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How a scholar athlete banquet was resurrected after pandemic

In the good news day category, nothing deserves more attention and praise than the 2023 comeback story.

The COVID-19 pandemic was almost eradicated San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Famethe group that each year honors each high school’s top scholar athletes with a banquet and recognition of their achievement.

The last one took place in 2019.

“It killed us,” said chairman Jim Lufthal.

Membership in the group dropped to six people with no banquets for three years.

Enter Simi Valley High football coach Jim Benkert, who became president of the organization. The Scholarly Athletes of 2022 will have their banquet Monday night at the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills, with former San Fernando High and USC star Anthony Davis as the speakers.

Each banquet provides insight for future community leaders. These players are the best of the best in academics, athletics and leadership.

Take the case of Taft linebacker Caden Cowles, who has a 4.5 point average and a black belt in Taekwondo.

“He was the cliche coach on the field,” said former Taft coach Jeff Kearin. “One day I will work for that boy.”

Cowles, an aspiring aerospace engineer with academic acceptance letters from USC, Florida Tech and Purdue, said playing football taught him valuable lessons.

“I was captain for two years,” he said. “It helped me build a lot of confidence. It taught me to never give up, always try harder, always try to improve, make myself better, make the experiment better. You build relationships. It’s like building a family.”

Cowles was an old boy scout who had to give up trying to become an eagle scout after COVID-19 interruptions, but he and the 41 other players being honored can take comfort in being able to resume their football days, experience victories and defeats , and stayed focused on their academic goals.

The honorees include seniors who have volunteered as election observers and youth coaches for the Special Olympics, who have worked at McDonald’s, and as umpires.

Josh Dixon of Studio City Harvard-Westlake plays bass in a band, works at a car wash, has a 3.9 GPA and goes to UCLA to play linebacker. Granada Hills Kennedy’s Gabriel Argott was a standout running back while working part-time in construction. Burbank Burroughs Representative Marcus Manahan is the senior class president.

Few banquets produce more future doctors, lawyers, police officers, soldiers, businessmen, teachers and community leaders.

It is inspiring that Benkert has used his organizing skills to revitalize the San Fernando Valley chapter and recruit more members to be part of a group making comebacks in other areas of Southern California to support the great learned athletes that exist in so many schools. . The Los Angeles chapter will hold its banquet at SoFi Stadium later this month.

As someone who has attended the banquets of learned athletes for decades, I’ve always wondered which honoree could one day save me as a paramedic or athletic trainer, greet me in the street to offer assistance, eventually bring an F-16 fighter jet to us protect the country, or discover a cure for cancer.

They are real difference makers.

So please put me close to Cowles, the black belt and future inventor.

Asked if classmates know about his Taekwondo skills, Cowles replied, “It’s not something I advertise. I present myself in a nice way where no one would want to attack me.