Cardinal Ritter grad carries sportsmanship to new level

Sid Hastings
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Sportsmanship comes easy for Rolando Merriweather, who finished four years on the varsity football team at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School last fall.

That quality and other values have been instilled in the captain of Ritter's team by his football coaches — including his father — and others. He'll take those ideals with him to Missouri S&T University in Rolla where he'll play on the defensive line for the football team and study computer science.

The quality also led to a $2,500 Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship from the National Sportsmanship Foundation. The foundation praised Merriweather for being "selfless" and "a leader on and off the field." It cited a postseason football game when an opposing player suffered a concussion. After the game, as paramedics tended to the player, Merriweather instructed his teammates to form two lines so they could shake the injured player's hands as he was carried to an ambulance. Merriweather later said he was glad the player's parents saw that even the opposing team cared about their son.

When he began playing sports, Merriweather's father corrected him immediately if he failed to display sportsmanship.

His dad encourages his sons to play three sports — baseball, football and basketball — to try them out. Basketball didn't appeal to him too much, so he focused on baseball and football.

Merriweather's football career almost ended after a brief trial. He started playing at age 6, and was placed on a team with the 7- and 8-year-olds because of his weight. Those players had experience and were more advanced, so he was ready to quit after a few days.

"My father told me, 'Give it one more practice, one more practice ... ' and football over time became my favorite sport," Merriweather said. "I'm thankful he let us play all three sports until we choose which sport we want to continue playing."

He played baseball until his sophomore year.

Merriweather enjoyed representing Cardinal Ritter at the sportsmanship awards. He takes to heart the school's threefold mission of academic excellence, faith development and leadership. "It was already something I was used to doing," he said.

Everyone needs a strong faith "to keep going in life," he said.

Michael Blackshear, principal of Cardinal Ritter, said Merriweather was "an exemplary model of what we here at Cardinal Ritter expect a student to be."

The class co-salutatorian, Merriweather's speech at graduation told of how Cardinal Ritter's mission plays a role in his life. He quoted Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," and how he uses that to get through adversity.

He prays to God at the beginning of the football season and set goals for himself. He achieved his goals as first-team all conference and a 4.0 grade-point average each quarter of his senior year.

"Rolando is a silent leader, and he leads by example," Blackshear said.

>> The Other Winners

The Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship is presented annually to graduating high school seniors from the St. Louis metro area who embody outstanding sportsmanship. Administered by the St. Louis Sports Commission Associates — the Sports Commission's young professionals group — the scholarship recognizes individuals who exemplify honesty, integrity, civility, selflessness, kindness, compassion and class in athletic competition.

Besides Rolando Merriweather, winners of the 2016 Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship are Nick Alexander and Leeann Graff.

Alexander received the top sportsmanship scholarship honor for 2016. The Vianney varsity swimming captain received $10,000 to begin his college education. A four-time state champion, two-time All-American and holder of multiple Missouri swimming records, he is one of the best swimmers in the state. His speed in the pool is eclipsed by the class, humility and compassion that define his high school swimming career.

In 2014, the Vianney swim team competed in the Lindbergh Splash Out Cancer Invitational. After winning a race at the meet, Alexander walked over to a 5-year-old boy battling leukemia and placed the gold medal around his neck. The boy's father said, "For a high school athlete to be so competitive on the one hand, and yet so caring on the other, just amazes me." Alexander has also earned the admiration of officials and opposing coaches. The biggest compliment to Alexander's selflessness came from a rival coach. Kevin Brennan, the head swimming coach at Chaminade, noted that Alexander took the time to mentor one of his top swimmers even though they are competitors. For Alexander's nomination, Brennan wrote: "I believe the word that best describes Nick is class. He has always shown a class attitude towards everyone — his opponents, other coaches and officials. Few have done what he has done; and yet through his entire high school career he has handled himself with class." Alexander is continuing his education at the University of Missouri.

Graff competed in volleyball, tennis and soccer at Pattonville High School. Serving as captain of the varsity soccer and tennis teams, she took a leadership role promoting sportsmanship among her teammates and throughout her school. She approached her athletic director, Bob Hebrank, with the idea to create Pattonville's own sportsmanship award. Graff is enrolled at Southeast Missouri State University. 

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