OCALA-- College of Central Florida baseball pitcher Josh Harper was named the 2017-18 Lea Plarski Award winner, given annually to the NJCAA student-athlete (male or female) who best exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, academic excellence, and athletic ability. Harper is the first CF student-athlete to ever receive this distinguished award.
"This award means a lot to me," said Harper. "First, I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to attend CF. I'd like to thank the coaches and Patriot staff for nominating me for this award. I loved everything about CF and it gave me two of the best years of my life.
"I'd also like to thank the community for welcoming me during my time at CF."
Harper, just the fourth baseball player to ever receive the award, was selected among almost 60,000 student-athletes across more than 500 NJCAA institutions for this prestigious award.
In addition to the Plarski award, Harper was also awarded the FCSAA Bill Tuten Scholar Athlete of the Year, 2018 CF Scholar Athlete of the Year, and the James D. Harvey Department of Athletics Achievement Award for his work on the field, in the classroom, and around the Ocala community.
"Josh Harper is a tremendous young man and we are very proud to of have had him in our program," said CF athletic director Bob Zelinski. "He is a perfect example of the type of student-athlete we are privileged to work with every day at the two-year level. Josh is a great student who excels in athletics and is committed to working in the community and providing service to others."
The two-year pitcher from Ocala, Fla. recently graduated summa cum laude from CF in May with a 3.83 GPA and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
In between juggling duties on the field and in the classroom, Harper also made it a point to give back through serving the Ocala community and beyond. He served on the leadership committee for Ocala United, a local Christian youth group in town, where he'd help renovate family homes and feed the hungry. He has also traveled to various countries on mission trips, with his fifth mission this past summer to Nicaragua.
Harper was an integral part of the Patriot pitching staff during his two years, helping CF to a 31-win season in 2018. The right-handed hurler finished 4-1 in 2018 and led the pitching staff with 19 appearances out of the bullpen each of his two seasons. His excellence in the classroom and on the mound for CF stretched further than many would know as he was a leader in his dugout and in the Ocala community.
"Josh is such a great kid," said head baseball coach Marty Smith. "The team loved him, the community loved him…he's just a very giving guy. Josh brought a lot of great qualities that everyone loved about him and really helped our program."
Harper is currently attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. and is pursuing a degree in biomedical science.
About the Lea Plarski Award
The NJCAA's Lea Plarski Award is handed out annually in the name of former NJCAA President Lea Plarski as recognition of her tremendous service to the NJCAA and two-year college athletics. The former director of athletics at St. Louis Community College/Florissant Valley, Plarski helped to establish the Women's Division of the NJCAA in 1975. She served as Vice-President for Women from 1975-1990 when she made NJCAA history as the first female ever elected to the office of President, a position she held from 1990-1996. In honor of her numerous accomplishments, as well as her undeniable dedication to the student-athlete, the NJCAA Lea Plarski Award was created. Since 1995, the award has been presented to an NJCAA student-athlete who exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, academic excellence, athletic ability and achievements – qualities that were the cornerstones of the Plarski "era".