LITTLE FALLS, NJ — Jacob Messeri, who played varsity baseball for Columbia High School, has earned the 2021 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award for the school.

The award was part of an evening where the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center honored student athletes from member schools of the Super Essex Conference (SEC) in a celebration of the qualities that made Yogi Berra a national treasure. Recipients of the 2021 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award, selected by their respective athletic departments, “exemplify the strength of character, sportsmanship and supportive spirit that, though often unheralded, are vital to a team’s success,” said the museum's announcement of the award. One student from each SEC member school can earn the title each year; 2021 was the ninth year for the award.

Jacob, who was a team captain and will graduate this month, “was a role model student athlete,” said Coach Ryan Muirhead.

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On the Columbia baseball team, Muirhead said Jacob never hesitated to do a little more than was asked for.  “There was no task too big or too small, whether it was making a play in a high pressure situation or being the last guy to leave the field picking up wrappers or bottles, Jacob did it all.”

The coach also noted Jacob as selfless, saying “While I'm sure he never wanted to give up playing time during his senior year, he was more than understanding that it was in the best interest of the program for him to cede innings or at bats to younger players in the program so that they had an opportunity to gain experience before it was their turn to play.”

He was also a key leader in a food drive last year that helped donate hundreds of meals to the local food bank, Muirhead said. “Being a great teammate transcends a player's skill set. It's about reliability, accountability and being someone who will set a high bar — but also realizing sometimes people may need a little help to get over it, and it's his job as a senior, as a captain and as their teammate to help them.”

“There has been so much personal sacrifice in the last 14 months,” said Eve Schaenen, the Museum’s executive director, in her welcome remarks to the students on zoom. “Sports seasons were canceled, or cut short, or modified to account for the public health crisis we have all lived through. And yet, your athletic directors still chose you as Best Teammate. What that says so clearly, this year more than ever, is that the qualities of a great teammate are identifiable in you… because of who you are as people, as much as who you are as athletes.”

The 37 winning students, together with their parents, grandparents, coaches and athletic directors, had the opportunity to hear from special guest Bill Brown, Chief Retail Officer of Investors Bank, long-time sponsor of the event. In congratulating the recipients, Brown stated, “At Investors we always ask ourselves how we can make our communities better. We often talk in meetings about Yogi Berra as the model of a person who lifted the people around him. The Best Teammate Award shows that you make your teammates better because of who you are.” 

Participants also heard from Dale Berra, Yogi Berra’s youngest son, who spoke of his experience playing on the same team as his Hall of Fame father when Yogi managed the NY Yankees and Dale played on the team. The younger Berra reminded the students that being a great teammate isn’t just about statistics, but is about putting the team first, showing respect for others and persevering.

 

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