“You could live on Earth your whole life and never meet a person like Steve Rizzo,” wrote Bob Cooney in the Philadelphia Daily News. “He’s the type of person most of us aspire to be, whether we’re still young or graying around the temples.
“And he’s only 18.”
Rizzo is the winner of the 23rd annual Jim Henry Award as the area’s High School Player of the Year. He overcame adversity to achieve athletic and academic excellence at Audubon (N.J.) High School. The death of his father five years ago left him as the only male presence in a home that included his mother Linda and three younger sisters, Brianna, Brooke and Bailie.
Steven, pictured with Ray Didinger and Ron Jaworski, receives the Jim Henry Award at a dinner held on January 10.
“That’s a tough burden to bear,” said Linda, who works as Audubon’s court clerk. “At (age) 13, he suddenly had to become something different to the girls. He was now the man of the house, especially to Bailie. She was only two then.
“I told Steve that whatever he said to her, it had to be what she needed to hear. She needed to be taught by him the way we taught him when he was little. As soon as I told him that, he was just perfect with her and the other girls. He still is.”
Rizzo was able to maintain his honor roll status as a student at Audubon and compete successfully in three varsity sports (football, basketball and baseball) while working to support the family. Last summer, he worked three different jobs, shuttling between South Jersey and Philadelphia, and still managed to play American Legion baseball.
“I worked Monday through Friday doing construction from 7 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon,” Rizzo said. “Then I’d cut out of there and go right to baseball. We’d play, like, seven games a week. On weekends, I’d work at 3 or 4 in the morning in Philly loading crabs on a truck. I’d sort them, the dead ones and the live ones, size them, then load them onto the truck. When I was done there, I’d cut lawns for my neighbors.
“I don’t feel bad for myself,” he said. “I look at my Mom and see how she is. She works and still finds the time for us. She finds the time to go to my games and to my sister’s soccer and cheerleading. She’s a really strong person, someone I look up to.”
Rizzo had an outstanding senior season as the quarterback at Audubon High School, completing 65 percent of his pass attempts for 2,032 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-South Jersey Group 1 quarterback. He also was named “Back of the Year” by the Touchdown Club of Southern New Jersey. The Brooks Irvine Football Club honored him with its Scholar Athlete Award for the Colonial Conference.
“The personal challenges in his life which he faces so courageously have come to define his true character,” said Herb Holroyd, a math teacher at Audubon High School. “As you can imagine…becoming a man at 13 was no easy task. I currently have one of Steve’s younger sisters in class. You only need to see and hear how she speaks about her big brother to know ‘Job well done.’
“My 40 years as an educator tells me that you will not find a candidate with a greater strength of character or a bigger heart…His boundless energy and old-fashioned work ethic has propelled the Audubon football team to its first playoff game in over 20 years.”
Audubon coach Ralph Schiavo recommended Rizzo for the Henry Award, which honors student-athletes for their accomplishments on and off the field.
“He’s got a rocket for an arm,” Schiavo said. “He’s a great athlete and smart on the field. But more than anything, he’s a great, great kid.
“To quote Vince Lombardi: ‘The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence.’ I believe Steven’s commitment to excellence as well as his burning desire to be the best he can be will only help him as he continues his journey through life.”
Audubon High School