The finalists for Newsday's 2024 Marcus A. Henry Award. Clockwise,...

The finalists for Newsday's 2024 Marcus A. Henry Award. Clockwise, from top left: Kaitlyn Cole of Sacred Heart, Lucas Weisser of Roslyn and Troy DeFrancesco of Long Beach, Ashley Diaz of Seaford, Kaylise McClure of Sachem North, Deanna North of Riverhead, Briana Neary of Massapequa.

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 next week at and a profile of the recipient will be published in Newsday. 

Kaitlyn Cole, Sacred Heart, lacrosse/soccer

Kaitlyn Cole is set to play lacrosse for the team that just won the national championship, but she already knows a little something about being No. 1.

Cole was the valedictorian at Sacred Heart Academy with a 106.42 GPA and the two-time Newsday All-Long Island second-team defender will play lacrosse at Boston College, which won this year’s women's lacrosse national championship. But she’s more than just a standout athlete and student.

Cole’s list of extracurricular activities includes being a research assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital, volunteering at Sloan Kettering and serving as student council co-president. She is also the founder and president of Sacred Heart Academy’s Smile Farms Club, which is a student organization that partners with local non-profits to empower disabled adults to secure job training and employment.

“She does it all out of love for the world, herself, her friends,” Sacred Heart girls lacrosse coach Danielle Etrasco said. “Just trying to have a great experience in whatever she’s doing is how she lives her life and that is just a testament to her character. You meet her and you immediately know she’s impressive just by the way she carries herself.”

Cole, who also played soccer and was a manager on the basketball team, was named a National Merit Commended Student and serves as a Women in Healthcare & Medicine president. Etrasco said Cole’s ability to become one of the top lacrosse recruits in the country along with having a 106 GPA with an extensive list of extracurricular activities may be overwhelming for some, but not for Cole.

“It all makes sense because of who she is as a person,” Etrasco said. “You would never know talking to her on the day-to-day that she’s doing all the things that she’s doing. Then once you get to know her and you learn these things about her, they just all add up because of how impressive she is.”

Cole is joining one of the top women’s lacrosse programs in the country and Etrasco believes the defender will quickly make an impact on the school.

“She has a ruthless work effort and it’s all with positivity,” Etrasco said. “She doesn’t expect anything less from herself. If she’s not putting her best foot forward, it’s not enough, and that’s how she’s gotten to where she is. Boston College is a remarkable program and I really believe as good as they are, she’ll still have an ability to add to it.”

— Owen O'Brien

Troy DeFrancesco, Long Beach, baseball/volleyball/swimming/surfing

Troy DeFrancesco has been described as a “generational player” by Long Beach baseball coach Jason Zizza. When looking at his accolades on and off the field, it’s clear why.

DeFrancesco, who set his program’s record for highest regular-season average at .549, excelled in centerfield and pitched well, posting a 0.54 ERA across 13 innings as a starter/reliever for the AA semifinalist Marines.

He also captained the Marines’ volleyball team as the libero with 72 digs, 13 aces, and eight assists in the fall. And he swam and competed on the surfing team.

His dedication to athletics has extended to the Long Beach Little League program, which DeFrancesco has been a part of for three years. He umpires and coaches a team of 8- to 10-year-olds and gives private baseball lessons — sometimes for free if a family can’t afford them.

“I love working with the youth and showing them what I’ve learned along the way and building their confidence,” DeFrancesco said. “I just want to see the quality of baseball in Long Beach grow for years to come. I see kids having fun and loving the game, that’s the best part.”

The valedictorian has taken seven IB classes and six advanced placement classes, has a 106.87 weighted GPA and scored 1,570 on his SAT. He has also volunteered to tutor students from around the world for the SAT exams and raised money for UNICEF.

“I was honored to spend my time tutoring kids,” said DeFrancesco, who along with Roslyn’s Lucas Weisser earned Nassau baseball’s Michael Capozzi Scholar-Athlete Award. “Something I prioritized was getting everyone involved and participating. I wanted to teach them what I learned while taking my exam to help the next generation succeed.”

DeFrancesco is also a drummer in the jazz band, president of the Key Club, and a member of DECA, National Honor Society, Athletes Helping Athletes, and the math team. He will attend Princeton next year in hopes of studying engineering or physics and plans to try to be a walk-on with the baseball team.

“Above all, he’s the nicest, most caring person you’ll meet,” Zizza said. “He does what’s right and that is special for our program and the world in general.”

— Carissa Kellman

Ashley Diaz, Seaford wrestling

After helping to pave the way for girls wrestling on Long Island, Diaz is focused on becoming a trailblazer in modern medicine.

Diaz’ parents — Joel and Cynthia — are both retired law enforcement officers who were first responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11. They both suffer from chronic illnesses related to 9/11, but Diaz said that Joel has also suffered from other health conditions for most of her childhood.

Every year, Diaz helps raise money for an NYPD fund that benefits first responders who have been affected by 9/11.

Diaz will compete on the women’s wrestling team at Presbyterian College, where she will major in biology and potentially pursue a double major in either psychology or neuroscience. Her ultimate goal is to become a doctor.

“My original reason that I wanted to become a doctor was that I wanted to help my parents live longer. Now that I’ve gotten older, I realized they’re not the only ones suffering,” Diaz said. “A big problem with the healthcare industry is that our solution is medication, but that’s just a Band-Aid. I want to help people improve their quality of life without living on chronic medications and slowly deteriorating.”

Diaz has also volunteered time with the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau for several years, where she has participated in the New York City coat drive and has even done face paintings for NYC children at summer block parties.

She has a 100 weighted GPA and spent over 50 hours as a peer tutor this year. Proud of her Puerto Rican heritage, Diaz helped collect clothing and food for victims of Hurricane Maria. She has been involved in several other clothing and food drives, including one to support Ukraine refugees.

Diaz is an assistant coach at 5 Points Wrestling Club in Uniondale, where she has been working with youth wrestlers, including a 7-year-old girl. Diaz became the first female wrestler in Long Island history to place in a sectional wrestling tournament and to advance into a sectional final. She won the 120-pound title at the inaugural state girls wrestling invitational in 2023.

“She was someone that immediately gained the respect of all the other wrestlers on our team,” Seaford wrestling coach Dave Takseraas said. “She’s a pioneer of girls wrestling on Long Island. She’s helped pave the way for other girls to get involved in the sport.”

— Matt Lindsay

Kaylise McClure, Sachem North, field hockey/girls lacrosse

Kaylise McClure had a pretty good excuse for missing some lacrosse practices.

There would be times when McClure asked Sachem North girls lacrosse coach Maegan Cosgrove if she could leave practice early to work as an EMT with the Brentwood Explorers. McClure became a certified EMT before even graduating high school.

How could Cosgrove deny that request?

“She’s a role model to other kids,” Cosgrove said. “They should aspire to do what she’s doing. Too many kids put all their eggs in one basket and that’s not what Kaylise is doing at all. She has her eggs in a lot of different baskets and she’s crushing it.”

McClure, a Newsday All-Long Island field hockey player who is committed to play at Mercy University, has a long list of extracurricular activities, including serving as Model United Nations Secretary-General and as president of the Intercultural Club. Her list of volunteer work spans around the globe as she studied medicine and worked in a hospital in Vietnam last summer after being selected to the Future Doctors Abroad Program.

“She just doesn’t stop,” said field hockey coach Carly Sharp. “I don’t know how she finds time for everything but she balances everything. She’s in the top 5% of her class, so she’s not lacking anything.”

McClure will be majoring in Biomedical Sciences in the honors program on a Pre-Med track at Mercy University.

Sharp said McClure is extremely humble and won’t brag about all she’s done on the field, in the classroom or for the betterment of the world.

“She’s so dedicated and committed to every single thing she puts herself into,” Sharp said. “She overloads herself but she makes time for everything. I’ve never witnessed someone who is as passionate and committed to everything she does.”

Even though McClure won’t play another game in a Sachem North uniform, her legacy will be an integral part of the athletic program.

“She is the epitome of a role model,” Sharp said. “She is the kind of athlete you talk to your future athletes about. She is somebody you use as that example. She is just so talented, so well educated, so humble and she’s certainly someone we’ll be referring to as we speak to our groups coming up over these next few years. She’ll be that name that never goes away.”

— Owen O'Brien

Briana Neary, Massapequa, soccer/basketball/lacrosse

Briana Neary is a two-time Newsday All-Long Island first-team soccer player and two-time All-Long Island second-team basketball player. But Massapequa girls soccer coach Bruce Stegner says when you talk to Neary, you’ll rarely hear about all her individual accomplishments on a field or hardwood. Or even about her high GPA and full plate of extracurricular activities and community service.

What you’ll hear is grace and an appreciation for others.

“To me, the highest compliment I can give her is even though she’s an elite athlete in the community and the high school and probably in Nassau County, she’s just an incredibly humble person who is the first one to say thank you. Some people take that for granted but she never takes anything for granted.”

Neary graduated No. 6 in her class at Massapequa High School with a 101 average and is a three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball, lacrosse). She’s going on to play soccer at Siena after playing four varsity soccer seasons at Massapequa. Her list of extracurricular activities includes volunteering as a soccer coach at St. Rose of Lima and in local Special Olympic events. She’s volunteered at REACH Club, which organizes food drives for hospitalized children, and Best Buddies Club, where she spends time with special needs children. Neary is also a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and a member of the Athletic Leadership Council, which promotes participation in the school community.

Stegner said her leadership is unquestioned by her peers and coaches. Stegner said he’s only had two players serve as a captain as a junior and senior over his 30 years of high school coaching and Neary was one of them, largely due to her teammates voicing their votes for her to be a captain despite not being a senior.

“We’ve never had two-year captains,” Stegner said, “so that speaks volumes to the leadership she provides and how everyone else looks up to her.”

— Owen O'Brien

Deanna North, Riverhead, softball

Deanna North has made it her mission to show that athletes struggling with mental health aren’t alone.

“There’s a stigma around mental health and athletes,” North said. “People say we need to break the stigma, but enough people aren't taking action.”

North is looking to be part of the change. The senior went through struggles and shared her story through a platform called “Hope for Athletes”.

North teamed up with the organization to put on a student-athlete mental health awareness softball game at Riverhead. She attended other games at the school, sharing her story and selling merchandise to raise money for the organization.

“There was a point where I struggled with eating and I didn’t want to leave my room. I was ready to hang up my cleats,” North said. “I figured why not share my story with the community, so other athletes know they don’t have to suffer alone.”

North is a captain of Riverhead’s softball team, where she helped the Blue Waves win a League I title and complete an undefeated regular season. One of the defining moments of her high school career came early, when she had knee surgery in 2020.

The stress of rehab and wondering if she could compete at a high level took a toll but inspired her. The care that she received pushed her to work at a pediatric physical therapy office, where she helps young children with disabilities.

“I help them build strength, learn how to walk again and use their arms and legs. Some of these kids have gone through surgeries and some are facing their disability,” North said. “It’s eye-opening to see how strong these kids are and how they can smile through struggle.”

North has an unweighted GPA of 103.97 and played on Riverhead’s volleyball team. She participated in a club called “Athletes Helping Athletes” where she traveled to elementary schools and shared insight on high school athletics with students.

North will play softball at Fredonia College this fall, where she hopes to continue bringing mental health awareness to athletes.

“My college coach reached out and said, 'I love what you’ve been doing,' ” North said. “I’m pretty sure they would be on board with an event. Clubs and groups are forming focusing on mental health and I want to bring an impact to them.”

— Christopher Matias

Lucas Weisser, Roslyn, baseball

Technology is essential to daily life, but not everybody finds the click of a button to be a natural task. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when technology became the means to communicate, Lucas Weisser found an opportunity to help.

Weisser and his older brother, Justin, co-founded the Senior Technology Tutors to educate elderly people about technology. A group that started with just the two brothers, now dozens of tech-savvy volunteers go to Roslyn’s Atria senior living facility every Saturday to help people master jobs that may seem simple – such as turning their phone on and sending a picture to a family member.

“It’s very fulfilling to see those results and how happy you can make them with such an easy fix,” Weisser said.

That is just the start of a long list of extracurriculars for Weisser, a Newsday All-Long Island second-team infielder/outfielder/pitcher.

He is also a student leader for the Challenger program, teaching students with disabilities how to play baseball.

“Whenever someone brings up Lucas Weisser, there’s a certain amount of respect that goes with his name,” Roslyn baseball coach Dan Freeman said. “… If you say his name, everyone knows that he’s just a top-notch human being. And he did that without trying to be one, he just was himself.”

Weisser will attend The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania this fall (Justin is a student at Penn, and their parents also went there). He is keeping his baseball playing options open, as a walk-on or for the club team.

He holds a 105.1 weighted GPA and a 1,550 SAT score. Weisser, along with Long Beach’s Troy DeFrancesco, earned Nassau baseball’s Michael Capozzi Scholar-Athlete Award.

Weisser volunteered as a tutor for to tutor several students for the SAT over Zoom. He is a member of the National Honor Society, the World Language Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society.

Weisser was a sports writer for The Hilltop Beacon, Roslyn’s student newspaper, for three years, covering tennis, basketball and soccer.

Said Weisser: “I want to be remembered not just as a great baseball player, but also as a great leader who had a lasting impact on our community.”

— Ben Dickson

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