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Meriden Student-Athlete Wins 'Spirit Of Sport' Award

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has named Maloney High School junior Haley Lespier its winner of the 2019 Michael H. Savage Spirit of Sport Award.

The 16-year-old athlete plays soccer, basketball and tennis at Maloney High in Meriden, but she’s also being recognized for overcoming adversity.

Nine years ago, doctors found a tumor near Lespier’s brainstem. She had some bad headaches and knew something was wrong, but it took doctors a while to find the problem.

“I was surprised,” Lespier said. “But of all the things I was thinking in my head, I didn’t even think of cancer right away. I was young and I didn’t really know better.”

Abby Lespier knew something wasn’t right with her twin sister.

“Just the way that she acted, just a gut feeling,” Abby Lespier said.

Haley was diagnosed with cerebellar pilocytic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. 

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Public Radio
The scar on the back of Haley Lespier's head is what remains from the surgery she had to remove a tumor from her brain when she was 7. For overcoming adversity in her life, the student-athlete has been named this year's CIAC "Spirit of Sport" award winner.

Eventually, it came time for surgery to remove the tumor. After it was done, Abby couldn’t visit her sister at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center because of potential exposure to illness.

“I would always ask my parents, ‘Can you come take me to see her? I really want to come see her,’” Abby said. “They were like, ‘It’s hard. You can’t really see her at the moment.’ That just made me more sad and sad.”

When Abby recalled that memory during her interview with Connecticut Public Radio, her legs sprang into action. She used them to pull her sister’s chair closer to hers. It’s something Abby and Haley’s mother said is a side of their relationship she rarely sees -- it’s part of their twin bond.

“She has been through a lot,” Abby said of Haley, “and she does decide to play three sports because she knows she can do it now, and I’m just really proud of her.”

The CIAC, Connecticut’s governing body of high school sports, gives out the Spirit Award to an athlete who best demonstrates at least one of the following criteria: sportsmanship, community engagement, and overcoming adversity.

In addition to being honored locally, Haley Lespier is now a nominee for the national version of the Spirit Award. 

Frankie Graziano’s career in broadcast journalism continues to evolve.

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