SUNBURY, Ohio (WCMH)–Gabrielle Roberto grew up the little sister to two older brothers who were constantly playing sports. She learned very quickly how to not be left out or left behind.
“I watched them start playing football when I was two and I started cheering because I was obviously always around that,” she said. “We’ve always been taught if you can be in a sport, be in a sport.”
“We were always in the yard doing something. It was fun for us and it helped us connect as a family,” added Gabrielle’s father, Frank. “When the season changed I always asked them to try something new.”
“I played soccer as a kid like every kid does, then I played softball, I ran track in middle school,” Gabrielle explained.
While many athletes try many sports when they are young, there has definitely been a push in recent years to focus on the one sport they excel at and play that year-round. Sure, that can lead to state championships, individual honors, and maybe even scholarships. There is a different kind of challenge and success in playing a variety of sports.
In the 2010-2011 school year, Big Walnut High School in Sunbury wanted to acknowledge those athletes who not only played a sport in each of the three seasons of the school year but did so throughout their four years of high school. Thus began the 12 Seasons of Greatness award.
The honor has now existed for 11 graduating classes and including this year, 33 have had their names mounted on the wall. Four names were from this year’s class.
“We have just over 260 something graduates getting ready to walk on Saturday, so it is a small small small percentage,” said Steve Palmer, the Golden Eagles’ girls lacrosse coach. “If I was a math major, I would do that but I’m not so I’m not even going to try it,” he added with a laugh.
“Having my name up there, it has cemented me in the history of this school,” said Owen Wilhelm, who received the honor this year after playing soccer, basketball, and track the last four years. “I’m hoping people can look up to my name, look up to me and follow my steps.”
For Gabrielle, having her name on that wall was more than a personal honor – it had become a family tradition.
“She saw her older brothers do it and it was something she had to get done,” Palmer said.
Even with all the sports she had played growing up when Gabrielle began her freshman year at Big Walnut, she was only on teams for two seasons: fall cheer and winter cheer. That wasn’t going to cut it.
“I was like okay I have to do it! I have to pick up a sport! So my freshman year I knew I had to pick track or lacrosse, and once I picked lacrosse there was no going back. It was the best choice.”
“When you see your daughter go from cheerleading to ‘I wanna play goalie in lacrosse!’ I was like are you sure?” Frank said with a laugh. “But growing up with 2 brothers I shouldn’t have expected anything less.”
“All my family was like, ‘It’s very different seeing you go from bows and lipstick to on the field playing hard’ and I’m like, I know it’s a big change but it’s really fun,” Gabrielle added. “I think it’s really nice because I get to do the crossover. Like at the end of basketball I knew that I wasn’t done, I knew I had my entire season, like this season, I wasn’t done.”
Gabrielle said there are aspects of cheerleading that helped her with lacrosse and vice-versa. Frank saw the athletic benefits like that with his sons as well; but being a dad, he also saw off-the-field benefits from his kids playing multiple sports.
“They find new friends when they join new sports, and you get to meet and experience new coaches and techniques,” he explained. “It’s really proven out in their adult lives as well seeing how they adapt to different circumstances they are in every day and how they adapt to different leadership styles, teachers.”
Now, graduation is upon Gabrielle and her name has officially been added to the board in the hallway with her brothers and cousin (yes, there are now four Robertos on the 12 Seasons of Greatness board!)
“It opened my mind up to choose something new,” Gabrielle said about finding lacrosse through her determination to keep up the Roberto tradition. “I think my dad and my brothers would have given me the hardest time if I didn’t keep this going!” she laughed.
Along with Gabrielle and Owen, two more athletes were honored for the 2021 class: Mackenna Ames who was on the cross country, swimming/diving, and track teams all four years of high school.
And Braden Buckler, who competed in cross country, swimming/diving and track for his four years.