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A partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida enabled the Blue Wahoos to help celebrate national recognition for two area high school graduates.
Dashawn Appleberry from Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville, along with Rhett Hardy from Pine Forest High School, were both recipients of Rising Star Student awards for $500 through a scholarship program with Minor League Baseball and the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
They were among 20 winners nationwide in a program MILB Charities founded in 2016 for deserving BBBS student enrollees in Minor League Baseball communities across the nation. A partnership began in 2004 with the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and Minor League Baseball.
“Think of this, there are 162 teams (in MiLB) and there are 20 scholarships,” said Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer, who participated in a Zoom conference call Monday to honor the two area seniors. “So that means one out of every eight teams could possibly get somebody to be named a winner and we have two.
“On behalf of the Blue Wahoos, we would like to thank Minor League Baseball…we’re just carrying a message. It is wonderful testimony to the quality of applicants we have right here (in Northwest Florida).”
Appleberry, whose family moved to the area from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005, will be the first from his family to attend college. He will begin classes later this month at Florida State where he will major in Computer Science.
He graduated with a 3.85 cumulative grade point average. He has been mentored by his Big Brother Richard for the past 10 years.
Hardy, who was a member of the Pine Forest baseball team, attained a 4.87 GPA and will attend the University of Florida where he will major in Biomedical Engineering. He has spent three years with his Big Brother mentor, shadowing him once a month in a School To Work program at Navy Federal Credit Union.
“They both blew it out of the park, no pun intended, to apply for this scholarship,” said Dana Hall, director of development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. “We are so excited they were selected. This is going to help them kick-start their next adventure.”
Appleberry and Hardy are classified as “Littles” in the BBBS program. Their mentors are business employees in the community and classified as “Bigs”.
“We have done several events with the Blue Wahoos…recruitment events, spirit nights, a Big/Little first pitch,” Hall said. “We have been incredible partners with Blue Wahoos.
“So when this opportunity came out from our national office, we really wanted to encourage all of our Big Brothers to get with their Little Big Brother/Sister and apply for this scholarship.”
The MILB partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters included scholarship stipends to graduating seniors who start college this fall semester. The application process included either a written essay submitted online or a video presentation of qualifications.
“I’m very grateful I was one of the few who got picked,” said Appleberry during the Zoom video conference.
“I want to thank everybody who helped get me this scholarship,” said Hardy, who was a member of the National Honor Society at Pine Forest.
Hall thanked Studer and the Blue Wahoos for all the support the team has provided during the nine years of the franchise. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year as part of the national organization.
“Quint is a huge advocate of not only our mission, but just mentoring in general,” Hall said. “The Pensacola Blue Wahoos have done so many things in our community. Even with the pandemic going on, they have gone above and beyond with just giving us a little sense of normalcy and still bringing the community together.”