Rooting for the underdog comes a little easier at Eastern Washington University, especially when your leader is one.
On Wednesday night at Showalter Hall, the athletic department held its sixth annual EeeWoos event, honoring student-athletes for their deeds on and off the field. For one night at least, there were no minor sports; nominees and winners from volleyball, women’s basketball and track and field drew the biggest cheers.
But the loudest ovation came at the end of the night, as hurdler Steven Warner was announced as the first winner of an award named for outgoing president Rodolfo Arévalo.
Arévalo may be the biggest underdog of all: He’s the son of migrant workers and the first in his family to earn a college degree. Athletic director Bill Chaves praised Arévalo’s leadership during the past eight years, then unveiled an award that Warner earned for leadership and excellence, on and off the track.
“Many of you don’t realize how much ‘Dr. A’ has done for us,” Chaves told several hundred athletes, coaches, employees and fans. “We thought we needed to do something very special,” Chaves said.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized by the athletic department,” said Arévalo, who will retire July 1.
Warner, too, was flattered. The senior from Kent, Washington, owns school records in the 60- and 110-meter hurdles, but more important holds a 3.8 grade-point average and an ambition to become a physical therapist.
Along the way, Warner was a seven-time Big Sky Conference All-Academic honoree, including three indoors and four outdoors.
He also was labeled as a cocky freshman when he thought the track team deserved its own banner in the fieldhouse.
“And now we have those things,” said Warner, who earned the award over football players Ashton Miller and Ashton Clark and volleyball player Ashley Wright.
“To win an award named for Dr. Arévalo, who’s done so much for our school, that’s what I’ve tried to do, so this means an incredible amount to me,” said Warner, who also was nominated for the Male Career Achievement Award.
That award went to Miller, a former offensive lineman who missed the evening to concentrate on a project for his master’s degree in business administration.
That resonated with Warner, who said he’ll miss the hurdles but will always appreciate track coach Stan Kerr for helping his athletes balance school, sports and sleep, and even allowing Warner to work out at odd hours when there was a conflict.
“That gave me leadership too – self-leadership,” Warner said.
For Arévalo, leadership has borne fruit in the classroom and on the playing fields.
“I think we’ve shown that even though Eastern is not an institution that has a lot of resources to put into athletics, what we’ve tried to do is spend a lot of time hiring good coaches that are committed to students’ success, both in the classroom and on the field,” he said.
Spoken like a true underdog.