Pair of Seniors Honored Wednesday as Top Graduating Athletes
WATERTOWN — Two Watertown High School seniors were recognized as the top graduating athletes and the recipients of the William I. Graf Award on Wednesday. Julia Lavarnway was selected as the women’s recipient, and Ryder Simser was named as the men’s honoree this year.
The William I. Graf Award was created in 1954 by the Italian-American Civic Association to honor Mr. Graf’s leadership and civic engagement in the community. Mr. Graf was a multi-sport coach and athletic director at Watertown High School. Graf Award honorees are expected to have participated in at least two or more varsity sports in their senior year and demonstrate exceptional character and sportsmanship, discipline, fair play, training, athletic ability, and academics.
Julia is an accomplished four-year varsity lacrosse player at Watertown who also played varsity soccer in her junior and senior years. As a soccer player, she served as team captain in both years of play. In lacrosse, she distinguished herself as a Frontier League All Star in her junior and senior years and was a team captain during her senior year. Julia was also selected as a four-time scholar-athlete while playing lacrosse for the Cyclones and twice while playing soccer. This season she helped lead her team to a 9-6 record and an appearance in the Section 3 Class C Playoffs.
Off the athletic field, Julia participated in Business Club, volunteered for Meals on Wheels and was a “Values of Volunteering” member. A National Honor Society member, Julia will attend Clarkson University, Potsdam, where she plans to study business and play Division III lacrosse. She is the daughter of Mark and Joanne Lavarnway, Watertown.
Ryder is a standout three-sport varsity athlete, playing soccer and basketball during his junior and senior years and lacrosse for four years. As a lacrosse player, he distinguished himself as a four-time Frontier League All-Star and was named to the All-North Team during his last sophomore, junior and senior years. He received a Sportsmanship Award in basketball and soccer during his junior year and was named a Frontier League All-Star in soccer during his senior year. Ryder was also selected as a four-time scholar athlete while playing lacrosse for the Cyclones and twice while playing soccer and basketball. He was chosen as a Section 3 Academic All-American this year.
Off the athletic field, Ryder was a member of the Northern New York Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Council during his freshman, sophomore and junior years; a volunteer at the SPCA of Jefferson County and the Watertown Urban Mission. A National Honor Society Member, Ryder will attend LeMoyne College, Syracuse, where he plans to study biology and play Division II lacrosse. He is the son of Erin and Shane Simser, Watertown.
More than 100 graduating high school seniors have received the Graf Award. Watertown High School’s athletics staff selects the recipients each year, and the Italian American Civic Association presents the award. Following the death of Mr. Graf’s son, William A. Graf, in 2013, the family decided to honor him by funding a financial award for recipients. William A. Graf, who also embodied the traits of the award, attended Watertown High School and played several varsity sports coached by his father, William I.
Each recipient receives a financial award of $1,000. The Northern New York Community Foundation was selected to help continue the Graf family legacy by administering the fund in perpetuity and raising awareness of the award for students who strive to earn the prestigious honor.
About the Northern New York Community Foundation
Since 1929, the Northern New York Community Foundation has invested in improving and enriching the quality of life in communities across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.
Through partnerships with businesses and organizations, generous individual donors and families, and charitable foundations, the Community Foundation awards grants and scholarships from an endowment and collection of funds that benefit the region. Its commitment to donors helps individuals achieve their charitable objectives now and for generations to come by preserving enduring legacies of community philanthropy while inspiring others.
The Community Foundation is a resource for donors, local charitable organizations, and professional advisors. It also works to bring people together at its permanent home in the Northern New York Philanthropy Center to discuss challenges our communities face and find creative solutions that strengthen the region and make it a great place to live, work, and play.