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“Sports Star of the Year” banquet honors winners in sports and in life

By Steve Willits

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Last week I had the privilege of attending a special awards banquet where some remarkable people from the Seattle area were honored. No, I wasn’t at the Grammys and the recipients were not Macklemore or Ryan Lewis. The event that I attended was the “Sports Star of the Year” event and with all due respect to a couple of talented musicians, the individuals that were honored at Benaroya Hall last Wednesday night won an award that is every bit as respectable as a Grammy, at least in my mind.

The “Sports Star of the Year” annual banquet is hosted by the Seattle Sports Commission (SSC) and recognizes the achievements of local athletes and sports figures. There are generally over 1000 people in attendance, many who have careers in sports either as athletes, coaches or on the business side of things. Seven awards were given out during the event and each included a video showcasing the winners and their accomplishments. Here is a list of the winners:

–          Russell Wilson- Male Athlete of the Year

–          Krista Vansant-  Female Athlete of the Year

–          Eastlake Little League World Series Team- Sports Story of the Year Award

–          Warren Miller- Keith Jackson Award (Journalism)

–          Ron Crockett –  Paul Allen Sports Citizen Award

–          Zack Lystedt- Seattle Children’s Hospital Inspirational Youth Award

–          BoboBrayton-  Royal Brougham Legends Award

The two highlighted awards that get the most media exposureare the Male and Female Athletes of the Year. Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson and University of Washington All American volleyball player Krista Vansant both had exception years and are very deserving but I think the other five award winners are every bit as inspirational and represent the things that I love about sports.

The Eastlake Little League baseball team finished in 3rd place in the nation at the Little League World Series and it was fun to see the excitement that this team of kids ranging from 11 years old to 13 years old displayed as they went up onto the stage to accept their award. The audience of mostly adults gave them a standing ovation and helped create a moment that they will never forget. By the time many athletes get to the college or pro level, sports tend to become much more serious and in the case of professional athletes, it is very much a business. These kids still have their innocence and play for the love of the game.

The Keith Jackson Award was given to Warren Miller who is an absolute legend in the world of skiing.  Miller made over 750 films about skiing starting in the 1940s and is credited by many as being the biggest reason for skiing’s rapid success over the past 60 years. Miller who now resides in Montana, lived in the State of Washington for most of his life and still seems to have a very sharp mind at the age of 90. I am not a skier but I still am able to appreciate his accomplishments and it was an honor to see him speak in person. To see a video montage of his life and listen to him speak about his passion for the sport that has meant so much to him was something I will never forget.

The Paul Allen Sports Citizen Award was given to Ron Crockett. I’ve heard Mr Crockett’s name many times over the years but didn’t know his background until he was presented with his award. Crockett has been a successful businessman in the Aerospace industry and has decided to use is fortune and name to make his community a better place. Crockett wasinfluential in keeping the sport of Horse Racing alive in Western Washington by being the driving force behind the building of Emerald Downs and he was also responsible for raising $50 million for the Husky Stadium Renovation. All are wonderful things but his generosity goes much deeper than building sports facilities. He is a huge supporter of Seattle Children’s Hospitals and has served as a mentor for many young people. On a night when the topic on so many minds were athletic accomplishments, it was a nice reminder that the real heroes aren’t always the people wearing uniforms.

Bobo Brayton won the Royal Brougham Legends Award which essentially is a lifetime achievement prize.  Brayton was an All American baseball player for Washington State University in the 1940s and then went on to coach the Cougars to 1,162 wins from 1962 to 1994. The sports industry can be one in which people are constantly moving around from job to job and it is often hard to keep up with them. Seeing someone get recognized for their contributions to one particular team and school for such a long period of time is nice, even from the standpoint of a University of Washington fan like myself.

The award of the night that meant the most to me though was when 20 year old Zach Lystedt won the Seattle Children’s Hospital Inspirational Youth Award. Lystedt suffered a brain injury while playing in a youth league football game back in 2006 when he was 13 years old.  His injury was extremely severe.  He was on life support for seven days, he couldn’t speak at all for nine months, he couldn’t move his left arm at all for 13 months, had a feeding tube for over two years and couldn’t move his right leg purposefully for four years.

Zach now uses a wheelchair and can walk short distances with the assistance of others and can also speak although his speech is slow.  His life will never be what most people consider “normal” but under the circumstances his recovery is remarkable.

I’ve never met Zach but I did follow his story very closely. At the time of his injury, I worked for a company in Redmond and one of my co-workers, Laurie was the mother of Zach’s best friend. Our cubicle working spaces were about 10 feet apart and she would often talk about her son’s sporting events with me throughout the day. I knew of Zach’s name prior to when he was hurt and of course I heard quite a bit more about him after.  She would constantly give me updates as to how he was doing and unfortunately the news wasn’t very good.  For the longest time the prognosis for recovery was bleak. For months they wondered if he would fully wake up. There were doubts if his mental capacity would ever reach the point to where he could communicate at all. Being able to move without assistance seemed like a long shot and walking again was almost inconceivable.

I left that company 2 years after Zach’s injuries and didn’t communicate very much with Laurie after that. At the time of my departure, Zach’s recovery was still very limited and I wasn’t sure anything was ever going to change for the better.I’ve run into Laurie a couple of times over the last few years but and I remember her telling me once that Zach had been improving but I didn’t realize just how much.

I was pleasantly shocked when I watched Zach and his parents get up on the stage to accept his award and when he got out of his wheelchair to walk to the microphone I just about lost it.Hearing him talk brought immediate tears to my eyes. I thought back to all of those days when Laurie would tell me about how excited everyone was when he was able to do something that we take for granted like blink an eye or move a finger. How was itpossible that the same kid was now making a speech in front of over 1000 people? You can use whatever adjectives you want: miraculous, amazing, unbelievable, etc. The one word that cameto my mind was inspirational. It is hard for anyone that was in attendance to see their own personal challenges and setbacks in quite the same light. Some of the daily obstacles that many of us get stressed out over suddenly don’t seem so horrible when you think about what Zach and his family have been through.

Zach’s story doesn’t end with his recovery. He and his family have also been very instrumental in getting the “Lystedt Law” passed in Washington state in 2009 which requires athletes under the age of 18 years old that are suspected to have possibly sustained a concussion to be removed from practices or games until they are cleared by a medical professional. The law also requires athletes and adults involved with sports teams to be educated each year about the dangers of concussions.

The National Football League has given their full support of this law. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has met with Zach and his parents and together they have helped get similar versions of the Lystedt Law passed in 49 different states. Laws that prevent other young athletes from having to go through a similar ordeal as Zach.

Having worked in professional sports for many years, a sports banquet such as this is often a chance for me to run into and catch up with former colleagues. I expected to see many of my former co-workers however I didn’t expect to see three young ladies that I recognize from my association with Mountlake Terrace High School.

Current MTHS students Morgan Arbuckle and Brittany Kinsella were at the banquet along with Class of 2013 graduate Taylor Arbuckle. The three of them were given tickets through their volunteer work with the Youth Activity Committee of Washington. I had a chance to speak to the three of them before the program and they were excited for the opportunity and then I made it a point to reach out to them after to see what their thoughts were. I know that some of us “older people” (anyone over the age of 30) often get caught up in the networking portion of the event and lose sight of what the night is truly about. I was curious as to what a younger generation was able to take away from the event.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity that we had to experience the Sports Star of the Year. I thought it would be a lot of athletic performances by I was wrong. There was a lot of celebrating people who have made a positive difference in our community and it made me proud of our city” said Taylor.

Morgan also came away from the event with similar feelings. “Iwas honored to be among such inspirational people. Men and women who have impacted the community and are making a difference” said Morgan who also reflected on her thoughtswhen seeing Zach on the stage. “Tears filled my eyes when his name was announced and he got out of his wheelchair to walk across the stage.”  Morgan summed up her experience by saying “I walked out that night with a big smile on my face knowing that the event was filled with such caring people. I had a blast and hope to attend again next year”.

It was a special night indeed.  It was a chance to honor athletes for their successes on the field but more importantly, it was a chance to honor special individuals for their personal achievements.  Accomplishments that don’t necessarily appear on a scoreboard or in a newspaper column labeled “wins and loses”.  It was a night full of victories in the most important game of all, the game of life.

 

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The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.
“Sports Star of the Year” banquet honors winners in sports and in life