NEWARK – One of the most familiar luminaries in Philadelphia area sports history loomed large over the inaugural Delaware Sports Awards Wednesday night at the Bob Carpenter Center.
But recognition of the First State’s best in high school sports during the 2015-16 school year took center stage.
Even the evening’s featured speaker, Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, couldn’t help but be stirred – and humbled – by the gathering and its myriad of accomplishments.
Invited guests in a crowd of 600 included all first-team All-State athletes. Among those recognized were the players of the year in each of Delaware’s high school sports.
Five prominent awards were presented: Female Athlete of the Year (Ursuline senior Kailyn Kampert); Male Athlete of the Year (William Penn senior Brandon Dooley); Inspirational Athlete of the Year (Lake Forest senior Benjamin Moore); Team of the Year (Mount Pleasant boys basketball); and Coach of the Year (P.J. Kesmodel of Cape Henlopen girls lacrosse).
Well before reaching major league stardom, Schmidt was a three-sport high school athlete in Dayton, Ohio, undermined by knee injuries suffered on the football field.
“I was never in the position they were in because I never got an award in my life,” said Schmidt, 66, standing in an arena named for the former Delaware resident whose family owned the Phillies from 1943-81. “I wasn’t good enough to be All-City or All-State. I got a lot of awards in Little League, but that was when I was a little boy.”
In opening remarks, Susan Leath, president of The News Journal Media Group, which sponsored the event, told the gathering that the value of high school sports goes much deeper than victories, defeats and personal rewards.
“The triumphs and pitfalls of sport instills character that will serve you and your community the rest of your lives,” said Leath, who has two daughters playing NCAA Division I volleyball and a son playing high school basketball in Delaware. “You have learned the value of teamwork, dedication, focus, friendship and helping others.’’
The event, Leath said, was part of USA Today Network’s “vision” to recognize high school athletes across the country and ensure “we’re making an impact in our communities. … We have a very engaged high school athletic community.”
It will become an annual event, Leath added, saying it fills a void for statewide events recognizing high school athletes.
David Ledford, vice president/news and executive editor of The News Journal, said the Carpenter Center provided the ideal setting and lauded David Arthur, UD assistant athletic director for entertainment sales, for his efforts.
“The Bob is the place,” Ledford said, mentioning the many high school athletic events and graduations that take place here.
Schmidt attended Fairview High in Dayton, where he played football, basketball and baseball. But a torn ACL in his left knee as a sophomore and a cartilage injury in his right knee as a junior – both suffered playing football – limited him.
“It was a tough road back, and when I got back I never was the same,” he said in a pre-banquet interview. “I don’t know if the old ‘never give up your dream’ thing is the reason I got where I am today, but I believe it was God’s plan for me.”
At Ohio University, Schmidt made the freshman basketball team but was told his knees were too big of a risk for medical insurance. He made his legs stronger, went out for baseball and eventually starred at shortstop. The Phillies chose him out of OU in the second round with the 31st pick of the 1971 draft.
He made his big-league debut in 1972 and became the Phillies’ regular third baseman in 1973. Schmidt was a 12-time National League All-Star, three-time MVP, including when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980, and a 10-time Gold Glove winner. He retired in 1989, having played all of his 2,404 big-league games with the Phillies. He hit 548 career homers.
“I probably at some point should have said, ‘Why don’t you just try to get an education and earn a living like normal people do and give up on the whole sports thing?’” Schmidt said, “but I didn’t. It seemed like every time I hit the edge and should have quit, something good happened.”
Schmidt called addressing high school athletes “relatively new for me,” as most of his association is with present-day Phillies and those in the organization’s farm system in spring training or broadcasting weekend games on TV.
In his remarks to the audience, Schmidt said he’d “exceeded every dream I could possibly have” by overcoming those early obstacles and becoming a pro athlete. He urged athletes to avoid specialization and “play multiple sports because something in every sport can make you better” and to do so with “tenacity and accountability.”
Mount Pleasant’s acknowledgment as Team of the Year drew a particularly warm response, considering the Green Knights had lost in the state semifinals to eventual state champion Sanford in the very building in which they were honored Wednesday. The Blue Hen Conference champions finished the season 20-4.
But, by that time, the players had already succeeded in something more important. They had eased the transition to high school for a nervous freshman, Creston Campbell, who was in the school’s Special Autism Program, by noticing his love of basketball and befriending him, with first-team All-State guard Raheim Burnett leading the way.
“We learned that even though people are different, everyone is the same in the heart,” Burnett said Wednesday.
Campbell became the team manager. That carried over into players spending time with other students in the autism program, in what became a spontaneous and very effective lesson in inclusiveness and mainstreaming, school leaders said.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Green Knights coach Lisa Sullivan said of the award, “when you look at all the athletes and all the teams in here and the choices that could have been made. It’s not just about winning and losing, and we’ve had a good program for years. To pick us is definitely an honor.”
As Inspirational Athlete of the Year, Moore was lauded for carrying a positive attitude that rubbed off on football and lacrosse teammates even though he has, because of limited contact with his parents, resided for the past five years at the Elizabeth Murphey School group home in Dover.
Moore was a slotback, linebacker, long snapper and returnman, in which he made second-team All-State, while rarely leaving the field in football. A concussion has knocked him out of Saturday’s Blue-Gold all-star game at Delaware Stadium. He was also honorable mention All-State in lacrosse in just his second year playing.
Kampert keyed Ursuline’s state championship victory on the Carpenter Center floor in basketball, a sport in which she was second-team All-State. She’d been first-team All-State in volleyball and, in her first year of high jumping, placed fifth in the Division II outdoor state track and field meet.
She succeeded as a three-sport standout while performing even better academically, earning a 4.11 grade-point average. She’ll attend Virginia Tech.
Dooley was a first-team All-State center and second-team All-State defensive tackle for the William Penn football team. He also returned from December knee surgery to win the Blue Hen Conference 285-pound wrestling championship and finish second in the state meet after an overtime final match – he was state champ as a junior – despite not being 100 percent healthy. He also played baseball.
Dooley had a 3.83 grade-point average and received an academic scholarship to Susquehanna University, where he’ll play football. He is playing in the Blue-Gold game this week.
“This means everything,” Dooley said, “but this isn’t really for me, though. All my teammates helped me get this award.”
Kesmodel turned 73 on May 31. That night, Cape Henlopen won its eighth straight girls lacrosse state championship under Kesmodel, who had a successful lacrosse coaching career in Maryland before moving to Delaware in 2005 to retire, then ended up coaching again after initially volunteering to help. In nine seasons under Kesmodel, Cape went 143-17-1 and owns a 99-game unbeaten streak against in-state opponents.
Kevin Charles, retiring this month as Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director after 11 years, was also recognized and spoke. One of the hallmarks of Charles’ tenure has been the addition of Unified Sports to several DIAA state championships in a relationship built with Special Olympics.
“Inclusion is everything,” Charles said. “We’ve come a long way, but there’s still more to do.”
An auction of various items to benefit Special Olympics, including a signed Schmidt jersey, also was part of the festivities.
The event included slideshows and video presentations for each award winner and Schmidt, whose video ended with his memorable trot around the bases following his 500th home run at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh on April 18, 1987.
Results of a delawareonline.com non-scientific fan poll were also revealed in which the winners were Smyrna (most passionate fans); Conrad (loudest gym); Smyrna (best marching band); and Laurel-Delmar (best Delaware high school sports rivalry).
Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.
Delaware Sports Awards
Team of the Year – Mount Pleasant boys basketball
Female Athlete of the Year – Kailyn Kampert, Ursuline
Male Athlete of the Year – Brandon Dooley, William Penn
Inspirational Athlete of the Year – Benjamin Moore, Lake Forest
Coach of the Year – P.J. Kesmodel, Cape Henlopen girls lacrosse
Players of the year by sport
Baseball, Jordan Hutchins, Dover
Girls basketball, Altia Anderson, Woodbridge
Boys basketball, Mikey Dixon, Sanford
Girls cross country, Lydia Olivere, Padua
Boys cross country, Kevin Murray, Charter School of Wilmington
Field hockey, Kate Walker, Mount Pleasant
Football (lineman), Kyle Cathers, Salesianum
Football (offense), Will Knight, Smyrna
Football (defense), Colby Reeder, Salesianum
Golf, Phoebe Brinker, Tower Hill
Girls lacrosse, Annie Frederick, Cape Henlopen
Girls lacrosse, Abby Manning, Tower Hill
Boys lacrosse, Ben Revak, Archmere
Girls soccer, Mackenzie Scully, Padua
Boys soccer, Matthew Dina, Appoquinimink
Softball, Whitney DeMora, Polytech
Girls swimming, Josephine Marsh, Appoquinimink
Boys swimming, David Crossland, Tatnall
Girls tennis, Grace Shiau, Charter School of Wilmington
Boys tennis, Robby Ward, Archmere
Girls indoor and outdoor track & field, Daija Lampkin, Middletown
Boys indoor track & field, Andre Hally, Salesianum
Boys outdoor track & field, Malachi Davis, Mount Pleasant
Volleyball, Sydney Fulton, Delaware Military Academy
Wrestling, Joe Miller, Salesianum