Pair of Seniors Honored at Homes Wednesday Evening as Top Graduating Athletes
WATERTOWN — Two Watertown High School seniors were honored Wednesday evening as the top graduating athletes and recipients of the William I. Graf Award. Sarah R. Kilburn was selected as the women’s recipient, and Riley J. Connell 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. 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.
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.
Sarah Kilburn is an accomplished three-sport athlete, competing for five years in varsity lacrosse and swimming and for four years as a varsity volleyball player. She is a five-year Frontier League Scholar Athlete.
As a Cyclones lacrosse player, she was a four-year midfield starter, team captain her senior year, team leading scorer for three years, draw control leader for three years, a four-year Frontier League All-Star, a four-year Sectional participant, and was twice named to the Times All-North Team. She also competed with the Different Roads Patriot’s Club Lacrosse team from grade three through 12 and Lake Effect Storm Elite Club Lacrosse for the past four years. She has competed in numerous state and regional lacrosse tournaments throughout her playing career.
As a Cyclones varsity swimmer, Sarah competed in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle relay. She is a three-year NYSPHSAA qualifier, a three-year All-CNY Swimmer, a five-year Sectional and Intersectional qualifier, and a five-year Frontier League All-Star. In 2017, she was the 200 freestyle relay Section 3 Champion, and in 2018, the 50-freestyle Section 3 Champion. Sarah holds several Frontier League and school swim records and was a team captain her senior year. She competed with the YMCA Blue Sharks Swimming Club from the age of 6 through her senior year and is the recipient of the 2021 CNY YMCA District Scholarship. As a Blue Shark, she earned several medals and swim honors.
On the varsity volleyball team, Sarah was a four-year starter (middle), a two-year Frontier League All Star, Team leader in blocking, kills, and digs, a three-year Sectional participant, and a team captain her senior year.
Off the athletic field, Sarah is a top-ranked honor student and National Honor Society member who also made the President’s List while dual enrolled at Jefferson Community College. She participated in numerous extracurricular clubs and activities, including Physics Club, Ohio Reading Buddies and completed the Section 3 Student Athlete Leadership Academy. Sarah has also volunteered in her community, including tutoring seventh graders, and as a coach and mentor for the Watertown Big Sister Volleyball Program, the Watertown Youth Girls Lacrosse Program, and as a lifeguard for Kids Night Out.
Sarah will attend Canisius College, Buffalo, this fall on an academic and lacrosse scholarship. She has committed to play Division I women’s lacrosse at Canisius where she will study biology and pursue a pre-med track. She aspires to attend medical school with a goal to practice as a pediatrician. She is the daughter of Kim and Mike Kilburn, Watertown.
Riley Connell is a standout two-sport athlete, competing for three years in varsity lacrosse and varsity soccer. He is a three-year Frontier League Scholar Athlete. As a Cyclones lacrosse player, Riley is a Frontier League All Star, a Sectional participant, and was named to the Times All-North Second Team. He began his playing career in sixth grade and has competed at various levels since.
As a Cyclones soccer player, Riley was a team captain his junior and senior years and the team’s leading scorer for three years. In his senior season, he posted 18 goals and four assists in seven games. He is a two-time Frontier league All Star and was twice named to the Times All North Team. He began playing soccer at age 4 and has competed for several local clubs, including Watertown FC, NY Soccer Central, Invictus FC, and ODP. Riley has competed in numerous state and regional soccer tournaments throughout his playing career and was a member of the 2016 NY Soccer Central U.S. Youth Soccer State Championship team.
Off the athletic field, Riley is an honor student and National Honor Society member who also completed New Visions his senior year, an honors-level program for students interested in a career in medicine. Throughout high school, he participated in numerous extracurricular clubs and activities, including Math League, MASH Camp, and Ohio Reading Buddies. Riley also completed volunteer service in his community and school, tutoring peers in math and chemistry and mentoring and coaching for several years in the youth boys soccer program at the Watertown YMCA.
Riley will attend SUNY Geneseo this fall where he plans to major in neuroscience and pursue a pre-med track. He aspires to attend medical school with a goal to become a neurosurgeon. Riley also plans to continue his playing career in men’s soccer at Geneseo where he would compete at the Division 3 level. He is the son of Kelly and Bob Connell, 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 $1,000 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.
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 for all in communities across Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties.
Through partnerships with businesses and organizations, charitable foundations, and generous families and individual donors, 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 and honoring legacies of community philanthropy while inspiring others.
The Community Foundation is a resource for local charitable organizations, donors, professional advisors, and nonprofit organizations. 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.