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Ryan Clay was unfortunate enough to be on the Rossford High School football team that had a 34-game losing streak. Tuesday night he was honored by Chuck Ealey who led the University of Toledo to a 35-game winning streak from 1969-71.
The young Clay wrote an essay that moved Mr. Ealey and the Leadership Toledo to grant him a scholarship. In the essay, he wrote about him going through three straight 0-10 seasons and his ability to overcome it.
Last fall, his senior year, Rossford went 6-4.
"It was definitely tough," the young Clay said about the losing streak. "It was pretty cool hearing [Mr. Ealey's] story, it was the exact opposite though. But we both had the motivation to keep going and the undefeated spirit tonight is what it was all about."
He said his freshman year there were about 30 players in his class, but only 10 of them stuck with football.
"I read about his community involvement, family involvement," Mr. Ealey said. "You look at a 35-game win streak and a 34-game losing streak and what is the difference? There is no difference in spirit. He showed undefeated spirit of going through the trauma of the losing streak and not giving up."
Mr. Ealey was the quarterback at UT from 1969-71 that went on to play in the Canadian Football League. He said he started the foundation a couple of years ago to recognize local athletes with an "undefeated spirit" that does not go to the best players, but those with the best spirit.
The young Clay was one of three local seniors awarded a $1,000 for essays written for The Chuck Ealey Undefeated Spirit Contest Awards contest.
The contest, in its second year, is put on by the Chuck Ealey Foundation and Leadership Toledo. This year, the contest received 53 essays. The other two winners were William Longthorne from Ottawa Hills High School, who received $1,000 from Mr. Ealey's football scholarship and Maddy Perry of Perrysburg High School, who received $1,000 for the girls basketball scholarship.
"It is a great honor," said the young Perry, who is planning on attending Ohio State University in the fall. "It was tough with two sports [she played volleyball, too] and bouncing school. I tried to lead by example. This is a great honor, I am humbled."
The annual awards celebration had 10 finalists for each of the three scholarships.
"[The young Clay's] essay struck me, this young man had an outstanding essay about how much he learned from a 34-game losing streak to keep his head held high knowing he is a winner," said David Schlaudecker, executive director of Leadership Toledo. He helped Leadership Toledo cut the essays down from 53 to 10 finalists before Mr. Ealey ultimately picked a winner.
Tthe football and girls basketball finalists and scholarship winners were chosen by Buckeye Cable Sports Network.
The 10 football finalists were: Liam Allen of St. John’s Jesuit, Vinny Broadway of St. John’s Jesuit, Michael Cornell of Bowsher, Mark Delas of Perrysburg, Johnny Douanglee of Waite, Will Longthorne of Ottawa Hills, John Segura of Northwood, Steve Slocum of Perrysburg, Michael Wagner of St. Francis de Sales, and DeShawn Woodward of Start (City League).
The 10 finalists for the girls basketball award were: Samantha Charcol of Clay, McKenzie Harder of Toledo Christian, Sydni Harmon of Central Catholic, Bailey Heji of Southview, Kre’Ana Henry of Waite, Abby Mass of Cardinal Stritch, Joeal Olman of Maumee, Maddy Perry of Perrysburg, and Megan Roach of Northwood.
Finalists from the essay contest included: Adriana Cannon of Lake, Ryan Clay of Rossford, Cory Copeland of Springfield, Eileen Iannone of Central Catholic, Olivia Latz of Cardinal Stritch, Gregory Schrock of Whitmer, Ricca Turner of Woodward, Alexa Wegman of Northwood, Samantha Willey of Springfield, and Emily Witte of Anthony Wayne.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell had some words of advice for the high school seniors.
"Never give up, and always believe in yourself," he said. "It is not all about you, but the team. You don't leave the field until you left it all out there."
Contact Matt Thompson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-356-8786 or on Twitter at @mthompson25.