Every year about this time the results of choosing the best area high school athletes, coaches and teams from the previous calendar year are announced – choices that are always extremely difficult to make.
And every year one or more former high school standout imparts a few words of wisdom that explained how they continued their athletic careers at a higher level.
The 31st annual Inland Northwest Sports Award luncheon at the Spokane Convention Center was no exception – on either count.
Among 10 state championship teams from North Idaho and Eastern Washington, North Central’s 3A boys cross country team was recognized after parlaying its state title into a national title and Lewis and Clark’s unbeaten girls basketball team was picked after its third straight state crown.
Of the 10 coaches of championship teams, sportswriters and broadcasters honored NC’s Jon Knight and LC’s Jim Redmon for those successes.
Two athletes who are contributing to their collegiate teams as freshman, Ferris basketball player DeAngelo Casto (Washington State) and Shadle Park softball player Samantha Skillingstad (Oregon) were singled out from the 20 finalists.
And the comments from Whitworth football player Adam Anderson offered a perspective that is sometimes lost in the quest for a full-ride college scholarship.
“Please realize that college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the former Riverside star said. “It’s not all about getting a full ride. It’s about choosing the college that best fits you, whatever level that is. Athletics is a very important part of that experience. … What is also important is to find a place where you can have both athletic and academic success; a place where you can grow as a person; a place where you can develop lifelong friendships.
“That place may be Division I, II, III, NAIA or junior college. It’s a different answer for all of us. Find the place that is the right fit for you.”
Anderson started his career at Idaho but after a high turnover in coaches, he decided to transfer closer to home, which meant he had to pay his way because D-III does not offer athletic scholarships.
“I gave up a full ride to play at Whitworth,” he said. “Call me crazy, but I think it was the best decision I’ve made in my life. At Whitworth I’m getting the football and academic experience that is right for me. Most importantly, it feels like home.”
As past speakers have done, Anderson encouraged athletes to give coaches the respect they deserve but threw in a twist by adding: “Coaches, if I could say one thing to you, the most important thing is to show respect for your players. When you do that, we want to work hard for you. That’s where team success begins.
“Also, be more than just a coach to your athletes. Be a friend to them when they need it. Let them know that they can come to you for anything. You might be their only escape during a really difficult time in their lives.”
Two special awards were presented. Lewis and Clark’s Whitney Hebner was honored as Student Athletic Trainer of the Year. Shadle distance star Andrea Nelson received the Sportsmanship of the Year award.
Nelson received recognition in Sports Illustrated’s year-end issue for her actions at the State 4A track meet in May. She was runner-up in the 3,200 meters but was awarded first place when Nicole Cochrane of Bellarmine Prep was disqualified.
After Nelson left the awards stand, she gave her medal to Cochrane.
“I feel a lot better. That’s the way it should be,” Nelson said at the time. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to make things right. I feel proud to take second.”
Following Nelson’s lead, the other seven placers passed their medals down. Several weeks after state, Cochrane, a victim of mistaken identity with a teammate, was declared the winner.
“I still just feel like I was doing the right thing,” Nelson said Wednesday. “Getting all this recognition, I don’t know if I deserve it, because I was just trying to do the right thing.”