At Beaufort High’s recent Senior Night, the principal announced the school’s senior class had earned more than $8 million dollars in scholarships this year. Among the recipients was Eric Freeman, a 17-year-old Beaufort High School graduate whose grin lit up the crowded auditorium when he won a Len Miret Memorial Scholarship. The crowd cheered as he took the stage to accept the award from one of the fund’s founders, Habersham resident Joey Gazdak.
Gazdak said the fund raises the scholarship money, which has helped 15 seniors since 2008 with their college expenses, by staging events and through direct solicitation. “Our events include golf tournaments, concerts” performed by Gazdak’s wife, singer Maggy Norden, “and plain ol’ garage sales. We have no endowment.”
“We have another year’s worth of scholarships in our kitty. We live hand to mouth. Donations are gratefully accepted. Just visit the website at LMMSF.org,” Gazdak said.
A Beaufort native, Freeman is one of four boys; his mother, Sholanda Freeman, heard about the scholarship from a colleague. He plans to spend his freshman year at Clark Atlanta University and then transfer to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he can audition for music videos while pursuing his study of business and dance.
The Len Miret scholarship was begun to commemorate the life of its namesake, a beloved youth soccer coach, who passed away at just 38 years old in 2006 after a five-year battle with cancer.
Gazdak met Miret when Miret worked for him in the late 1990s. “Len was a guy who never had a bad thing to say about anyone,” Gazdak recalls. “Always had a smile, was always friendly, and it was always genuine.”
Miret’s wife, Cathleen, conceived of the idea of a scholarship to memorialize her late husband. At first, only Miret’s family members were involved with the fund, but later Gazdak recruited others to participate, and some of Miret’s high school buddies joined in.
According to the scholarship’s website, it is meant to commemorate “the life of a man who was committed to his family and friends and dedicated to the development of young athletes. Not only did Len play soccer, he coached the game for many years. He believed that participation improved physical skills, mental acuity, and responsible social interaction.”
Scholarship criteria include demonstrated financial need, participation in a varsity sport for two years, an unweighted 85% grade point average, community service, and acceptance at a four-year college or a two-year community college.
Gazdak admits he was dubious about Freeman’s application initially because of the scholarship’s athletic requirement; dancing had never before been considered an athletic endeavor. But he and the other directors were won over, and now, Freeman says, since his graduation, he feels “free. I can’t wait to start my life. I’m looking forward to opening a successful studio after college” — a pursuit Len Miret likely would approve.