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Strong Senior Class Highlights 2023 Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund Awards Night

An impressive group of wrestler student-athletes were recognized on Tuesday at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell at the annual Scholarship banquet.

The Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund was started twenty-seven years ago by the DiPaolo Family & friends with the very first Ilio DiPaolo Award given in 1996 in honor of the wrestling namesake.

There are now seven different individual honors as part of the Scholarship Fund that are awarded to senior student-athletes who ‘excel academically in addition to contributing to the well-being of both their families and communities’ with particular emphasis on individuals who display strong characteristics in sportsmanship, competition, scholarship, and citizenship.

While the Fund has recognized outstanding wrestler student-athletes since 1996, it has also raised over $1.2 million for a number of charities in western New York including Women’s & Children’s Hospital, the Center for Handicapped Children, Kids Escaping Drugs, Buffalo Police Athletic League, People Inc., etc.

Former long time director of athletic training for the Buffalo Bills, Bud Carpenter, is the President of the Board of Directors for the Scholarship Fund and introduced Bob Koshinski, chairman of the Fund’s Selection Committee, to begin the event on Tuesday.

The Harrison Phillips #97 Award was the first award of the evening and was presented to Lancaster’s Tommy Carlsen. The award goes to an outstanding wrestler who also exemplifies strong qualities in academics, commitment, and community.

The Knuutila Family Award was presented to Starpoint’s Matt Caldwell. The award is given to an individual who ‘displays the characteristics of an “over achiever;” one who is persistent, has experienced a setback in life, yet persevered and even when their goal was not reached, kept trying and never gave up.” The award was started in 2019 following the passing of the late Mrs. Linda Knuutila, an original Scholarship committee member who was dedicated to supporting wrestling.

The Cauliflower Alley Club Award was presented to St. Joe’s Collegiate’s Luke Ventresca. The Cauliflower Alley Club is ‘an association of past, present, and future champions, combatants, and allied patronages joining in celebration and recognition of fellowship within the Wrestling World.’ The award is given annually to a wrestler who displays a strong quality for that wrestling ‘fellowship.’

The Bill Hein Dedicated Wrestling Award was presented to both Gwyneth and Meghan Edwards from Lewiston-Porter High School. The award ‘honors Bill Hein, whose love and dedication to wrestling promoted the sport on all levels nationally and in Western New York. It is given to a wrestler who displays that same love and commitment to the sport.’ Committee members said they could not choose just one individual to receive this year’s Bill Hein Award, so they elected to fully support both of the John Carroll University bound sisters.

The “Destroyer” Award was presented to Niagara Falls High School’s Jaden Crumpler. The award is given out annually to an outstanding senior wrestler in honor of the late Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, a past wrestling great and member of the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Crumpler captured the NYS 126-pound Division I title this winter and will compete in the rugged Big Ten Conference at Michigan State University next season. Crumpler is the second Wolverine to win the “Destroyer” Award.

The Gary Castanza Award was presented to Pioneer High School’s Brady Heckathorn. The awards’ namesake was a skilled martial artist and trainer who also supported charitable organizations while emphasizing the importance of community and family. The award is given to an individual who displays all of these same characteristics.

The 2023 Ilio DiPaolo Award, the Fund’s highest individual honor, was presented to Hamburg senior Kenny Schmitz. The award is given to recognize a ‘deserving college bound athlete who has become an accomplished wrestler through dedication, skill, and sportsmanship while maintaining scholastics and citizenship.’ West Seneca town councilman Robert Breidenstein introduced the award and made note of Schmitz’s exceptional letters of recommendation. The award is named in honor of ‘the memory and high ideals’ of the namesake of the award and restaurant.

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