In a town dominated by pro sports, two college athletes and a college hoops story were the big winners at the 83rd annual MTRWestern Sports Star of the Year award Thursday night at the Sheraton Hotel downtown.
Two University of Washington athletes, football’s Dante Pettis and softball’s Ali Aguilar, won the male and female star awards, while the run to the men’s basketball Final Four was judged the state’s best sports story in 2017. The three awards were voted on by the public in online balloting conducted by the Seattle Sports Commission.
The UW wins at the sold-out event, emceed by broadcaster Steve Raible and ex-Seahawks DB Jordan Babineaux, helped prompt some good-natured digs among presenters for the final award — former Cougars quarterbacks Jack Thompson and Jason Gesser and former Huskies quarterbacks Brock Huard and Damon Huard.
Gesser finally brought the rivalry to a close via common ground.
“We’re all Washingtonians,” he said. We are not Ducks.”
Pettis, who set an NCAA career record with nine punt returns for touchdowns and was UW’s leading receiver, was in Los Angeles training for the NFL combine and sent along a video thank you. Same for the Zags, whose coach, Mark Few, was with the team in California, where Gonzaga beat Pacific 71-61 Thursday night.
Aguilar, however, was in town, and accepted her award. An All-America selection a year ago as the Huskies reached the College World Series, the senior hit .352 with a team-high 14 home runs.
“I never expected anything like this,” said Aguilar, who is on a Texas team in the National Pro Fastpitch League and will play for Team USA in the world championship this summer.
One of the four standing award winners, selected by a commission committee, was retired Sen. Slade Gorton, who received the Paul Allen Award for significant contributions to sports. He used his offices three times (1972, 1991 and 1996) to help keep major league baseball in Seattle.
He was presented by Mariners majority owner John Stanton, who called Gorton “my hero, and a Northwest icon and national treasure,” partly for Gorton’s lawsuit in 1972 after the American League let “a used car salesman from Milwaukee steal our Pilots.”
Bud Selig, who later became commissioner, was the used car salesman, and Gorton’s case was sufficient that the owners agreed to settle by expanding to Seattle in 1977, creating the Mariners.
Gorton, 90, responded by putting some pressure on Stanton.
“We finally have an ownership and a team location in common,” he said, referring to a string of out-of-town owners that plagued the club. “The only thing missing is a pennant and a World Series appearance.
“Our slogan has been, ‘Wait until next year.’ This season, with a healthy group, will be next year.”
No pressure, Mariners.
Details on the winners:
PAUL ALLEN AWARD WINNER: Sen. Slade Gorton
Given to an individual who has made a significant or compelling philanthropic contribution.
One of the state’s longest-serving political figures, Gorton played key roles in saving Major League Baseball for Seattle — not once, but three times.
As state attorney general in 1972, he forced the AL to make up for the Pilots hijacking with the Mariners, forcing the owners to award a franchise to Seattle. As U.S. Senator in 1991, he connected Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi with a group of Seattle-area tech-business leaders to buy the franchise to keep it in town.
In 1996, when the deal between the club and the public panel charged with funding what became Safeco Field was on the verge of collapse, Gorton used what Stanton called “power politics” to force capitulations that saved the project.
KEITH JACKSON AWARD WINNER: John Clayton
Given to a member of the media for excellence in communicating the sports stories of our state.
Presenting the award to Clayton was Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, who said, “Whenever I need (information), I call John. He’s going to be at the next (collective bargaining) negotiations, and he’ll be my inside source.”
Said Clayton:”Whenever he has a press conference at the VMAC, he has to play down to (media members) because he’s the smartest guy in the room.”
Covering the NFL since he was a high school kid in Pittsburgh, Clayton worked for the Tacoma News Tribune covering the Seahawks before joining ESPN, where he has worked on television, radio and online platforms. Locally, he has worked 950 KJR Sports and now co-hosts a morning show on 710 ESPN. In 2007, he won the McCann Award that put him in the writers’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
WAYNE GITTINGER INSPIRATIONAL YOUTH AWARD WINNERS: Bretton Chitwood and Colton Schmidt
Given to an inspirational young athlete who has overcome major medical obstacles to inspire others (two winners this year).
Chitwood: The Lynden High School senior has returned to playing hockey after enduring an amputation of his left foot, one of six surgeries, and 30 weeks of chemotherapy for bone cancer. Chitwood returned to practice with a prosthetic device and custom skate, inspiring teammates and countless others with his humor and unwavering grit.
Accepting the award with heartwarming remarks, Chitwood said of his hockey skills, “I haven’t learned how to stop yet. I have to run into the boards and try not to dislocate anything . . . my cancer has a high rate of recurrence. But I beat it once. If it recurs, I’ll beat it again.”
Schmidt: A Special Olympian, the Othello High grad overcame an intellectual disability and health problems to play four sports and coach two middle-school Special Olympics Unified Sports teams. Schmidt, 22, will be a member of the soccer team in Washington’s delegation at the Special Olympics USA Games July 1-6 in Seattle.
ROYAL BROUGHAM AWARD WINNER: Doris Brown Heritage
Given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in sports and who exemplifies the spirit of our state.
The First Lady of American distance running from Seattle Pacific University, Brown Heritage won five international cross country titles in a row from 1967-71. She was a two-time Olympian (1968 and 1972), and at one time owned every American and world record from the 440 to the mile. She is a member of six national halls of fame and had a 33-year career as a teacher and coach.
The nominees for the categories that were open to the public vote:
FEMALE SPORTS STAR OF THE YEAR
- Ali Aguilar, University of Washington softball
- Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC
- Taylor Mims, Washington State University volleyball
- Amy-Eloise Neal, University of Washington cross-country
- Chantel Osahor, University of Washington basketball
- Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
MALE SPORTS STAR OF THE YEAR
- Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
- Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners
- Luke Falk, Washington State University football
- Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders FC
- Dante Pettis, University of Washington football
SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR
- Gonzaga basketball soars to its first Final Four
- Huskies top both pro basketball drafts
- Bidder selected to renovate KeyArena for hockey, hoops
- UW, Western Washington U. women rowers rule
- Sounders make it back to MLS Cup
- Seattle scores big with WNBA All-Stars