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Leukemia survivor wins Wisconsin’s ‘Spirit of Sport’ award

Leukemia survivor wins Wisconsin’s ‘Spirit of Sport’ award Leukemia survivor wins Wisconsin’s ‘Spirit of Sport’ award

Adam Szepieniec of DeForest High School has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the Spirit of Sport Award and Wisconsin’s nominee for the National Federation of State High School Associations’ award.

The individual or group nominated for the award exemplifies the ideals and spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics and is sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

At age 11, Szepieniec was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. After four months of chemotherapy and 10 days in the hospital, he endured two weeks of full-body radiation treatments. Then in 2014, he received a bone marrow transplant and missed an entire semester of his seventh grade year with a weakened immune system.

Triumphantly, Szepieniec has been without cancer since 2015 and does not require any medication or further treatment for the disease.

He completed his high school career on the Norskies’ football team last fall. He participated and lettered all four years and was a starting defensive back and kick returner on the 2019 Division 3 championship team. In addition to his eight tackles in the title game, his interception in the final moments of the championship game preserved an 8-7 victory. He earned All-Badger North Conference second-team honors last fall.

Szepieniec is also a three-time letterwinner in track, and was preparing for his senior season when the spring seasons were postponed because of concerns for spread of the COVID-19 disease. He was a significant contributor on the 2019 team that captured the conference championship, competing in the long jump, 100- and 200-meter dashes, and the 400- and 800-meter relay teams.

He has also maintained his academic success and has been active in other school and community activities. Szepieniec plays the guitar for the school’s Showband Choir, and he donates his time reading in elementary schools and visiting children in local hospitals. He has compiled a 3.6 grade point average and plans to attend UW-Milwaukee to pursue a degree in engineering.

As the Wisconsin nominee, Szepieniec will receive an award sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, and he would have been recognized at the 2020 WIAA Annual Meeting in April if concerns and efforts to prevent spread of COVID-19 did not require the meeting to be canceled. He will be recognized later this week during a recorded virtual presentation that will be posted on the WIAA website.

His nomination was advanced to the NFHS Spirit of Sport Committee for sectional and national recognition.

Noah Lambrecht, a former student-athlete at McCool Junction High School in Nebraska, was selected the 2020 national recipient. He was born with a life-threatening heart defect and endured three open-heart surgeries in the first seven weeks of his life. He was then orphaned and left at a Chicago hospital before being adopted by his parents. He required a fourth open-heart surgery and a pacemaker was implanted at the age of eight.

The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was started in 2008 by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals and spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics. Including this year, 13 individuals and three teams have been chosen as national award recipients.

Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members. While the national winner is typically recognized at the NFHS Summer Meeting, the section and state winners are recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year.

In addition to Szepieniec, finalists for Wisconsin’s nomination for the Spirit of Sport Award included Lizzie Kovacevich of Hartford Union High School and Joe Taloff of Muskego High School.

To suggest Lizzie Kovacevich had a challenging year extending from July, 2018 through June, 2019, would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Kovacevich, who had recently completed her collegiate eligibility at Concordia University of Wisconsin, planned to join the Hartford High School girls tennis team coaching staff in the fall of 2018. Those plans and her life were suddenly in jeopardy following a head-on collision with a car driving the opposite direction that crossed through a freeway median strip.

The crash resulted in multiple injuries to each of her extremities. She broke the radius and ulna in both arms, and suffered a broken femur on her left leg. Her right leg also sustained numerous injuries, including a fractured patella and severed patellar tendon, as well as a dislocated ankle, a broken tibia and a broken fibula.

She spent two weeks in the hospital, which included three surgeries that spanned 18 hours in operating rooms. After returning home, she began occupational and physical therapy for up to four days a week. Determined to move forward with her goals, she began the final year of her master’s degree at CUW in a wheelchair, and on August 31, she took her first steps since the collision.

Despite eight surgeries since the crash, her healthy outlook led to her return to training clinicals at CUW and Hartford H.S. In May, 2019, Kovacevich received her master’s degree in athletic training. Following graduation, she landed positions as the Hartford H.S. assistant girls tennis coach and the Orioles’ athletic trainer for Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, as well as an Emergency Medical Technician for the Hartford Fire & Rescue department.

Taloff has supported high school sports at Muskego High School since his days as a student dating back to 2006. His learning disabilities and social struggles did not deter his hard work, commitment or support of the school’s athletic community.

Enamored with football, Taloff attended all practices, organized equipment, assisted the athletic training staff and cheered on the Warriors on Friday nights. In addition, he led the team in victory cheers after every win.

He continued his role as team manager of the football program for several years following his graduation before also becoming manager of the girls basketball team. Two years later, he began serving as the boys basketball team manager. Taloff assisted with game situations in practice, researching statistics and created his own scouting reports for opponents of the boys and girls basketball teams.

His support for the program led to additional responsibilities, including managing the concession stands, reporting results to the local media, transmitting halftime and post-game events live on Facebook, and serving as president of the booster club.

The Spirit of Sport Award program in Wisconsin is in its third year. Previous recipients of the award include Bryce Ladwig of Plymouth in 2018 and Ashley Stich of Kenosha Tremper High School in 2019.

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin exists to be an advocate, marketer, and promoter for Wisconsin dairy farmers and to drive demand for Wisconsin’s dairy products. The organization represents Wisconsin farm families and works to increase the sale and consumption of Wisconsin milk and dairy products, as well as build trust in dairy farmers and the industry. Organizational initiatives include generating national publicity, managing digital advertising, and driving sales, distribution and trial through retail and foodservice promotions. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin also supports in-school education about the benefits of dairy and funding for the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information, visit and follow on Facebook.