Family Ties Inspire Physical Therapy Students Honored by Campanella and Dodgers Foundations

  • Group of people dressed professionally smiling outside.

    CSUN faculty, members of the Dodgers Foundation and recipients of the 2023 Roy and Roxie Campanella Scholarship celebrate the successes of the 10 chosen students. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

  • Students standing behind buffet with plate in hand, smiling.

    Students enjoy the buffet at the Campanella Scholarship luncheon. Photo by Sonia Gurrola.

  • Woman in white blazer standing behind podium with her hand up mid-speech.

    Mechelle Best, interim dean of the College of Health and Human Development, advises students on their trajectory as professionals. Photo by Sonia Gurrola.

  • Man shaking hands with woman on the right, while woman on the left stands with hands crossed and is smiling.

    Recipient Daniel Morgan receives his award from Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Nicole Whiteman (right), and scholarship benefactor Joni Campanella (left). Photo by Sonia Gurrola.

On Jan. 27, CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development honored 10 student recipients of the 2023 Roy and Roxie Campanella Scholarship. Funded by the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, the scholarships recognize students who dedicate their careers, and lives, to physical therapy. Many of the scholars credited their families with shaping their passion in the field, along with teaching them important life lessons.

The scholarship recipients were treated to a luncheon at CSUN’s Orchard Conference Center, and each spoke briefly about their background and studies. Distinguished guests at the luncheon included Joni Campanella, daughter of Dodgers legend Roy Campanella and Roxie Campanella.

This year’s scholarship recipients included: Josh Matsunaga, Antonia Grafton, Stephanie Tate, Francis Ignacio, Evan Thomas, Daniel Morgan, Zachary Short, Diana Martinez, Dmitriy Pyagay and Elizabeth Claudine Bongco.

Martinez was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 2 years old. She discussed the challenges her family faced and how those obstacles fueled her aspirations.

“Seeing their challenges helped instill the value of perseverance, [to] see how well they were able to go through those barriers with such grace,” Martinez said.

Grandparents and gratitude were important themes for many of the scholars. Matsunaga honored his grandmother’s memory.

“She was always there to help me out … she was one of my best friends,” he said.  His relationship with her has informed his physical therapy career and interactions with patients, Matsunaga said, adding: “When you’re treating a patient, always think of it as treating your grandma.”

Morgan proudly reflected on his grandfather’s courage:

“The reason I’m here, I’d like to credit my grandfather,” Morgan said. “He means the world to me — he turns 99 this year. When he was 17, he was put in a Nazi concentration camp, and through courage, he was able to escape — not once, but three times. … I wouldn’t be here without him … he’s my biggest mentor and advocate, and I’m so grateful for him.”

Tate noted her family’s sacrifices.

“I am very close with my family,” she said. “My parents sacrificed a lot for me and my siblings. … I can’t [repay my grandparents] enough for what they’ve done for me.” Thomas also emphasized the importance of having a strong support system.

Joni Campanella, too, understands and noted the importance of honoring parents’ sacrifices. Her father, Baseball Hall of Famer, Roy Campanella, was one of the first Black men to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He experienced racist remarks from baseball fans and teammates.

Then, Campanella’s career as a world-renowned catcher for the Dodgers was cut short after he was paralyzed in a car accident in 1958. After the accident, he continued to persevere.  “Physical therapy was his lifeline,” Joni Campanella said.

“The thing that kept him going was courage. … He kept his eye on the ball,” Campanella said.

Just as Campanella honored physical therapy in the past, Joni Campanella stands in on his behalf to honor the future, she said. She encouraged the scholarship recipients to accept all challenges to become the best physical therapists.

“It helps the dream of my parents continue,” Campanella said.

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