The Koman-Spreng-Zonneville Military Signing Ceremony Once Again Makes MHS a Purple Star School

The coveted Purple Star Award recognizes Mentor High School’s efforts to support the military as part of its educational mission.

Cardinal TV


Steve Couch

The Purple Star Award earned by Mentor High School again this year, to be displayed through 2025.

Christopher Knutson, Contributor

With Memorial Day weekend comes, for most Americans, time to relax and spend time outside with family. For many high schoolers, this might just represent another long weekend or mark the end of the school year. For the enthusiasts, it might mean a tradition such as barbecuing and swimming outside, going to a parade, or even visiting the grave of a loved one or past service member. But for the hundreds of thousands of families in the United States who are related to active or inactive military service members, Memorial Day represents something a little bit more.

Logo for the United States Marine Corps

On May 11th here at Mentor High School, the entire school gathered virtually to watch the annual Military Signing Ceremony that takes place in our Fine Arts Center for graduating seniors committed and recruited to serve our nation. This year’s list of recognized signers includes Ian Bateman and Timothy Campbell to the Marines, Grace Lease and Yeshwarya Pakkito to the Air Force, Nicolino Ricci to the National Guard, and Nathan Wilson to the Army. These graduates recognize the importance of their service and the role they will play in protecting our country.

Logo for the United States Army

According to, recruiting shortages have forced the military to increase recruiting bonuses to attract recruits. Because of this shortage, the district has concluded that new recruits from MHS is a cause to be recognized.

Nicolino Ricci, one of the signees, explained to Cardinal Nation the impact that his family’s past service played on his future.

“On my mother’s side of the family,” Nicolino says, “every male has served in the United States military in some way since WWI, and possibly even earlier. I wish to carry on this tradition in my family because I believe it to be an important part of my family heritage, and the patriotism I have for America.”

Logo for the Ohio National Guard

Obviously, family plays a large impact in developing future recruits as well as recognizing the work and sacrifice of those in the past. Thanks to the legacy of families such as the Riccis and their continued dedication to serving our country, the values and freedoms that our fallen have fought for can be safely preserved. That’s one reason for reflection on Memorial Day for families with relatives in the armed forces.

The Mentor High School Wall of Freedom, dedicated in 2008.

Another important way that Mentor High School and the entire district are able to serve our country is by assisting our veterans and those in active service. Earlier this year in April, MHS was presented with the Purple Star Award. According to the Ohio Department of Education, “The Purple Star Award recognizes schools that show a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. Schools that earn the award will receive a special Purple Star recognition to display on site.” This year, just 263 schools in Ohio have received this award, so it is a tremendous honor for MHS to be included in this selective list. Mentor High School’s presentation of the award can be found hanging on the Wall of Freedom.

The logo for the United States Air Force

Much is owed to Social Studies Department teacher Mr. Chad Russo, veteran and liaison or representative for Mentor High School. As noted in an email by Mr. Crowe to MHS staff and students announcing the award this spring, Mr. Chad Russo “led in this process and is our liaison to our local VFW and military families. Chad worked with numerous stakeholders throughout the district to meet the requirements and complete our application.”

After speaking with Mr. Russo, the many detailed programs and initiatives that MHS takes part in qualify the school for this 3-year award that stands up until 2025.

One of the specific operations that the school is involved in, as described by Mr. Russo, is making Mentor a military-family-friendly community by helping to acclimate new veterans and active service members to the district. When a veteran or active service member moves into the district with their family, Mr. Crowe is alerted who relays contact information to Mr. Russo. From this point, Mr. Russo works with the school to try to help the family to settle in their new home by making them feel comfortable in their new school system and in the City of Mentor.

“We were already able to help one family and give them a tour of Mentor,” Mr. Russo says of the initiative, “a run-through of the schools. They didn’t know anything about [the school system]. It is important to make them feel acclimated to the school as well as the community. All of this is to ensure that we are a military-friendly community.”

When asked what the student body of Mentor Schools can do to assist in these efforts, Mr. Russo explained the importance of befriending these families and their children that join the school. One perfect example of this is when student football player Ryan Lawson’s brother returned from deployment after being gone for two years, at half-time in the Mentor versus Euclid football game Coach Matt Gray and returning brother, Nick, surprised Ryan at midfield curtsey of Mr. Russo’s planning. Objectives like this as well as others such as the military signing and getting new military families situated make Mentor High School a community that is supportive of our country’s armed forces, the men and women that ensure America’s freedoms are preserved.

We also asked Nicolino to elaborate on his decision. This is what he told us:

Cardinal Nation: What went into your decision to join the military, and why did you choose your specific branch?

Nicolino Ricci: When it came to my decision to join the military I’ve wanted to serve since middle school. I find that the freedoms and opportunities which have been presented to me simply for having been born in America are amazing, and I felt a need to pay the country back by serving in the military…As for choosing the National Guard as my branch to serve in, I always thought I would want to serve active duty in the Army, but as I got closer to senior year I realized that I would want to at some point attend college. After looking through my options I found that the National Guard would be the best option for me to serve in the military, and complete college at the same time. After college I may like to switch over to something more active or full-time in the military, but for now I believe this is a great way to balance between college and serving.

Cardinal Nation: How has the school supported your decision and assisted you through the recruitment process?

Nicolino Ricci: Throughout the recruitment process I didn’t really have much to do with the school, I for the most part got help from my uncle who is currently serving in the National Guard as well, and who is very knowledgable on it. However, there have been forms, emails, and other things which I needed from the school at certain points in time, and the school was very helpful, and made the process as convenient as possible when I had to miss a day to go to MEPS, as well as whenever I needed school information for forms and applications. The school has shown me great support, with the ceremony being a very nice piece of recognition, I have had many friends, and teachers give me thanks, hand shakes, and wishes of good luck since the ceremony, and I truly appreciate all of the support that has been shown to be from the school.

Best of luck to all of the signees.