Western Tech's Geraldine Ezeka's small stature playing underneath the basket for the Wolverines' basketball team showed how big her heart is.
Whether the 5-foot-5 senior was drawing a charge, making plays difficult for her taller teammates in practice or just cheering enthusiastically from the bench, it all adds up to the profile of a complete and unselfish competitor on the basketball court.
In fact, the Wolverines reached the Class 1A state championship game, in part, because of Ezeka's team-oriented play.
With those attributes in mind, she was named the female recipient of the $36,000 Charles Perry McCormick college scholarship awarded at the 72nd McCormick Unsung Hero Award Banquet on May 7, at the Hunt Valley Marriott.
Loch Raven High football player Ryan Schanberger was the male winner and he, like Ezeka, did the dirty work for his team.
Ezeka's coach, Nolan Roe, nicknamed her the "garbage man," because of her penchant for mixing it up underneath the basket with bigger girls.
"The little things are the most important things in life — not only in basketball," Ezeka said. "It's the little things that matter the most and sometimes people need to recognize that. People get recognized for the little things, and I guess that's why I won this award."
Ezeka, who will attend theUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County, and major in chemistry in the fall, plans to do bigger things in the future.
"I hope to go to medical school and become an obstetrician, gynecologist or pediatric surgeon and open a hospital in Nigeria," said Ezeka, whose parents came from Nigeria.
Geraldine and her twin brother, Daniel, a Calvert Hall student, were both born, and still live in, Randallstown.
"She has always been an amazing child," said her dad, Hyacinth.
Roe also saw an amazing transformation on the court between Ezeka's junior and senior years.
The coach noticed in the first few weeks of practice she was making the Wolverines' two 6-footers work extra hard on the boards.
In games she didn't start, Ezeka still played quality minutes as part of the regular rotation.
"When your bench wants to work, it makes everybody better," Roe said. "It's the very definition of her."
Even more defining was her response when asked about some of her personal highlights from the phenomenal 23-5 season.
"The first time we played Carver was great," she said. "I don't think I had many points, but I had like five steals, and that game was fun."
Similarly, Ezeka's contribution in the regional championship game win over New Town was as a cheerleader from the bench.
"I didn't play at all that game, but I wanted us to win so bad," she said. "That game left me in emotional distress."
Roe praised her versatility, considering she had 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and six steals in a win over Overlea.
"It was a crazy stat line," said Roe, who noted the senior also drew big charges in regular-season games against Milford Mill and New Town. "When she wasn't going loco in the scorebook, she helped keep her teammates under control."
She worked overtime before her senior season by running and jumping with weights to increase vertical jump.
"Everybody else at my position was 5-11 or 6-foot, so I'm like, 'If I want to play, I have to really do some damage,' " she said. "Even though I wouldn't be as tall as them, I could jump as high as they could."
Roe apologized when Ezeka did not log any playing time in the state final.
"I turned to her and said, 'I'm sorry I didn't get you in.' She just said, 'That's fine, I'm glad to be here,' " Roe said. "She is just a great kid."
There were 112 senior nominees from 68 schools in Baltimore County, city and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland represented from at the awards ceremony.
Nominees from the local public schools included Catonsville's Heather Kendrick and Jon Reymann, Lansdowne's Sera Stull and Robert Smith Jr. and Western Tech's Malik Carver.
Private school nominees were Mount St. Joseph's James Winfield, Seton Keough's Kahla McCormick and Kara Hand, of Mount de Sales.
Keynote speaker was CBS News correspondent and "60 Minutes" reporter Byron Pitts.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun