading the team with nine assists. Back at full strength this past year, Hartman was voted team captain and started all 22 of Delaware’s games. Contributing eight goals and eight assists, she helped lead Delaware to a program-record 17 wins and a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Hartman wrapped up her Delaware career with 19 assists, ranking ninth in program history.
While continuing to be cancer free, Hartman graduated from Delaware this past May.
Told he would never play baseball again, Richard Suarez of Voorhees, N.J. not only proved the doctors wrong, but also persevered through two life-threatening illnesses. Two days before beginning his freshman year at Rowan University, Richard Suarez was diagnosed with High Risk, Pre-B, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Following the diagnosis, Suarez was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to begin 14 months of intense chemotherapy, including intravenous chemotherapy, bone marrow biopsies, spinal taps and cranial radiation. In March of 2011, Suarez was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis (AVN), which is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. Suarez was told in December of 2011 that he had AVN in both of hips, knees, tibias and femurs and that he would never play baseball again.
In January of 2012, Suarez moved to campus to begin his education. Although unable to play, Suarez still wanted to be part of the baseball program and met with the baseball team for the first time that winter. In August 2012, doctors noticed that Suarez’s hip could not be saved from AVN and that he would need hip replacement surgery. After months of hard work and rehab following his successful hip replacement surgery, Suarez tried to pitch again in the summer of 2013. Feeling encouraged by his first action on the mound, Suarez decided to once again try out for the Rowan baseball team. In the fall of 2013, Suarez earned a spot on the Profs pitching staff.
On February 23, 2014, Suarez made his collegiate debut coming out of the bullpen at Randolph-Macon College. He pitched 0.1 innings and earned the first win of his career. This past season, Suarez went 3-0 with a 4.05 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched for a Rowan team that won its second consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship and reached the third round of the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Suarez is considered cancer free, but will need to follow-up with doctors for the next five years.
About the ECAC
In the 75 years since its inception, the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) has emerged as the nation's largest Conference. The ECAC has grown considerably from its charter membership of 58, currently boasting over 300 member schools in Divisions I, II and III, ranging in location from Maine to South Carolina, and westerly to Missouri. In the 2014-15 academic year, the ECAC will host nearly 100 championships in 37 men's and women's sports as the sponsors of over 5,800 varsity teams and 111,000 male and female athletes. For more information, visit www.ecacsports.com.