(Nov. 14, 2014) When Stephen Decatur senior Jillian Petito was called down to the guidance office on Monday, she was thrilled to learn she was chosen as Maryland’s female winner in the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award competition.
“It is such a huge honor, it really left me speechless once I found out,” Petito said Monday. “I was completely stunned and in disbelief when they told me. It’s still hard for me to grasp that I get to represent my school and state with this award.”
School officials agree.
“Jillian is an outstanding representation of the types of student-athletes we have at Decatur. She is hard working, caring and thinks ‘team first,’” said Decatur Principal Tom Zimmer. “When I told her she had won the state award, she was clearly excited and humbled at the same time. Her reaction was that of a star who doesn’t want all the attention focused on her.”
Petito was told she could call her parents to tell them the news, but when she looked at her phone, her mom, Susan, had already sent her a congratulatory text message.
“For Jillian to have been selected as Maryland’s female winner is just an amazing honor,” Susan Petito said. “I know she is very proud to represent Stephen Decatur High School and the state of Maryland in this pursuit, and of course, we couldn’t be more proud of her success.”
Each year, thousands of students from across the country apply for the award. Students are judged on their academic achievements, community service, leadership and athletic accomplishments.
A male and female winner was chosen from each school. They receive a Heisman patch and certificate. The field was then narrowed down to 1,020 finalists (10 senior males and females from each state and District of Columbia). Those selected were awarded a bronze medal, Heisman patch and $25 Wendy’s gift card.
The finalist group was then cut to 102 winners (one male and female from each state and the District of Columbia), which was announced Nov. 10. The state winners each earn a silver medal, Heisman patch and $50 Wendy’s gift card.
Of the 10 Maryland female finalists, Petito was named the state winner. Patrick Cha of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School is the male winner.
A judging panel selected 12 national finalists from the 102 state winners earlier this week. The national finalists included one senior male and one senior female from each of the six geographic Heisman regions. Unfortunately, Petito was not chosen as a national finalist.
“I’m definitely more than pleased of how far I made it,” Petito said Wednesday night. “It’s amazing that I was able to make it that far and it’s really such an honor. I’m so thankful to be recognized as a state winner and could not be happier.”
Petito just wrapped up her fourth soccer season competing for Decatur. A team captain, she led the Lady Seahawks with 26 goals and 12 assists. The 17-year-old was named team MVP and she received First Team All-Bayside Conference honors. Petito also earned Minds In Motion recognition presented to athletes who achieve a 3.25 GPA or higher while participating in their sport.
Coach Maggie Berke said Petito is someone all players can look to for guidance and motivation.
“Jill is a one-of-a-kind student-athlete. The finesse she shows on the field and in the classroom are unmatched,” Berke said. “I was not surprised to hear she was up for this award due to her athletic performance, but to learn that her academic performance is at the same caliber was inspirational. That is all due to her hard work, focus and dedication to every task given to her.”
During academic days this season, Berke said Petito was heavy into the books, taking advantage of her time, unless a teammate needed help. She was always eager to assist them.
Petito also plays basketball and lacrosse for Decatur and competes for the Sea Bay Lacrosse Club and Ace Soccer Club.
“Jillian has been a leader at SDHS for the last four years in and out of the classroom. Rarely has she taken a night off between her three sports and full course load,” said Amy Fenzel-Mergott, Petito’s basketball coach, Algebra 3 and AP Calculus teacher. “While her daily agenda would make others’ heads spin, Jillian makes it look easy. In addition to how hard she works, Jillian is a class act on and off the court, is completely unselfish and a role model.”
Petito is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Worcester County Youth Council. She has a 4.0 GPA on a 4-point scale. Some classes she is taking this year include AP Calculus BC, economics and zoology.
Petito has verbally committed to play Division I lacrosse for Mount St. Mary’s University.
“Jillian’s dedication both in the classroom and on the athletic field sets her apart from her peers. She has taken on a rigorous course load including AP level courses,” Decatur Counselor Valerie Brady said. “She manages leadership roles on the field with poise and determination. Jillian has set clear goals for herself and her future and has gone above and beyond to make her dreams her reality.”
“Jillian is a great kid, just a pleasure to be around. She is self-motivated and puts in the time and effort in class and sports to be very successful in each,” Zimmer said. “She will be successful in college and in life. If I had a school full of Jillian Petito’s, my job would be simple.”