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STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Bryce Ladwig of Plymouth High School has been selected as the 2018 Section 4 recipient of the National High School Spirit of Sport Award presented by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Ladwig, a senior on the Panthers’ football team in 2017, started at nose tackle for a team that compiled a 7-4 record and advanced to Level 2 of the WIAA playoffs in Division 3. 

He was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was 6-years old and has undergone multiple treatments and surgeries. Following the treatments and surgeries, his leg failed to heal correctly, and additional operations were required. Ladwig had 23 screws inserted into his leg along with a rod and cadaver bone when he was 10-years old. Within that same year, doctors identified a spot on his lung that resulted in still more medical attention with treatment, therapy and ongoing doctor visits.

Prior to the start of his freshman season in high school in 2014, Ladwig learned he suffered from a rare adolescent disease that was causing the bone in his leg to curve. To correct the condition, surgeons broke his leg in two places, which resulted in months confined to a wheelchair and therapy that sidelined him for his freshman and sophomore football seasons.

Ladwig played football his junior season despite a noticeable limp, but he participated in all the conditioning and drills in practice. He won the starting nose tackle position during pre-season practices his senior season and played in all 11 games.

The obstacles he has faced throughout his childhood has not deterred him from making a difference off the football field. He has served as a volunteer for Project Angel Hugs, an organization that helps those who are less fortunate than others. Ladwig donated the $4000 proceeds from the sale of his steer to the Project in honor of its founder, who died in an accident.

Ladwig is also active in Future Farmers of America and is a youth representative on the Livestock Committee for Sheboygan County.  In addition, he has participated on livestock and meat judging teams, and served meals for the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee. He finished runner-up in the Sheboygan County High School Trap Shoot competition and finished in the top-15 at the State Trap Shoot in 2016. 

Marissa Walker of Waterford High School in Connecticut was selected the national recipient of theSpirit of Sport Award. She was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma when she was 9-years old and had a massive tumor on her left knee that needed to be removed. 

She underwent 10 weeks of chemotherapy followed by “limb salvage” where doctors removed 70 percent of her femur. She endured numerous hospital stays and an additional 18 weeks of chemotherapy. The expandable prosthetic joint and femur that was designed and placed in Walker’s leg had to be adjusted every two to three months as she grew – a total of 23 times. Despite three more surgeries during her high school career, Walker has continued her determination to return to her softball team. 

The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was started in 2008. Including this year, 11 individuals and three teams have been chosen 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 will be recognized June 29 at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the section winners are recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year.

Finalists for Wisconsin’s nomination for the Spirit of Sport Award included Ludwig, Tyler Carroll of Lakeland Union High School, Michael Saxby of Waunakee High School, Jacob Strande of Muskego High School, Katie Walter of Stoughton High School and Erin Connors of Oshkosh West High School.

2018 Spirit of Sport Nominees

Tyler Carroll - Lakeland Union H.S.
Carroll suffered third-degree burns covering 40 percent of his body, and eight months later, he returned to the football field for the Thunderbirds and played a multi-dimensional role, including quarterback. He received All-Great Northern Conference first team honors and all-state honorable mention recognition after setting the school’s record for all-purpose yards.

Carroll was hospitalized for 28 days in an intensive care burn unit following a bonfire accident on Dec. 4, 2016. He underwent five hours of surgery to graft 90 percent of one leg and 70 percent of the other. He endured months of recovery and rehabilitation with the changing of bandages twice daily for more than two months and therapy for one-to-two hours a day, four days a week.

With the help of at-home tutors, he maintained his coursework throughout his rehabilitation. After missing the entire hockey season in the winter, he returned to school on a limited basis after in the spring and participated in track and field.


Michael Saxby - Waunakee H.S.
Saxby was a two-sport athlete, participating in football in the fall and basketball in the winter. On Dec. 27, 2016, he collapsed from a sudden cardiac arrest while playing in a holiday basketball tournament.

The quick response of those in attendance saved Saxby by administering CPR and an AED. His collapse was attributed to Hypotrophic Cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens the wall of the heart. He had a pacemaker implanted and spent 10 days in the hospital.

Since the incident, Saxby has served as an advocate for the placement of AEDs in schools. At the 2017 WIAA Annual Meeting, he addressed the membership on the importance of adding AEDs and AED training for coaches. He also appeared on a FS Wisconsin broadcast of a Milwaukee Brewers game to promote AED and CPR education.

Although no longer able to play basketball, Saxby was cleared by a cardiologist to participate as the placekicker for the Warriors’ football team, which captured the Division 2 championship last November.


Jacob Strande - Muskego H.S.
Strande concluded his senior season participating on the Muskego boys volleyball team that participated in the State Tournament last November.

His ability to play volleyball, and more importantly his life, was in jeopardy after a golf cart accident during a Spring Break trip in April last year caused a severe head injury. He was airlifted to the hospital where he underwent surgery to relieve pressure and swelling on the brain. 

Strande was placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks, and after several brain surgeries, he was brought out of the coma. He had severe weakness in his right arm and leg and suffered mental deficiencies as well. After months of mental and physical therapy, he gained strength and mental stamina. 

Five months following the accident, Strande was cleared to begin practicing volleyball. He received all-conference honorable mention and helped his team advance to the State tournament.


Katie Walter - Stoughton H.S.
Walter was a member of the Vikings’ girls junior varsity volleyball team. While she hasn’t earned any athletic honors, she has overcome the challenges of high functioning autism to be nominated for the award.

In addition to her involvement in volleyball, Walter is a teacher’s assistant in the high school library, a member of the Key Club, a singer in the school’s acappella choir and a member of the band. She is also and excellent student with a 3.8 grade point average. 

While a member of the freshman basketball team, Walter connected on five 3-point attempts in a game. During her senior volleyball season, she was given a standing ovation following her speech on Autism Awareness Night, which was also her 18th birthday.

Erin Connors - Oshkosh West H.S.
Connors is a Down Syndrome student-athlete that was a four-year participant on the girls’ swimming team, which earned her a letter her senior season.

She was honored by her teammates and coach last season by receiving the team’s Natalie Bolin Spirit Award, given annually to the member of the team that demonstrates the best team spirit. In her first year of swimming with the Wildcats, she was awarded the Team Leader Award, presented to the individual that demonstrates team spirit and drive.

In addition to her athletics involvement in swimming, Connors is the manager of the girls basketball team and is a member of the Kohl’s Cabinet, which meets monthly to share ideas with school administration. She is also active with Connected, a club that supports students with disabilities.

Connors has participated in Special Olympics swimming for nine years. She earned four medals at the National Special Olympic Games in New Jersey in 2014. 


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Wisconsin Interscholastic
Athletic Association
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