HAVERHILL — In her delightfully quirky way, Methuen High senior Sara Fragione recited the 11 sports/activities she did, with little success, before discovering track and field.
“Dance, cheerleading, soccer, gymnastics,” she reeled off in a staccato manner. “Uh, figure skating, volleyball ... it’s tough to remember them all. I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t know what track was.”
The 12th time was a charm. After a couple years of middling success in track, she was moved to the 800 meters. And the rest is history.
Tuesday night at Michael’s Function Hall in Haverhill she was given the third annual Eagle-Tribune Student Athlete Award. Fragione is headed to Dartmouth College, where she plans to study pre-med and run on the Big Green’s powerhouse Division 1 cross country teams as well as the indoor and spring track teams.
She’s ranked No. 2 in her class at Methuen and is No. 3 all-time in the 21-team area in the 800 meters with her best time of 2:14.17 last spring.
“This means so much to me. I’m still in shock. All the blood, sweat and tears paid off,” said the 5-foot-11 senior.
Speaking of payoffs. The event’s principal sponsor, Charlie Daher and Commonwealth Motors, presented Fragione with a $2,000 check, always a nice gift considering the price of an Ivy League education ($77,000 at Dartmouth).
Daher said, “I don’t envy Bill (Burt, Eagle-Tribune sports editor) and the committee, these are the best of the best.”
While many seniors are in full-blown “senior slide” mode, Fragione says that won’t affect her.
“I don’t think so. I love school and track,” said Fragione, who hopes to become a neurologist, which became a goal after her beloved grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
After a big win, Fragione said, “I can have a milk shake (to celebrate). Then it’s another goal, like to break my own school record and the area record.”
One of her distance coaches is Colleen Shannon, the No. 2 800 meter runner in area history (2:13.79 in 2007), just behind North Andover legend Kirsten Kasper (2:12.56).
Shannon believes she and Kasper could be in trouble. Big trouble.
“Soon it will be hers,” said Shannon, who starred at Penn State.
Fragione’s mother, Lisa Fragione, said, “I’m just so proud of her. Her coaches deserve a round of applause, too. She’s always gone above and beyond in whatever she puts her mind to.”
A big group of Methuenites were there to support her, including coaches Brittany Caprio, Kevin Alliette and Shannon and Athletic Director Matt Curran.
Andover swim legend
The guest speaker was retiring Andover High swim coach Marilyn Fitzgerald, who built one of the great dynasties in Massachusetts high school sports history. Burt said, “The Patriots have a dynasty but it’s not as good as Andover swimming’s.” She’s also beat cancer and has won a slew of awards (including Eagle-Tribune Sportsman of the Year) for her tireless work in the community.
She gave an inspiring speech and praised the assembled athletes.
“I get chills when I read of your accomplishments and your family support,” said Fitzgerald, who has been in coaching for 49 years. “It’s a very, very special group. You’ve already achieved greatness. ... You’ve had a willingness to keep working when others have stopped.”
Hollywood in Haverhill
The 21 top senior scholar-athletes from the area schools were literally given the red carpet treatment. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, though, none of them are lacking in the classroom.
Andover’s Ethan Coyle scored a near perfect 1,590 on his SATs. Fragione and Timberlane’s Sara Padellaro are No. 2 in their respective senior classes. Greater Lawrence Tech’s Leah Markham is No. 1 and Lawrence’s Jean Espinal won a $300,000 four-year scholarship to Brown.
The honorees received an Oscars-style gift bags including two pictures of themselves from The Eagle-Tribune, gift certificates from Commonwealth Motors and Whirlaway, and several other neat trinkets.
Each of the 21 area schools named its top senior scholar-athlete. From that pool, a committee consisting of Eagle-Tribune sports editor Bill Burt and sportswriter Mike Muldoon, Whirlaway Sports owner Dave Kazanjian, State Rep. Christina Minicucci and Merrimack College women’s hockey coach Erin Hamlen picked the winner.
Winners by School
Each school named a senior as its Student Athlete nominee:
Andover Ethan Coyle
Bradford Christian Marin MacDonald
Brooks Sabrina Gribbel
Central Catholic Joey Howshan
Fellowship Ester Mills
Greater Lawrence Leah Markham
Haverhill Claudia Miner
Lawrence Jean Espinal
Methuen Sara Fragione
North Andover Jake McElroy
Notre Dame-Tyngsboro Julie Getchell
Pelham Olivia Gagnon
Pentucket Jack Clohisy
Phillips Jacob Hudgins
Pinkerton Amelia Graves
Presentation Liliana Foucault
Salem Ellen Nolan
Sanborn Avery Scully
Timberlane Sarah Padellaro
Whittier Nicole Verrette
Windham Taryn Livingstone