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Ferrante, Strong honored Pair recognized as Unsung Heroes


"Shocked" was the reaction of Northwestern High's Patti Ferrante as the 5-foot-1, 130-pound basketball player stepped up to the podium and spoke into the microphone.

"It feels neat," said Chesapeake's 5-7, 145-pound Tom Strong, who unlike Ferrante, "didn't even write a speech."

Strong and Ferrante -- both B students -- were the football player and female basketball player honored with $3,500-per-year scholarships at the 53rd annual McCormick Unsung Heroes Awards Banquet last night at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn.

Established in 1940 by the late Charles P. McCormick, the program recognizes unselfish team play and honors those who contribute substantially to the success of their teams without receiving acclaim.

They were among 102 football and female basketball players nominated for the award and represented the 68 Baltimore City and Baltimore County public, private, parochial and independent schools.

Ferrante hasn't lived with her biological parents since she was 15 and has lived with Yvonne Wilburn, whom she called "her mother and best friend." The award capped an eventful day for Ferrante, who scored 910 on her Scholastic Aptitude Test and yesterday morning was accepted to Towson State University.

"This will definitely help," said Ferrante, who will major in English or psychology and minor in pre-law. "If it wasn't for my mother telling me to get up every morning and get my education, this wouldn't be possible."

Ferrante also thanked her basketball coach, Lillian Brown, who called her "among the most conscientious young people I have had the privilege to coach.

"Despite her personal and family problems, the will to change her plight was evident," Brown said. "She decorated the team room, personalizing each member's locker with quotes of encouragement. She initiated a warm-up clap that really got the team moving. After a game, she was the first in line to congratulate opponents."

Strong, a defensive back who also wrestled, said he will use the money to attend an underwater welding school in Oklahoma, "hoping to gain better knowledge" of his craft.

"Tom never complained even though he was the smallest member of the defense and worked hard while quietly doing his job," said Chesapeake football coach Ken Johnson.

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr was the guest speaker, replacing ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who is attending the funeral of former Duke basketball coach Jim Valvano today.

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