Fort Walton Beach – Four hours before Mary Kate Myrick would score six points to help her Freeport Bulldogs beat Chipley in the elite eight, she was clad in a dress with a vibrant red jacket, makeup lightly applied, blonde hair straightened just so, posing for picture after picture.
She looked about as ready to play a basketball game as the photographer snapping the photos.
“Skipping out on the game tonight?” Myrick was asked.
“Oh, no!” she said. “I couldn’t do that! I had to do both.”
Brian Haugen overheard her response and nearly tackled her, he hugged her so hard.
“That’s why she won the award,” he said, smiling widely, referencing the Taylor Haugen Trophy — named after Brian’s son — that Myrick was awarded in January. “Couldn’t have picked a better winner.”
While Myrick suited up for her coach and father, Mike, she missed a beauty of a banquet.
Most men wore suits and ties. Dresses were the uniform attire for the women.
Thousands of dollars changed hands in a live auction for the purchase of footballs signed by players of Florida State past, or a helmet with the Mannings’ autographs, or a bat with Pete Rose’s John Hancock on it.
It was a lavish event that the All Sports Association put on, which couldn’t have stood in a more extraordinary contrast from the very athletes the event was held for.
Their unwavering humility, when examining the awards doled out, makes perfect sense.
Each of the winners were chosen as much for their character as for their indelible accomplishments on the field or course or hardwood or shooting range, hence Myrick spurning her own celebration to play in her 80th high school basketball game.
The Wuerffel Trophy had 82 nominees this year. Marcus Mariota was one. So were Cody Kessler and Ameer Abduullah and Rashad Greene.
It was awarded to a middle linebacker from Ole Miss named Deterrian Shackelford.
When asked why he thought he was chosen as the recipient, he spoke not a word of himself.
“I could never know,” said Shackelford, who graduated as a double-major and a two-time member of the SEC Community Service Team. “Because I could never say that I’m better than somebody else or that my character is better than somebody else’s, because what I can offer or can’t offer, another man can.
“If I can’t touch one soul, another man can. If I can’t help one person, another man can. When you look at it in that sense, we’re all trying to fill the gaps, so to speak.
“Like Rocky said, if we all work together, the gaps close up. So that’s kind of how it works because when you see yourself on the platform of so many great people, and you see them changing lives, there’s no way you can say you’re better than this person or that person. You let the voters do that, and then you live it out and accept it with humility.”
Devin Borders is only seven blocked kicks away from tying the national record and eight from breaking it.
He has two seasons left at Eastern Kentucky, and as he likes to say, “It’s only a matter of time” before the record falls.
When the All Sports Association rang earlier this year, informing him he was the collegiate award winner, his proclivity for getting a hand on a football took a back seat to where the majority of his pride is stored.
“This is me coming together not just as a football player, but as a person,” Borders said. “It’s just really big. It’s a big deal. Just to know that what I’m doing off the field, to be recognized, that’s the biggest part of it.”
Bryan Morgan, dressed in a suit, beard neatly trimmed, downplayed his talents when speaking about receiving the amateur award.
“I’m just a construction guy,” said possibly the best long-range shooter in the country. “I’m a ditch digger.”
That construction guy is now on a poster with Pete Rose. That ditch digger was asked if he could please give out his autograph.
Trey LaNasa, the male scholastic award recipient, and Jackie Orcutt, the female winner, were much the same in their bashfulness.
“I’m not someone who loves the spotlight,” LaNasa said.
Orcutt was asked if she was nervous to make her 2-minute speech.
She’d rehearsed enough, she said, to the point where nerves weren’t much of a factor.
If she messes up, she messes up, and life will continue to go on.
“What I wanted to do,” she said, “was talk about something bigger than myself.”
Spoken like a winner of the award she was meant for.