When actor John Ritter died suddenly in September, Bret Harte High School junior Alice Diehl found herself drawn to TV memorials of his life and work.

Diehl, who is wheelchair bound because of cerebral palsy, is a budding actress who wants to pursue a theatrical career.

"I was watching 'Entertainment Tonight' and learned that he raised money for cerebral palsy research and I thought, 'what a cool guy,' " she said.

Within days she got a phone call informing her that she was to receive the first John Ritter Scholarship award for young performers.

"I got the call and this was the first time I was really, really speechless," she said.

The call was from Media Access, an organization that works with disabled actors like Diehl, helping them land roles on stage, TV and in film.

Doug Gordy, program coordinator for Media Access Office North in Pleasant Hill, said Ritter donated $5,000 to the organization earlier this year and asked that it be used to encourage young performers.

"He's been a longtime supporter of this office," Gordy said. "His older brother, Tom, has cerebral palsy and so John as been very supportive of our program."

Gordy said the actor's untimely death Sept. 11 from a ruptured aorta motivated Media Access to hurry to name the first two scholarship recipients this year one from Southern California and one from Northern California.

"We chose Alice because she shows a lot of promise and a lot of spunk, but is still young and needs some training," Gordy said. "We thought this was a great match."

An 8-year-old actor from Los Angeles, Logan Murdock, and 17-year old Diehl received the first two John Ritter Scholarship Awards for Young Performers at a glitzy, star-filled ceremony at the St. Regis Hotel in Hollywood on Nov. 2.

Their $1,000 checks can be used for anything that furthers their careers in acting, Gordy said.

Diehl said the awards night was "awesome."