Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Association Scholarship a Treasured Honor for Recipients, Even Decades On

Three high school hockey players from Illinois are awarded the scholarship each year

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI

When Tom Dillon was awarded a scholarship in 1988 as a senior at New Trier High School, little did he realize how it would impact his life.

Now, 30 years later, the first recipient of the Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Association (CBAA) Scholarship is heavily involved in the organization that has changed his life.

“To be part of the organization, it’s special,” said Dillon, who is now the scholar board chairman. “Just being around these great individuals, these former players that had this simple vision 30 years ago of just wanting to give back a little bit to the game of hockey. At the time that I received award, I looked at it as an honor, obviously, to be recognized by these individuals — it was a monetary award. It’s turned out to be so much more than that.”

In March 2018, the CBAA handed out its 100th scholarship. It’s an award — given to three high school hockey players in Illinois each year — that distributes $7,500 annually for up to four years of schooling for the recipient.

It all started in 1987 when retired Blackhawks players Stan Mikita, Keith Magnuson and Cliff Koroll met for lunch and tossed around the idea of forming an alumni association. After the CBAA came to fruition, the scholarship program followed a short time later.

“Since Maggy [Magnuson] and I came through the college ranks to the NHL, we thought education was very important,” said Koroll, who is the CBAA president. “So, we wanted to provide scholarships to high school hockey players — kind of give high school hockey a shot in the arm for support.”

Becoming the first female recipient has also been life-altering for Michelle Morgan, whose maiden name was Radzik when she won the award out of Lyons Township High School in 2001.

“I didn’t really realize I don’t think what I was opening the door to,” said Morgan, who is now the senior director of athletics and recreation at John Carroll University. “I was honored and floored to be getting a phone call from Keith Magnuson, and just out of sorts like, was this really happening? I grew up loving the Blackhawks.

“But I really credit this organization, the Blackhawks, with opening the doors and allowing me to be exposed to sports in a different way to parlay that into a career in professional sports and now collegiate sports.”

The scholarship awards are the driving force behind the CBAA. Award winners each year are determined by a candidate’s level of community service, volunteerism, good citizenship and hockey ability on the ice. Koroll, who coordinates the scholarship program, said annually there are about 100 applicants. From the initial applicants, Koroll pares down the candidates to a manageable number to present to a selection committee from the CBAA that meticulously reviews all the information.

“We have a system where we have five categories and 10 points for each category,” said Koroll, who played with the Blackhawks from 1969-80. “We add up the points from the 10 or 12 people that are there that evaluate them and pick the top three that way.”

The committee reviews each applicant’s letters of recommendation, transcripts and scholar essays. It’s a stringent, strict process.

“It’s been a consistent process,” Dillon said. “Based just on the character of the individuals that have won it historically, it’s a little self-promoting, but we really feel that the system works. I walk away from the luncheon that I run with the help of others, and every year I walk away from that more impressed than the year before by the quality of our recipients.”

According to Dillon and Morgan, the award winners form a tight-knit group. The duo has made lifelong friends with fellow winners as well as Blackhawk alumni players.

“It’s like I was adopted into this family and everybody knew me, especially as a female growing up with this organization, it was like I was everybody’s daughter,” Morgan said. “I’m still blessed to have that relationship. The former scholars are like my brothers and a lot of the former players and associate members, they’re my guardians almost. They make sure I’m OK.”

For the last six years, Morgan has organized a trip for the former scholarship recipients, board members and former Blackhawks players to travel to a different city annually, stay at a hotel or rent a house. They take part in a local activity and go to a hockey game.

“It’s great fun and it’s great bonding and it’s great camaraderie — a new tradition that we started,” Morgan said.

Student-athletes who are interested in the scholarships for 2019 can apply from Dec. 1-Feb. 1. Head to the website to download an application. All the required letters of recommendation, transcripts and essays can be submitted as attachments when filing electronically. There will be an awards luncheon on March 5 to honor the past and current winners.

 Dillon, who works as the executive vice president/national casualty practice leader at AmWINS Group, has a little advice for those looking to apply.

“Historically, this scholarship is not based on talent as much as it is your academics, your community service, your character and your need,” Dillon said. “Those are really the criteria that go into how we select our recipients. Like anything else, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from applying because it’s not just based on need. It’s not just based on grades — it’s based on a culmination of those five criteria. You can’t win it if you don’t apply.”

The number of award recipients has fluctuated over the years. In 1988 when Dillon won, he was the only recipient. When Morgan won 13 years ago, she was one of eight scholars. But in 2004, the year following the untimely death of Magnuson at 56, the number of winners has been fixed at three.

“He was really the heartbeat of the organization and when he passed away, we all got together and tried to figure out, hey, where do we take the association from here?” Dillon said. “Keith did so much and, honestly, it was too much for one person to handle. Cliff stepped in as the president and did a great job of building a team to run the association, including a lot of past scholars. At that point, we decided make the scholarship a little more meaningful from a monetary perspective and we chose the No. 3 because that was Keith’s jersey number.”

In the 15 years since Magnuson’s passing, the scholarship program has really blossomed. Koroll believes his former teammate and friend would be extremely happy with its impact to young student-athletes.

“I think we’re all kind of in awe of as to how successful our Blackhawk alumni association has been and the scholarship program being at the front and center of what we do,” Koroll said. “I think Keith would be very proud of where it’s at.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


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