PORTLAND — They didn’t plan it, because they hadn’t met until this afternoon, but Mia Rapolla’s blouse and Peter Gwilym’s purple tie complemented each other perfectly when they posed for photographs as the Maine high school Athletes of the Year.

In similar fashion, both competed in high school sports outside their area of greatest accomplishment, and both said the experience made them better athletes.

Rapolla, a senior lacrosse player at Gorham High, and Gwilym, a senior football player at Cheverus High, became the 24th pair of high school athletes honored at the annual All-Sports Awards Ceremony sponsored by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and held Sunday at the Italian Heritage Center.

“If you talk to college coaches, they would much prefer a high school athlete who has participated in multiple sports than a person who specializes,” said Cheverus football coach John Wolfgram, who converted Gwilym from wide receiver to quarterback after his freshman year. “The versatility that you have to have, the skills you develop, the different ways you compete, I think it really helps you as an athlete. You’re put in more different situations where you have to find out things about yourself.”

Duke University women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie delivered the keynote address Sunday, singling out and engaging eight of the 28 athletes selected by the newspaper’s sports staff as Most Valuable Players in their sport to reinforce her themes of perseverance, versatility, desire, dominance, power, diversity, commitment and focus.

“Remember to love and embrace your Maine roots,” said McCallie, who grew up in Brunswick and guided the University of Maine basketball program to national prominence after a successful playing career at Northwestern. “Wherever you go, have the best time telling people yes, you are in fact from Maine. It has a special feel and people are so interested. … It’s fascinating how many people respect and adore and love Maine.”

Sports columnist Steve Solloway spoke about each of the 28 high school athletes honored as his or her sport’s MVP. One week ago, a panel that included coaches, school administrators, members of the local athletic community and the newspaper’s sports staff went over the list of 28 and, using a weighted voting system and secret ballots, selected a male and female athlete of the year.

They turned out to be Rapolla and Gwilym.

“There’s obviously a lot of really good athletes around, all the girls mentioned, so I had no idea,” Rapolla said. “I’m really excited. It means a lot to me.”

In addition to scoring 198 goals in her final two lacrosse seasons for Gorham, Rapolla placed 11th in the Class A state cross country meet last fall and was an all-state shooting guard in basketball. She plans to continue playing lacrosse on scholarship at the University of Massachusetts.

“It’s going to be a lot different,” she said. “High school wouldn’t have been as fun without different sports and different people. All my coaches were great. The switch of sports makes you appreciate each sport a lot more.”

Gwilym led the Stags to a 12-0 season and Class A state title in the fall and won the Fitzpatrick Trophy as the state’s top senior football player. He also played left field for the state championship Cheverus baseball team and forward for the school’s regional championship basketball team. As a junior, he ran track.

“People say if you focus on one sport you’re going to end up better off, but I disagree with that,” Gwilym said. “If you play a bunch of different sports, you gain experience, you (learn) the intangible things, you become more of a leader. … Giving your body some time off is good, too.”

Gwilym will attend Ohio State – the college of his grandfather – and attempt to become a walk-on player on the Buckeye football team.

“We’ll see how that goes,” he said. “If you make it, you make it.”

If Gwilym listened closely to McCallie, making the roster of a nationally-ranked program such as the one at Ohio State won’t seem all that far-fetched.

Choice, not chance, determines destiny, she said Sunday. McCallie figured she could read the thoughts of the athletes in the room who are preparing to embark on collegiate careers.

“Hmm, I’m from Maine. I was really good in Maine. I wonder if I could beat somebody from Texas?”

She also provided what she considers the proper answer.

“Heck yeah! No question. And do it. OK? Do it!

“Understand that your work ethic and what you learned in Maine with your parents and your family will carry you there.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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