Chipper Jones entertained a sold-out crowd as the featured speaker of the Best of Preps banquet Monday at the Chattanooga Convention Center, but the former Atlanta Braves star took a back seat in travel miles to one of the evening's main award winners.
Vonn Bell, the Ridgeland High School star football player, made the trip Monday from Columbus, Ohio, where the Ohio State freshman already is enrolled in classes. After mechanical issues forced a nearly three-hour delay in his flight, Bell arrived just in time to receive his Male Athlete of the Year award. Though a bit dazed from the long day, he was appreciative of the award.
"This is a great night to see all these great athletes here and to know that all the hard work was worth it," said Bell, who earlier won the E.B. "Red" Etter Award as the area's top football player. "It's been a long day; I had my first quiz today and the workouts are kicking my tail, but it's all worth it. Ohio State is treating me good, but it's nice to get to come home and see my family and all these nice smiling faces."
Honored as the overall top female athlete was Bradley Central two-sport star Brooke Copeland, who was perhaps the most surprised person in the huge banquet hall when her name was announced.
"It's an incredible feeling because I had no idea I was winning this award," said Copeland, the junior basketball and volleyball standout. "Meeting Chipper was great also. My grandpa is a really huge fan of Chipper's, so I'm going to get a hat signed for him."
Dalton boys' soccer coach Matt Cheaves was the Coach of the Year winner after leading the Catamounts to an undefeated state championship season and a top ranking in one national poll. The veteran coach, on vacation with his family, was represented by assistant coach Jim Wickes, who sang the praises of Cheaves and the Dalton athletes.
"Matt gives us a lot of credit, but coaching is a craft and we as assistant coaches get to learn every day from a great coach," Wickes said. "I think it speaks a lot about the boys and the talent level in northwest Georgia, where we had three of the top four [Class AAAA] teams in the state this year. The boys do the work that it takes to be a good team, and they always play hard for us."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.