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Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (7/10/13)

“Big Tom” scholarship winner has horseracing in his blood

$5,000 awarded to student from Chrisman

HINSDALE, IL – The Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association (IHHA) is proud to announce Matt Avenatti of Chrisman, Ill. as the winner of the 2013 “Big Tom Scholarship.” The scholarship is funded with help from Tom Lewandowski, John Leahy and Jolene Leahy.

A special IHHA scholarship committee was formed to review applications and essay submissions.

“Matt is a terrific pick for this scholarship,” said IHHA Executive Director Tony Somone. “His family has deep harness racing roots and Matt’s love of the sport is evident.”

Avenatti is the third generation in his family to be involved in harness racing. He recently began driving horses but he says he is keeping his options open for school. “Maybe biology or business or even a teaching degree,” he said.

Matt says he’d like to keep the family’s 44-year tradition alive. “I’d like to be a catch driver with a stable on the side,” he said. College is his present priority though. “I made a commitment to my dad that if I was going to race horses, I’d have to go to school.”

As for Lewandowski’s decision to pony up such a generous donation for the second year in a row, he says that “it’s about providing opportunity and the experience of an education. Going to college is more important than ever.”

Funding for the scholarship also came from John and Jolene Leahy, who donated a 2013 breeding to Jereme's Jet which was auctioned off at the 2012 Walker Land of Lincoln Sale in August of last year. All of the proceeds from that breeding have gone toward the Big Tom IHHA Scholarship Fund.

“The youth is the lifeblood of the future of harness racing,” said Land of Lincoln sales manager, Kristi Patterson. “We are happy to put forth an effort to expand higher education opportunities for everyone involved with harness racing. This is really a ‘win-win’ situation.”

For more information call the IHHA office at 630-323-0808 or go to

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