The Heart of a Champion: Scholarships for student-athletes help in many ways

Leo Seitz IV, wife Kristi, and their children.
Leo Seitz IV, wife Kristi and their children at home in New Braunfels.

The Heart of a Champion

by Tracy Hobson Lehmann

Scholarships for student-athletes help in many ways 

Sometimes, on the steep climb up the hill to the University Academic Center, cross-country runner José Angel Gonzalez feels college pressures will send him rolling like a barrel to the bottom. Determination, though, picks him up, ushers him to the top, and stands with him to face stronger storms on the horizon.

The construction science and management major from Mission, Texas, painted that picture of perseverance in a poem, "Battle Born," written as part of his 2017 application for the Heart of a Champion Endowment scholarship. Gonzalez is among 17 students to earn the scholarship since it was established in 2011.

That grit to persevere is what Kristi and Leo Seitz IV had in mind when they established the university’s Leo Seitz V Heart of a Champion Endowment in memory of their first son, who died October 11, 2010, eight days before his first birthday.

"Many people think a champion is named by titles and awards. Truly, it is how one approaches each day," says Kristi, reciting a portion of the description she and her husband laid out when they launched the endowment in 2011. "That’s exactly how I always look at it."

The Seitzes, both athletes and coaches, are steeped in the push-forward creed. Leo, a Texas State strength and conditioning coach, played middle linebacker for the Bobcats from 1998 to 2000. Kristi (B.A.’02) was a pole vaulter and a member of the university’s championship All-Girl National Champion cheerleader squad in 2000. She majored in public relations and mass communication and minored in exercise and sports science. She is currently the coordinator of membership and business development at Resolute Wellness Center in New Braunfels.

Recognizing student-athletes through the endowment continues to help the Seitzes move through their grief after Little Leo’s death. "You just want to do whatever you can do to start the healing process," Leo says. "I wished so badly I could hit a fast-forward button and be on day 1,000."

From the beginning, they saw Little Leo as a champion. On his birth announcement, the newborn has a fake "Champion" tattoo on his upper right arm, a miniature version of the one his dad and grandfather had gotten a dozen years earlier.

"Everything about him was so easy and so much fun," says Kristi, smiling as she remembers her firstborn, who came into the world "roaring like a lion," all 8 pounds, 15 ounces of him. "He did so much in his little life, and basically that was stripped from us in the blink of an eye."

Their world shattered with a phone call that Little Leo had been injured in an accident at the in-home daycare he loved. "When that happened, through the grace of God, we wanted to give back. You don’t know what to do; you just know you have to keep moving forward," she says.heart of a champion

By January 2011, they had raised the $25,000 to establish the endowment. Proceeds from two 5K runs and silent auctions bolstered the fund in 2015. The scholarships allow athletes to continue training over the summer.

Amber Calhoun Moore, a 2012 graduate and member of the volleyball team, was one of the first two Heart of a Champion recipients in 2011. The money allowed her to train over the summer as she recovered from ankle surgery.

Not only did the award ease financial pressure for her, it had a deeper meaning because Leo Seitz was one of her coaches when his son died. "I pray that when kids receive the scholarship they realize what it represents in honoring the Little Leo legacy," says Moore.

Besides Gonzalez, the 2017 Heart of a Champion scholarship recipients are Easy Anyama, Kaylee Krenek, James Sherman, and Taylor Webb.

The money covered most of Gonzalez’s summer tuition, easing stress and helping him to stay on track to graduate in December 2018. "I was very blessed," he says.

Though the Seitzes do not select scholarship recipients, they want students to know about Little Leo. The baby’s blue eyes shine in a plaque bearing the names of students who have benefited from the Leo Seitz V Heart of a Champion Endowment.

"For me as a father, I always had a vision of what I wanted him to be," Leo says. Each of the recipients epitomizes a champion, capturing the image of who Little Leo’s parents dreamed he would become.

For Little Leo and his three siblings, the Seitzes keep climbing up the steep hills.

"We want to make Little Leo proud of us," Kristi says. "We want anyone who comes across this story to be better because of it, too."