By John Nash See the article at The Hour here.
NORWALK - The legacy of Chelsea Cohen lives on strongly, even nearly a dozen years after her tragic death to cancer in 2006.
Two city athletes very familiar with Cohen now find going to college just a little bit easier because of that legacy.
Norwalk High basketball standout Sarah St. Surin and Brien McMahon soccer and lacrosse player Bella Bean have been named the first recipients of the Chelsea Cohen Memorial Scholarship.
Each student-athlete will receive $2,500 for use toward college expenses. In the future, a single $5,000 scholarship will be awarded from candidates from both schools.
The scholarship is awarded to the candidate that best exemplifies the spirit and qualities of the late Chelsea Cohen, according to the Fairfield County Sports Commission, which oversees the awarding of the scholarship.
Criteria for nomination included academic honors, participation in one or more varsity level sports, community service and displaying high levels of sportsmanship, leadership and character.
"There have been many tributes to Chelsea over the years, but this scholarship is exceptionally meaningful, " said Barbara Rittner, Chelsea's mother. "To recognize someone who most exemplifies Chelsea, her spirit, her drive, her accomplishments, this not only rewards the recipients but reminds us of Chelsea and why her story stays alive. The scholarship winners this year, Sarah and Bella, are remarkable young women who in addition to all their academic, civic and athletic accomplishments have that special spark like Chelsea had.”
Both athletes are very familiar with the Cheslea Cohen story and what the scholarship means.
St. Surin, a 6-foot-3 center from the Norwalk High basketball team, has played in the shadow of Cohen’s retired number, which hangs in the Scarso Gym, while Bean is a soccer player who took part in the annual inner-city game against the Bears. Each team receives an MVP honor from that game named after Cohen.
“It’s definitely a big honor,” St. Surin said. “I was like there is no chance I’m going to get this. How could it possibly be me that receives it? I didn’t know what my chances were, but when I got the call I was so shocked to get it. When I talked to Barbara she said, ‘When I saw you, you reminded immediately of Chelsea,’ and that touched me. It means a lot.”
Bean also said that having a scholarship devoted meant to just a female athlete in the city is something that means a lot to her and would mean a lot to future athletes, as well.
“A lot of my friends are student-athletes, too, so I was nervous going after it,” Bean said. “Winning a scholarship for a girl athlete means a lot because there are so many up-and-coming (girls) sports in Norwalk right now.”
Bean, who will be attending the University of Virginia, is a four-year high honor roll student and was a two-year captain of the lacrosse team as a four-year starter and captained the soccer side her senior year. She worked at Horizons in New Canaan the last two years as a second grade tutor for the summer program there.
St. Surin, who is headed for UMass Boston, was a four-year player for the Bears basketball team and captain as a senior. She is also a high honors student as well as a talented musician and serves as a volunteer coach and summer counselor at the Carver Center in Norwalk.
The award is the latest in a long line of efforts to keep Cohen’s memory alive.
“We believe that in taking this next step to keep Chelsea's legacy vibrant and relevant the scholarship will have a strong impact for young women in Norwalk striving to succeed in college both in the classroom and on the field of play,” said FCSC Executive Director Tom Chiappetta. “Providing significant financial support to that end is another key role the Commission can play in meeting our mission and goals.”
In addition to hosting the Chelsea Cohen Fitness Academy at the Carver Center in Norwalk, the Fairfield County Sports Commission also hands out the Chelsea Cohen Courage Award at its yearly Hall of Fame banquet.