KENNEBUNK — A faulty alarm system emptied classrooms at Kennebunk High on Tuesday morning, resulting in about 700 students loitering outside in the cold before being herded into the gymnasium, where they sat for more than an hour.

Abbey Leonardi made their wait worthwhile.

Leonardi, a junior, and three-time Class A cross country state champion, was named GTM Sportswear October Athlete of the Month by the National High School Coaches Association, a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania providing support and leadership programs for 500,000 coaches and 10 million high school athletes.

The 5-foot-1 Leonardi opened October by breaking 18 minutes and setting a meet record at the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions in Belfast and closed it by returning to the 5K course in Belfast to claim her third straight state title, in 17 minutes, 49 seconds.

On Saturday she will run again in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional on Long Island, N.Y., in hopes of qualifying for a second straight year as one of 40 schoolgirls across the country for the national title race in San Diego.

“It’s exciting and often thrilling to stand at the intersection of ability and hard work and watch what happens,” said Kennebunk Principal Pete Dawson to the assembled crowd. “This morning we’re here to honor one of the members of our family who has combined ability and hard work in such a way that she has set herself way above the rest.”

Six athletes from across the nation had been nominated for the award, including a swimmer from Arizona, a golfer from Illinois, a soccer player from Oregon and football players from Oklahoma and Alabama.

More than 6,000 high school sports editors and writers took part in voting.

“It’s purely on athletic performance,” said Jaime Ferraro, director of operations for the NHSCA. “We’re trying to focus on the smaller schools and the kids who kind of fall through the cracks.”

In addition to Ferraro and Dawson, Tuesday’s speakers included Athletic Director Thor Nilsen, cross country coach Mike Dinehart and, on the heels of a standing ovation, the normally reticent Leonardi herself.

She thanked the NHSCA and GTM (which gave her a gym bag and running apparel and, to throw to the crowd, a dozen colorful T-shirts), the KHS administration, her coaches, her teammates and her family.

She even made sure to wish “Happy Birthday, Grampy,” to her maternal grandfather, Ken Rogiers of Wells.

“She’s a person every one of us can feel proud of because of the way she carries herself,” Dawson said.

“She waits at the finish line after she has generally finished well ahead of the pack and greets other finishers, to let them know they ran a good race and to congratulate them. I think that means as much to me as the quality of her running.”

Ferraro said Leonardi will be recognized in the first High School Hall of Fame Museum, planned for construction in Easton, Pa., in the fall of 2013. This is the first year of the award.

September’s winner was Evan Kreger, an eight-man football player from Hodgemen County High in Kansas.

He and Leonardi are eligible for the 2011 NHSCA Athlete of the Year, to be named in May from all the monthly winners.

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]