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Meet the finalists for the 2021 Newsday Marcus A. Henry Award

2021 Newsday Marcus A. Henry Award finalist Favour
William Floyd's Jezayd Hall #5 carries the ball
Half Hollow Hills East track athlete Soledad Jean
Hewlett High SchoolÕs Rachel Arbitman with the forehand
Newfield midfielder Lorenzo Selini turns to shoot ands
Babylon's #13 Meghan Flaugher gets her head on
The finalists for the 2021 Newsday Marcus A. Henry Award. 

Meet the six finalists for the 2021 Newsday Marcus A. Henry Award.

This award, in memory of former Newsday sports reporter Marcus A. Henry, is presented annually to a Long Island high school student who excels in the classroom and in athletics, and also displays great leadership.

Favour Okodogbe, St. John the Baptist

Good luck trying to keep up with St. John the Baptist senior Favour Okodogbe.

"I’m always doing something, which helps me for my future," said Okodogbe, who estimates she sleeps 2-to-5 hours a night. "I don’t want to be a slacker."

Okodogbe is the antithesis of a slacker. It started at a young age for Okodogbe (pronounced o-KO-da-bay), who jumped two grades and was a second-grader as a 5-year-old.

"Thanks to my parents," she said, "I knew my ABCs and 123s when I was 2 [years old]."

Interestingly, Okodogbe came up with an idea involving early education during the pandemic. The Amityville resident wrote and published a children’s book, "A Workbook Just for You," which helps prepare children for school at an early age.

"Unfortunately, a lot of children grow up without a love of learning," the 16-year-old said. "I want them to know it’s OK to pursue perfection . . . I still push myself with a desire to reach beyond the limits and standards that have been established."

Okodogbe, who turns 17 on Dec. 6, knows a lot about going beyond her limits. She was a freshman at St. John the Baptist when she was just 12.

"People told me: ‘There’s no way you should be here. Go back to seventh or eighth grade and live your life,’ " she said. "But it just motivated me to make them see that I’m going to do everything better despite my age."

Okodogbe who is a student ambassador for the National Honor Society of High School Scholars (and was a member of four different national honor societies) -- graduated summa cum laude on June 5 with a 106 weighted average.

The four-year SJB varsity swimmer, and three-time All-League recipient, earned a full academic scholarship to Division III California Institute of Technology, where she will double major and swim. She was one of 46 students to earn a prestigious QuestBridge scholarship to Caltech. Also, Okodogbe is one of a select group of students attending the Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI) Center for Inclusion & Diversity in mid-August.

Okodogbe has a busy summer planned. She works at Holy Child Day Care Center, which has been owned and run by her mother for 13 years.

She swims about eight hours a week and also volunteers about 12 hours a week at West Babylon’s Mount Zion Gospel Tabernacle, where her parents — Rev. Victor and Pastor Maryqueen — both minister. She sings and plays the piano during services, as well as teaches adult bible school, sometimes to people older than her.

Okodogbe’s younger sister, Praise, (who will be a junior at SJB) plays drums. The youngest of the sisters, Abundant, is a special-education student who Favour works with on her speech development.

"I’m always trying to help her," said Okodogbe, who earned the SJB Coaches award from swimming coach Dawn Kelly this season. "She motivates me to work hard, because I want to take care of her when I get older."

— John Boell

Jezayd Hall, Floyd

When Jezayd Hall wasn’t making his mark for Floyd’s football, lacrosse and wrestling teams over the past four years, he could likely be found taking on one of two other endeavors: performing community service or providing words of wisdom at a local youth sports clinic.

"This is a very honorable award," Hall said of the Marcus A. Henry Award. "And the people who are chosen are esteemed people who try to make the world a better place and become productive members of society. And I think that I could do something like that."

Exemplary of Hall’s character was a moment Floyd boys lacrosse coach Desmond Megna recalled during this past season. As one of the team’s biggest games was about to begin, Hall was nowhere in sight.

When Megna finally tracked him down, Hall’s explanation came as no surprise.

"We’re in the huddle and about to go over a scouting report and I call his name and I’m like, ‘Where is he?’ " Megna said. "And he’s over in the junior varsity huddle on the other end of the field. I ask him what he’s doing as he’s jogging over and he was talking about one of the freshmen and telling him what he should do as far as summer showcases and things that worked for him.

"He’s just that type of kid to go down and talk to the younger kids," Megna said. "You’re not going to find a person at William Floyd that’s going to say a bad thing about him."

When it comes to community service, Hall said he’ll "do any fundraiser to help build the community up."

With an unweighted GPA of 88, Hall will play lacrosse at Albany next year, where he is considering majoring in business administration with hopes of eventually opening his own training center for younger athletes.

"I love interacting with the kids and showing them that there’s hope," Hall said. "Our town isn’t the best, so when they see me performing at the level I do, it’s an opportunity to show them that success is something that you can get if you really work hard enough and you want it."

— Mike Ruiz

Soledad Jean, Half Hollow HIlls East

Soledad Jean knows the importance of a text. Especially in these times.

When the pandemic hit, the Half Hollow Hills East high jumper and volleyball player wanted to make sure that her friends knew that she cared about their well-being. Being stuck in the house for, at that point, an unknown amount of time, could be hard for athletes who were used to constant movement, and Jean wanted others to know that they weren’t alone.

"I ended up gong to Philadelphia for the quarantine to stay with my siblings," Jean said. "Since I was far away and couldn’t stop by my friends’ houses to say hi, I just wanted to let them know that even though I was far away, I was still there for them. Being inside and not being able to see your friends does take a toll on someone. I would just shoot them a text now and then or FaceTime them and we’d talk."

The focus on the mental health of others has caused Jean to more seriously consider going into psychology. She’ll major in biology at Louisville next school year and said she is also considering becoming a physical therapist.

"To me, she’s the perfect role model," Hills East girls track and field coach Brian Strack said. "I try to bring my daughters around her as frequently as possible, just so they have her as a role model and so they understand what to look up to. She’s blazing a path that I want my daughters to follow."

Jean is the best high jumper in the state, and it’s not particularly close. Prior to the pandemic putting a hold on state championships, Jean won three of them and likely would have captured more. This outdoor season, she cleared 5 feet, 8 ½ inches, the top jump in the state, according to milesplit.com.

She also placed fifth at the adidas Indoor Nationals in February, clearing 5-3 ¾.

Jean was the female recipient of Newsday’s 2021 Butch Dellecave Award, given to the top scholar-athletes in Suffolk. She had a 3.7 GPA, she said, and takes her studies as seriously as her jumping.

"She has this intrinsic, natural competitiveness and drive to just be great," Strack said

Away from the high jump bar, Jean has volunteered at her church — St. Matthew’s in Dix Hills — working as a hall monitor for religion classes. As a volleyball player, she helped instruct at a clinic at her high school, designed for younger players to get to know the game better.

— Jordan Lauterbach

Rachel Arbitman, Hewlett

Rachel Arbitman is leaving her mark at Hewlett High School. So much so that the school created an award in her honor.

Arbitman received the first Distinguished Athlete Award for her exemplary academics, record-breaking tennis accomplishments and leadership.

"The whole athletic department voted to make a special award for Rachel, and it will probably never be given again," coach Abby Samlin said. "That’s how much she’s highly regarded by her peers, teachers and coaches."

The recent graduate was the first female tennis player to win four county titles, three singles and one doubles. She was the 2018 state singles champion and claimed the 2019 state doubles title.

"Playing high school tennis was the best decision I ever made," Arbitman said.

Arbitman is usually traveling for national tournaments and practicing at alternate training facilities but this year was different.

"I wanted to dedicate my senior year to my team and be there at every practice and match," Arbitman said. "I felt so motivated and had a deep desire to keep winning."

Arbitman is fond of helping her community in any way she can.

She is part of the Bulldog Buddy Club, organized to help kids with special needs make friends and meet new people, volunteers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in the pediatric wing and helped run tennis clinics during the pandemic.

"I love giving back to my community and helping others," Arbitman said. "I try to dedicate as much time as I can to positively impact people because it truly makes a difference."

Arbitman is taking her talents to the Harvard women’s tennis team this year.

"It’s Hewlett’s loss and Harvard’s gain," Samlin said. "Rachel was a player and coach as she helped guide the team. She is a true leader and has distilled a strong message to the whole program."

Holding a 99.820 GPA, Arbitman is looking to major in economics at Harvard.

"I want to be remembered as someone who is a hard worker, leader and great team player," Arbitman said. "Also, a girl who had amazing academic and athletic accomplishments throughout her whole high school career.

— Julia Elbaba

Lorenzo Selini, Newfield

Talk to people who know Lorenzo Selini. The respect for the Newfield High senior flows freely in every sentence.

The soccer ability.

The leadership quality.

The academic drive.

The community service.

"He’s got a great work ethic," said Jamie Santiago, Newfield’s varsity boys soccer coach. "He’s been a leader the entire time. If he wanted to be the best, he always wanted everybody else to be the best."

Selini owned a weighted 95.2 GPA heading for his final quarter. His plate was filled with advance placement and college-level courses this school year. He also made the Italian Honor Society and recently won a Butch Dellecave Award as the top male scholar-athlete in Suffolk.

On the field, the Hofstra-bound center-midfielder turned out to be an All-American. Selini set a program record with 55 career assists, which went with 44 goals.

He was a four-year starter, a three-time all-state selection and a two-time Newsday Boys Soccer Player of the Year. He also served as a captain for three seasons.

"He’s everything you ask for in a student-athlete," said Joe Mercado, director of athletics for the Middle Country School District.

Selini’s leadership extended beyond soccer as president of Newfield’s Varsity Leaders Club.

"We do anything from food drives to Habitat for Humanity, which we build houses or repair houses for homeless people that are looking to move in," Selini said. "We go to younger schools, help them with field day. All that kind of stuff."

As Santiago put it, "He’s done a lot of different things that have built his resume, but not just for being a good soccer player, but having great character, as well."

Beyond his Hofstra soccer days, Selini wants to play professionally.

"I do think it is realistic because usually people fan off, but I keep continuing to work hard and get better and better," he said. "If I keep doing this, I believe I can make it."

— Brian Heyman

Meghan Flaugher, Babylon

Three areas have been at the forefront of Meghan Flaugher’s mind the majority of her life. Athletics, school and community service. And not necessarily in that order.

The Babylon senior never played travel sports. She didn’t prioritize that with everything else she was balancing. Flaugher didn’t want to center her life around sports, but she quickly learned athletics was where she was at her best.

Flaugher has served as captain of the Babylon girls soccer and softball teams. She’s volunteered at clinics, such as "Just for Kicks," which is designed to help young children with autism learn soccer. Even when volunteering as a camp counselor during the summers at St. Joseph’s Vacation Bible School, she loved interacting with children outdoors.

Flaugher, who is ranked No. 2 at Babylon High School, has a 104.38 weighted average and will study sports management at Florida State University.

"Playing sports was my passion, it always has been," Flaugher said. "It kind of gave me the release that when I got home, I was able to lock back in. I ran around a few hours, and I was able to work hard on my school work and put that priority first."

Flaugher, a three-year starter, had four goals for the Suffolk Class B champions this year and had 16 goals and five assists as a junior in a Suffolk Class B championship season in soccer.

She played five years on the varsity softball team, starting in centerfield as a freshman and at second base her final three seasons.

Academically, Flaugher has been a member of the student council and class cabinet, National Honor Society, and National Spanish, Science, Business, and English honor societies.

Flaugher’s long list of community service includes volunteering to help with the Babylon Little League softball clinic, Babylon Public Library food pantry and the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.

But some of her fondest memories come with volunteering as an instructor at "Just for Kicks" with children with special needs. Flaugher loves being a part of the pure joy of the sport she grew up playing.

"I remember being that age and running around with a little soccer ball and just being so happy to be there," Flaugher said. "And you never lose that love you had when you were a little kid. So to be able to see them reminded me of how much it meant for me to be around sports."

— Owen O’Brien

This award, in memory of former Newsday sports reporter Marcus A. Henry, is presented annually to a Long Island high school student who excels in the classroom and in athletics, and also displays great leadership.

The winner will be announced this week at Newsday.com/HS and a profile of the recipient will be published in Newsday.

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