By Mitch Silver

Imagine how hard it is for an injured athlete to sit out the season. To watch your teammates play the sport you love knowing you’re unable to participate. Especially if you’re a high school senior whose scholastic career will be over.

Now imagine how much harder it is to sit out the season when you’re <not> injured. When you’re a past Sectional and New York State Federation champion who sits on the sidelines because your athletic eligibility has run out. Rye High senior James McHugh knows the feeling.

James spent his freshman year at a golf academy in Florida before transferring back to Rye. Which is why — despite twice winning the Section1 Boys’ Golf championship and the State Federation title — his only opportunity to set foot this spring on the Garnets’ home course at Rye Golf Club was to whack practice balls, while his coach, Pat Romano, led his team through another season.

Rye High Athletic Director Mike Arias and the Rye Lions Club decided to do something about it by naming James as Rye’s Athlete of the Month for June, just days before the annual Lions Club dinner at The Osborn to which all the monthly winners are invited and Rye’s Athlete of the Year is announced.

James is an <outstanding> golfer,” Arias said in announcing the honor. “He wasn’t able to participate this year, but we wanted to recognize him for all he’s accomplished. We have not had a June winner in the past, but an exception had to be made. 

A National Honor Society member, James is headed to Penn State in the fall,

Truly humbled by the award, James said, “There are so many talented athletes here and, for me to receive this, I don’t know what to say. It’s such a huge honor. I have to thank Coach Romano. He’s been such a big part of my life, and taught me so much. He’s amazing.”

The same can be said of James, a National Honor Society member who is headed to Penn State in the fall.

His older sister Kristen developed juvenile diabetes, now known as Type 1 Diabetes, when James was a baby. At age 6, he announced to his family, “I want to play golf for a living. And I’m going to use my money to build a golf course where kids like me can play all we want. And I’m giving the rest of my money to juvenile diabetes.”

True to his word, James raised thousands of dollars for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation over the years by setting up a “Beat the Kid” booth at local golf outings, challenging adult golfers — for a donation — to see who could hit their ball closest to the hole on a par-3.

He didn’t lose often. And now, with graduation just days away, he’s a winner once more.

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