For more than 20 years, there has been one local sports event that culminated with only winners.
The Best of Preps banquet annually celebrates hundreds of athletes, coaches and supporters of high school sports by bringing some of the most well-known celebrity athletes to town to help recognize all-stars in their individual sports.
For the Times Free Press staff — besides being the one night we sports writers wear something nicer than shorts and flip flops to work — it marks the end of another year of covering prep sports and reliving the highlights.
The past three months, however, have been anything but normal as all spring sports ended before they could even get started due to health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
But while games were not played this spring, robbing those athletes — particularly the seniors — of the chance to create lifelong memories on the field with their teammates, it would not be fair to those who were able to play prior to the pandemic to not be recognized.
Despite knowing we wouldn't be able to host a live event that typically draws from 1,200 to 1,500 folks, the TFP was committed to finding a way to honor those athletes who did play their season. The solution is a virtual banquet that will be broadcast on the Times Free Press' Facebook Live page on June 25 and will feature videos from several sports celebrities and sponsors.
But the biggest stars of the night, as always, will be the award winners. And despite the loss of the spring sports, we will still be able to present 18 of the 24 individual awards that are normally recognized, including the Scrappy Moore Male and Female Athlete of the Year as well as overall Coach of the Year.
"While we can't celebrate in person this year, we are thrilled to bring this special virtual Best of Preps event straight to the living rooms of Chattanooga-area students and their families," said Kate Brennan, marketing and events manager at the Times Free Press. "We, along with our primary sponsors CHI Memorial and Center for Sports Medicine, all agreed we must find a creative way to honor these student-athletes who have worked so hard for their achievements.
"Not only have we been able to maintain the legacy of the Best of Preps tradition, we're also throwing in some extra fun with celebrity shout-outs, social media challenges, cash prizes and scholarship awards, thanks to our generous sponsors."
In the days and weeks leading up to the online banquet, we will have several ways for athletes, coaches and their supporters to be a part of the event.
There is a Best of Preps scholarship prize drawing and a TikTok video contest called #BestofPrepsChallenge that is open to all our area athletes. Coaches, friends and family can nominate an athlete for the scholarship and athletes, as well as teams, can put together TikTok video submission, with the top three videos each winning a cash prize and being featured during the Best of Preps banquet.
There is a direct link for video submissions here and contestants are asked to use the hashtags #bestofprepschallenge #ripspringsports #springsports. There is also a submission link on bestofprepschatt.com, where information for all aspects of the banquet is listed as well. The deadline for both the TikTok video contest as well as the scholarship drawing is June 12.
As we annually do, we will also print a special section with photos of every athlete and coach who made one of our Best of Preps teams in the sports which played their season. That special section will be included in the June 28 edition of the Times Free Press and mark the end of the school year's prep sports season.