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CCIU Celebrates Academic Excellence at the 2024 Breakfast of Champions

After several months of studying, practicing, and rigorous competition, Chester County high school students gathered at the Downingtown Country Club on Friday, May 3, 2024, to honor the hard work and dedication of the Chester County Academic Competition teams.

Coaches and academic team members attended to share memories from throughout the season, connect with teams from other schools, celebrate academic excellence, and come together one last time for the 2023-24 school year.

The breakfast began with opening remarks by Jay Della Ragione, special events coordinator for the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), and a welcome message from Christa Fazio, the director of communications, marketing, and engagement at the CCIU. After the opening speeches, everyone enjoyed a buffet-style brunch prepared by the country club staff.

“The Breakfast of Champions marks the pinnacle of the academic competition tournament. Throughout the competition season, we witness students evolve into incredible competitors and exceptional individuals. It’s the perfect way to send off our graduating seniors as they embark on the next chapter of their academic careers,” said Della Ragione. “This event is not only a celebration of academic excellence but also a heartfelt expression of gratitude towards our sponsors, whose unwavering support directly impacts our students and the success of this program. It is a fitting conclusion to a year filled with dedication, perseverance, and achievement.”

The highlight of the event was the message presented by keynote speaker Chris Hoess. Hoess is a Kennett High School alum and former Chester County Academic Competition participant. He was honored with the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1998. Today, he shares his passion for learning by teaching pre-nursing and science students at Delaware Technical Community College. His message was one of dedication, being open to new experiences, and the importance of camaraderie.

“The Chester County Academic Competition taught me the importance of practice and doing your part for the team. It also taught me how important it is to have team members around you where everybody can trust each other to carry out their role and do things well,” said Hoess.

When asked what advice he would give to the academic competition students who are graduating this year, he answered, “Whatever job you have, do that job well. If you do your job well, you will gather other people around you who are also trying to do their jobs well. That experience of being with people who know the work to be done and understand their role in getting it done is going to recreate some of what makes playing on a team in Chester County Academic Competition so exhilarating and such a wonderful experience.”

The 2024 Breakfast of Champions concluded with an awards ceremony to honor one individual from each of the Chester County teams as MVP. Additionally, the Chester County Coach of the Year and the Howard M. Reinard, Jr. Competitor of the Year were announced and presented with awards.

The Coach of the Year is an annual recognition awarded to one Chester County Academic Competition coach for leading by example and fostering a commitment to excellence and fair play. The Coach of the Year was awarded to Nathan Schlamb of West Chester East High School.

“It feels unbelievable to have achieved this honor,” said Schlamb. “I am retiring this year, and I couldn’t be prouder. After 14 years of coaching, it’s a highlight to go out this way. I am very thankful.”

The honor of Competitor of the Year is awarded to a Chester County Academic Competition participant who has demonstrated exemplary team leadership and outstanding performance. This year’s Howard M. Reinard, Jr. Competitor of the Year was awarded to Alex Chen of West Chester East High School, who is also the team’s MVP.

When asked what advice he would give to future academic competition participants, Chen said, “Enjoy the process. You can muddle through the competitive side of things and the stress of competition. But if you take some time to smell the roses and enjoy the process with your teammates, you will realize there’s a greater reward to this than just winning. A lot of the reward in and of itself is playing the game.”

The Chester County Academic Competition is facilitated by the CCIU and sponsored by the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Unit, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Children’s Fund of Chester County, and CCRES Educational and Behavorial Health Services. The mission of the Chester County Academic Competition is to promote lifelong learning, celebrate academic achievement, and enhance self confidence in high school students as members of a team by providing health yet challenging opportunities for students to develop academic, social, and personal skills. To learn more about the Chester County Academic Competition, please visit www.cciu.org/academic-competition.