Towson University defensive back Monty Fenner found a surprise when he logged onto his student email account during spring break in March. He had been notified by a member of the compliance office in the Towson athletics department that he would be the recipient of the Wardell Turner Scholarship.
But neither Fenner, who is heading into his third year at Towson, nor any of his teammates had ever heard of the award.
"I asked the captains about it, but nobody knew what it was, so they said ask Coach [Rob Ambrose] about it tomorrow," Fenner said. "After practice, I asked coach, and he said it was a great honor to have it -- you'll learn more about it later down the road."
Fenner discovered that he wasn't supposed to find out about the honor until it was presented to him during the Tigers' awards banquet ceremony April 16. Fenner became the first recipient of the scholarship, which was established last October to honor Army Sgt. Maj. Wardell B. Turner, a four-year letter-winner at defensive back for Towson during the late 1980s.
In November 2014, Turner was killed in action in Afghanistan while serving in a NATO role advising Afghan security forces.
Ambrose, a former teammate of Turner's, used several teaching moments during the 2015 season to educate his players on the memory of one of their own and the sacrifice Turner and his family made. When training camp opened last summer, the Tigers skipped their afternoon practice session to visit Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where they placed a wreath on Turner's grave.
The Tigers also held a special Military Appreciation Night Sept. 19, 2015, when they hosted Holy Cross. The program donated a portion of ticket sales to start the scholarship fund, as well as to the USO, the American Red Cross and the Maryland Veterans Memorial.
"He fought for our country and was a great representative of our school," Fenner said. "So the person who honors him has to show great character in the classroom, not just on the field, but off the field."
According to a press release from the Towson athletic department, "the scholarship will be awarded annually to a defensive back on the football team that is in good academic standing and demonstrates the qualities and attributes exemplified by Wardell Turner: leadership, selfless service and commitment."
Fenner said this is the first time he's won an award recognizing his accomplishments off the field.
A criminal justice major at Towson, Fenner said he takes most opportunities he's presented to speak with youths in troubled neighborhoods around Baltimore. He describes the neighborhood where he grew up in Chesapeake, Va., as lacking many opportunities to advance in life and thought he could be a role model for those seeking a better life.
"There's not a lot out there for them to see," Fenner said, "but I was raised in the same type of neighborhood that they are, so there's more to it when you stick to something in life. I chose football, but there are other things that you can be successful in."
Issue 221: May 2016