Geneva student wins essay contest - Catholic Courier

Geneva student wins essay contest

Dominic Sindoni has looked up to Notre Dame football legend Rudy Ruettiger since he was in second grade. Ruettiger’s story inspires him, Dominic said, noting that he always tries to follow Ruettiger’s lead and give his best effort to everything he attempts.

Dominic’s dedication — both to hard work and to Ruettiger’s story — recently paid off when Dominic was named one of six winners in a statewide essay contest. What did he write about? Rudy Ruettiger, of course.

Dominic, a sixth-grader at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, is the Finger Lakes region’s winner in the “Double Play” essay contest sponsored in part by the Finger Lakes Times. The contest was the end product of a partnership between the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, the New York Newspapers Foundation, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and New York State United Teachers.

Through this partnership, weekly installments of a serial story titled “Double Play” ran in 21 daily newspapers throughout the state. A new chapter of the story was printed in the papers, including the Finger Lakes Times, each Tuesday over a period of eight weeks, said Cathy Caster, English language arts teacher for the junior-high grades at St. Francis-St. Stephen’s.

At the end of those eight weeks, the newspapers published a quote that is emblazoned on baseball star Jackie Robinson’s grave and asked young readers to respond to the quote in an essay. The quote read, “A life is important only in its impact on other lives,” and Caster assigned her students to write about one person who has affected other lives through his or her own.

At first, Dominic was a little overwhelmed by the scope of the assignment, recalled his mother, Debbie Sindoni. Debbie said she encouraged her son to write about something he was knowledgeable about and comfortable with, she said. That’s when Dominic decided to write about Ruettiger, he said.

Dominic has been a Notre Dame fan for years, and first saw “Rudy” on television when he was in first grade.

“Since that day I saw it, I’ve always loved it,” Dominic said.

“When he was in second grade, that’s all he asked for was a “Rudy” DVD,” Sindoni added.

The 1993 film “Rudy” tells the true story of a young man who never let go of his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame University. The film chronicles the road to success for Ruettiger, the third in a family of 14 children in Joliet, Ill. Although he’d wanted to attend Notre Dame since he was a young boy, Ruettiger took an industrial job at a local factory after graduating from high school.

He eventually decided he still wanted to follow his dream of attending Notre Dame, but didn’t have strong enough grades for admission, so he enrolled at nearby Holy Cross Junior College. After attending Holy Cross for several semesters, he was accepted at Notre Dame in 1974 and eventually made the football team.

Although he was a dedicated member of the team, Ruettiger didn’t play until the very end of the last football game of his senior year.

“With 27 seconds left in the game the crowd started chanting, ‘Rudy, Rudy, Rudy …’ Coach had no choice but to put him in, and he sacked the quarterback in the last play of the season,” Dominic wrote in his essay. “They said he wasn’t the biggest nor fastest, but he had the biggest heart.”

Dominic told the Catholic Courier he’s always been impressed by Rudy’s perseverance. He looks up to the legend because Ruettiger never gave up, he said.

“He really stands out. He’s very tough and determined,” he said. To Dominic, Ruettiger perfectly personifies the Robinson quote.

“To me it means if you try your hardest, everybody has the potential to help others, we need to try our hardest to achieve that. That’s what Rudy Ruettiger did,” Dominic wrote in his essay.

Dominic didn’t realize his essay was going to be entered in a contest until after he’d written it.

“I wasn’t quite sure what it was for or anything. After I wrote it and handed it in, (Caster) said it was for a contest,” he said. “Then I really wanted to win. I got really excited about the whole thing. I always pay attention to Rudy and I’ve always loved his story, so I just knew I would do a good job.”

After reading her students’ essays Caster sent them in to be judged, and Dominic’s was eventually sent to the state level, where it competed for top honors against 1,200 other entries, she said. Several weeks later, Dominic received a Friday-night phone call informing him that he was one of six winners.

Dominic was excited by the news, as was Caster when he told her the next Monday morning.

“This was the first time I’ve ever seen her jump up and down,” Dominic said, noting that his classmates were happy for him too. “When Ms. Caster told them, they all clapped.”

“We’re so excited, we just can’t stand it. The whole school is very pleased and proud of him,” Caster added.

Dominic, his parents and his younger sister, Elaina, traveled to Cooperstown May 12 to attend an awards banquet at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The banquet was fun because it was held after hours, when the hall of fame was closed to the general public, Dominic and his mother said.

“It was so much fun. I had to stand up and get my award and I had to read my essay,” Dominic said. “I was really nervous, but I just tried to stay relaxed.”

The Sindonis also received free passes to come back and tour the hall of fame the next day during normal operating hours.

Dominic said he’s always enjoyed writing, and this experience might encourage him to write more in the future.

“It really helped writing about something that I knew a lot about,” he said.

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