By James Niedzinski
---- — Gloucester High School senior Mark Horgan has a busy schedule, even for a high school student.
Horgan has been internationally recognized for public speaking as part of a youth awareness program with the Loyal Order of the Moose — and he is the first Massachusetts student ever to earn the honor since it was first given in 1986.
The program, in which high school students choose a speaking topic so they can address other middle and elementary schools, is an effort to not only better connect the community, but also to confront challenges facing students.
In the competition, dubbed the Moose KidsTalks, Mark came in third place out of 60 students from around the globe, receiving a $5,000 scholarship.
The lifelong Gloucester resident chose the topic of teamwork, a subject in which he is well versed. In addition to making the grade in the classroom, Mark plays center field for the baseball team, runs the 300- and 400-meter races for the school’s track team, and captained the football team — where he plays linebacker and wing back.
Even when he’s not playing sports — he’s playing sports.
”I also play volleyball for fun,” he said, the school has a recreational league.
Teamwork has been a major aspect in Mark’s life from a young age. He was just 8 years old when his father died, and said the level of community involvement to help and support his family after his father’s death was enormous. His family had to eventually sell the family’s house and move in with their grandmother.
School officials from coaches to teachers and volunteers have also worked as a team, not just in the youth awareness program, but in all aspects.
School Committee member Val Gilman, who has an abundance of background in public speaking, helped with Mark’s presentation.
“From the first day, he nailed it,” she said. Gilman added that Mark also knew how to ask the right questions.
Don Riley, the youth awareness coordinator between the school and the local Cape Ann Moose Lodge, said anywhere from six to eight students are chosen to take part in the program. Students are usually chosen with an athletic background or other after-school activities.
Citing Mark’s career on the field, Riley said Mark was a natural pick.
Mark was originally the fifth student, with the top three to be chosen to travel to Illinois earlier in the international competition. Fortunately for Mark, two other Gloucester High School students opted out of the trip.
“I figured, ‘yeah, I might as well go,’” Mark said.
As a minimum requirement of the youth program, students have to visit schools at list three times to give their presentations to younger students. For his part, Horgan has visited Gloucester elementary schools 17 times.
While some students may be anxious to graduate in a few weeks, Mark said he’s going to miss his time at Gloucester High School. Among other things, Mark Horgan was also the student who donned a suit to plant a pie in the face of principal Erik Anderson as a part of a DECA fundraiser last April.
As for the scholarship, Mark is considering pursuing a career in criminal justice at Salem State University or a career in the United States Air Force.
While he incorporates sports into his unscripted skit and presentation, he also fields and poses questions to students.
One question he asks is what teamwork means.
”One student said ‘you have to have great empathy,’” Mark said.
”I was blown away,” he joked, “I just learned that word last week.”
While some elementary school students have asked for autographs, recognizing him for his accomplishments on the field, he is also a Spanish language tutor, and one of his favorite subjects is physics.
“We’re student athletes,” he said. “Students come first.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.