Riverhead track star nominated for national scholarship

Emma Ellis is truly in a class by herself. The Riverhead High School senior was recently named New York State’s female nominee for a national student-athlete scholarship. 

Every year, Riverhead athletics director Brian Sacks selects two scholar-athletes, one male and one female, to compete for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s Student Athlete Scholarship award. According to, the “scholarships will recognize the distinguished scholastic, leadership and sportsmanship attributes of high school student athletes.” It’s a prestigious honor for which, according to Sacks, no Riverhead athlete has ever been nominated — until now.

Ellis, a standout on the school’s cross country and track teams, now enters a regional pool of nominees from throughout the Northeast, vying to become one of 16 finalists, eight male and eight female, who will move on to the national competition. Nominees are judged on their athletic and academic achievements along with a personal essay outlining their commitment to leadership and the wider community of high school student athletes. Only one male and one female athlete win the national honor each year. The winners, to be announced in July, will receive $2,500 in scholarship money and attend the group’s national conference to present their essay and receive a glass plaque recognizing them as the national winner.

“It was definitely a surprise when I found out that I won,” Ellis said. “I didn’t think I would win, being that I was against every other applicant from New York.”

But Sacks was sure Ellis had a shot when he submitted the nomination, knowing she was more than deserving of the honor. 

“Emma’s academics really stood out to me,” Sacks said. “She’s always been a tremendous athlete but the academics set her apart. When I was reading the criteria for the award, she seemed like the perfect person.”

In addition to being one of the best athletes on the track team, where she is attempting to qualify for the New York State championships in pole vault, Ellis is also contending for class valedictorian. The grades aren’t finalized yet, but she’s right in the mix for the top spot in her class.

“Emma is a leader both on the track team and in the classroom,” Riverhead track coach Maria Dounelis said. “She is involved in many clubs and is also a part of Athletes Helping Athletes, where she mentors sixth grade classes.”

Ellis will be in action at the Section XI State Qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Feb. 17. She is currently ranked fifth in all of Suffolk County, with a personal record jump of 9 feet, 3 inches. 

“Emma has such a strong inner desire to succeed,” Dounelis said. “One of the strongest I’ve ever coached. She is very self-motivated and once she puts her mind on something, she will not give up.”

Ellis hasn’t formally committed, but she is leaning toward attending the University of Notre Dame (Ind.) in the fall.