As the best of the Best of Preps athletes honored at Thursday night's annual awards banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Ryan Parker and McKenzie Ethridge displayed a resolve that connected them with the Times Free Press event's featured speaker.
Former University of Tennessee and current Kansas City Chiefs star Eric Berry's message was about perseverance and never settling for anything but one's best. The cancer survivor and 2015 NFL comeback player of the year also said a key to his personal and professional success is having a sense of who he is.
That's certainly true for Parker, the Scrappy Moore Male Athlete of the Year, and female honoree Ethridge, both dominant athletes who know their place in life.
"Being yourself and not trying to be someone else really stuck with me," said Signal Mountain's Ethridge, who capped her remarkable high school track career by winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchoring the state-winning 4x100 relay team.
She finished high school with nine state titles and was the Best of Preps award winner for girls' track as well.
"This means a lot to win both of these awards, because I know I was up against a bunch of good girls," Ethridge said. "It means all the hard work has paid off, and that's all you can hope for."
No one has worked harder than Parker, a three-sport star for Baylor who also won awards Thursday for outstanding work in wrestling, where he was a four-time state champion, and football, where he was the Division II-AA Mr. Football lineman of the year after recording 120 tackles.
Not surprisingly, Parker enjoyed one particular Berry comment.
"The best part for me was when he was talking about the objective instead of having goals," said Parker, who is headed to West Point to play football for Army. "The sky's not the limit; that's me, and that's how I want to be remembered.
"Tonight is a culmination of all the years I've put into all my sports. It's a great honor to win awards for outstanding wrestler and for football, but to win the overall award — I can't ask for any better way to end my high school career."
The night's other major award winner was Bradley Central wrestling coach Ben Smith, who guided the Bears to dual and traditional state championships this year.
The night's special awards went to longtime area umpire Al Slater, who won the Sandy Sandlin Award for unselfish sportsman; longtime Soddy-Daisy football manager Robert Talaska, who was the Guy Francis Going the Extra Mile award winner; and Notre Dame's David Cowell, who has overcome cerebral palsy to compete on the track and field team, was the Bobby Davis heart and desire award winner.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.