By John Nash
Thursday, December 22, 2016
NORWALK — Chelsea Cohen was the kind of athlete who could really make a difference every time she stepped on the field.
Since her tragic death from cancer in 2006, just months after she graduated from Norwalk High, the name Chelsea Cohen lives on through a variety of projects and honors undertaken and led by the Fairfield County Sports Commission.
The latest step in keeping Cohen’s spirit alive and well in her home city is this week’s announcement of the first Chelsea Cohen Memorial Scholarship, which will be given to a graduating female senior student-athlete from Brien McMahon or Norwalk High.
This year, two scholarships, for $2,500 each, will be awarded: one to a McMahon student, one to a Norwalk High student.
In the future, a single $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a student-athlete from either school.
“To recognize Chelsea, to keep her memory and spirit alive is so meaningful and I cannot put into words how touched I am,” Barbara Rittner, Chelsea’s mother, wrote in an email from Singapore, where she is currently living. “To award a scholarship to a student-athlete who exemplifies Chelsea is a great honor. The scholarship will inspire the recipient to strive to be the best they can be to help them reach their dreams. Chelsea will be smiling on them.”
Criteria to receive the scholarship will include academic honors and success, participation in one or more varsity-level sports, and the student-athlete’s ability to exemplify sportsmanship, leadership and excellent character.
“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti said. “The fact we can honor a very special young lady here in Norwalk, who was such an inspiration to so many people, and to keep her name alive is something really special.”
According to Fairfield County Sports Commission executive director Tom Chiappetta, he hopes to model the Chelsea Cohen Scholarship after Stamford’s Allyson Rioux Award — which is given to the top female student-athlete in that city and has grown over the years.
“I think it’s really nice to see that the Fairfield County Sports Commission is going forward with a scholarship in her name,” Brien McMahon athletic director Joe Madaffari said. “I know anybody from this school who wins it, I’ll make sure they know who Chelsea Cohen was. I think it’s tremendous.”
In 2005, Cohen was honored as the Fairfield County Sports Commission’s first Courage Award winner.
A year later, following her death, the commission named the award after her.
Five years later, the Chelsea Cohen Fitness Academy was founded. The Academy, which is based in the Carver Center in Norwalk, is a county-based initiative that focuses on “the healthy body, healthy mind equation and provides leadership in helping to build a generation of children leading a daily, active lifestyle,” according to the FCSC’s website.
As part of the announcement of the Cohen Scholarship Award, the FCSC also announced that it has presented $45,000 to area beneficiaries in the cities of Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.
That totals the largest-ever donation amount for the Commission.
“The areas that we will be supporting help us reach our goals of trying to get new programs launched or existing ones grow, (give) scholarship aid directly to deserving and needy individuals, support for new ideas we have not been able to help with in the past like cooking education and enabling former sport persons of the year we have recognized, who are community role models, to continue their work and passions,” said Chiappetta.
In Norwalk, $15,000 has been divided up among the Cohen Scholarship, the Carver Center-Girls Youth Development program expansion, the Ponus Middle School-KIDS FANS nutrition program and World Masters Games Athlete Mary Roman, a former Norwalk Sports Person of the Year.
In Stamford, $15,000 has gone toward the Stamford Hospital KIDS FANS program in four elementary schools, the Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County-KIDS FANS Pre-K program, the Stamford Boys & Girls Club Yerwood Center-Night activities program, the Stamford Boys & Girls Club-Healthy Habits program and the Stamford Youth Foundation-Scholarship participation aid.
In Bridgeport, the remaining $15,000 will go toward the Cardinal Shehan Center-Fitness For Life program, the McGivney Center-Cooking and healthy food education programs expansion, Bridgeport Middle Schools-Pilot track and field program, Bridgeport Field of Dreams Foundation-Summer camp soccer program expansion and Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse’s Donald Wilson, who was the 2009 Bridgeport Sports Person of the Year.
“These donations have allowed us to take an important step in extending our reach to now be able to touch young people from pre-K, elementary, middle school and high school right through to young adults,” Chiappetta said.