Drew Brees regularly inspires fans on the football field. Tuesday night, as the featured speaker of the 2011 Times Free Press Best of Preps, the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the New Orleans Saints found himself inspired.
A capacity crowd of prep athletes, their families, coaches and fans listened as Brees recalled the Saints' magical Super Bowl run and how it lifted the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans area. He advised the young people in the audience to never let adversity hold them back, whether it be from a tragedy or a physical shortcoming.
When the evening of honoring the area's best high school athletes had concluded, the five-time Pro Bowl performer exited the Chattanooga Convention Center still talking about the event.
"I think this is great," Brees said. "The number of people who come out and support it is amazing. Anytime you can honor local athletes and their achievements it gives them a lot of confidence. It's great for all the local programs, youth programs all the way up through high school, it shines light on all the positive things that athletics can do for young people. It certainly honors the achievements of the people who have done some exceptional things.
"Obviously, the Chattanooga area cares quite a bit about high school sports. It was great to see the stories of young people overcoming adversity. They're feel-good stories and when other kids in the audience hears those stories, they think, 'Hey, that could be me.' It was a really great night, something I won't forget."
It was also memorable for the evening's Scrappy Moore Award winners. Gordon Lee softball coach Dana Mull was the coach of the year winner after leading the Lady Trojans to the first undefeated season in Georgia high school history. Winning the award over fellow championship coaches Susan Crownover (GPS), Vic Grider (South Pittsburg), Eric Phillips (Cleveland), Bill Price (Signal Mountain) and Baylor's Heather Ott nearly left Mull speechless.
"I really didn't expect to win it," Mull said. "It's such an honor to even be mentioned with all these great coaches, so it did come as a surprise. We did have a great year and I had a really great group of girls and assistants to work with, so they made my job easy."
Howard track and field star LaQuisha Jackson repeated as the female athlete of the year and Jackson, still just a junior, admitted this year's award was more surprising than last year's. An injury to her right knee kept the state record holder in the 100 and 200-meter dashes out of early competition and caused the future Olympic hopeful to let some doubt creep into her mind.
She recently put those fears to rest and returns to action this week in the Spring Fling in Murfreesboro.
"It meant a lot to me knowing that I had an injury and that I had to overcome it and increase my ability," Jackson said. "It's another step hopefully in achieving my goals. Winning this two times in a row ... I'm very happy. The beginning of my season was awful, so I realized I had to step up my game."
She won the award over finalists Holli Brooks of Gordon Lee, Simone Busby and Chadarryl Clay of GPS, Baylor's Hannah Jumper and Dalton's Quaneisha McCurty.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Spring Fling baseball field, Polk County's Jared Allen could not attend the banquet. After accepting the male athlete of the year award for the two-sport star and future University of Tennessee baseball player, Polk County football coach Derrick Davis was already dreading the thought of taking the field without him.
"He is an all-around terrific athlete, as you can tell," Davis said, "and we were talking the other day that it's going to take three or four guys to replace everything he did for us on the football field. I'm very happy for Jared, but I'm going to miss him."
Dade County's Travis Core, McCallie's T.J. Duncan, Baylor's Jacob Huesman, LaFayette's Preston McCalmon and Bradley Central's James Stovall were also finalists for the award.