Pennsylvania Scholarship Program Nears $1 Million

Since 2000, the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Fund has awarded nearly $1 million to boys and girls high school basketball players who play on teams in the York-Adams (PA) Interscholastic Athletic Association (YAIAA).

The YAIAA, originally founded in 1992 as the York Area Interscholastic Athletic Association and known in its current state since 2004, consists of 22 boys team and 21 girls teams, all of which are members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA).

Swartz officiated high school basketball from 1981 until 1995 and was a fierce advocate of sportsmanship. Following her untimely death to leukemia in 1997, officials in the area had discussed the idea of a memorial fund to continue Swartz’s legacy. About two years later, the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Fund, Inc. was founded as a 501(c)(3) charity.

“I asked ‘How are we going to give out a scholarship — if this is what is intended — to somebody who is a good sport?’” said Coni Wolf, Swartz’s older sister and president of the scholarship fund. “Well, we could have car washes and bake sales. But I had just finished working on another community project where we raised some money and we put it in a bank to earn the interest and use it — using the interest for the work that we intended rather than the principle.”

The foundation raised and targeted $100,000. Over the course of a few years, the group achieved that goal and set out to award two $1,000 scholarships in 2001.

“Now, we’re giving out over $150,000 to a group, which will vary every year based on how many students are playing basketball, graduating and are going to college,” Wolf said.

In essence, the original principle, which continues to grow through various donations, is a “true endowment,” as Wolf puts it, at the York County Community Foundation. The scholarship foundation’s monies are permanently endowed meaning that while assets cannot be withdrawn, the earnings from the interest can be used.

Each year, the York Chapter of PIAA Basketball officials chooses one boys team and one girls team from within the league. Officials are asked to look at the entirety of a program (from grades seven to 12) when voting on a school. As a result, two traveling trophies – one boys and one girls – are awarded annually.

Most notably, however, is that award allows the winning program’s senior basketball players to apply for a post-secondary scholarship, typically worth thousands of dollars for each player. As a part of the application process, these student-athletes submit academic transcripts, letters of recommendation and an essay before meeting with the foundation’s board of directors for an in-person interview.

“We review those and some of our questions are informed by the information they provide in advance,” said board member Allan Pettit. “Different board members weigh different things.”

After the interviews, the board then meets to figure out how it wishes to allocate the available scholarship dollars for the given year to the team’s seniors.

Wolf said the scholarship foundation could hit the $1 million mark after the 2022-23 basketball season, which will ultimately conclude with presentations at each winning team’s end-of-season banquet. To date, the scholarship foundation — with an ultimate mission to promote sportsmanship — has awarded $915,000 since 2001. Wolf anticipates somewhere between $130,000 and $150,000 will be distributed this year.

Wolf recalled an award announcement some years back when scholarships were limited to just one award per team. She noticed a player’s mother had her head down as the player was announced as the winner. When the mother looked up, Wolf recalled tears of joy flowing down her cheeks.

“I am always amazed by the quality of these 17- and 18-year olds who come in one after another,” Pettit said. “It could be intimidating. There’s 11 adults there and some of us are wearing ties, and these kids — nicely attired themselves — as Coni often likens to it, their first interview.”

Pat Gebhart, PIAA assistant executive director and foundation board member, said players and coaches from YAIAA schools “try to act accordingly” knowing these scholarships are available in the name of sportsmanship.

For more information on the scholarship foundation, visit www.gwsfund.org.

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