The night started off with a red carpet interview, followed with an in-depth discussion with NFL Hall-of-Fame running back Emmitt Smith and ended with recognition for two of Southwest Florida’s most accomplished student-athletes.
Undoubtedly, there was a lot to take in at the sixth annual News-Press All-Area Stars banquet on Tuesday at Germain Arena.
From heartwarming stories to Smith’s inspiring path to the NFL, the night provided a glimpse into what makes covering sports in this region so remarkable.
And so, because we’re rounding out our calendar year of coverage, I would be remiss if I didn’t look back at the great moments that took place during our year-end event.
Best interview: Sean Dunphy, Estero
WINK News sports reporter Chelsa Messinger was on the other side of a microphone Tuesday asking athletes questions that ranged from season bests to thoughts on the evening at large.
Of the many interviews the former Division I swimmer for North Carolina State gave, one in particular stood out, she said. Estero senior Sean Dunphy, an All-Area finalist in boys lacrosse, mentioned how as a sixth-grader he had dreamed of one day being in a position to be recognized for his hard work in the sport.
Well, that day came Tuesday, with an interview by a local celebrity and a best-of nomination to boot.
Best Elevator Pitch: Emmitt Smith
Would you consider attending the University of Florida?
That was the pitch Smith gave to a number athletes who won awards in their respective sports. And let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t like to be recruited by an NFL Hall of Famer?
Among the athletes Smith tried to persuade to enroll with the Gators were Fort Myers juniors Krissy Gear and John Carlin, Riverdale’s Jacob Tracey and Fort Myers sophomore Destanni Henderson.
Only, Smith was pitching to Henderson’s mother, Joyel James, who stood in for her daughter at the ceremony since she was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, vying for a spot on the USA women’s basketball U17 national team.
Best oddball moment: Krissy Gear, Fort Myers
As any athlete knows, taking the long walk toward the stage after being announced as an All-Area winner can be stressful.
What do you do with your arms? How fast should you walk? Should you wave to the crowd?
But leaving the stage also has its challenges. Gear, the All-Area winner in both girls cross country and track and field, had a minor hiccup on her first award, taking two wrong turns on stage — and almost finding a seat on the couch — before exiting, and then had another on her second appearance, almost forgetting to take a picture with WINK News sports director Bill Halter.
No judgements here, though. Stage left? Stage right? I’m right there with you, Krissy.
Best reaction: Josh Kennedy, Fort Myers
For the most part, athletes had an idea where they stood on the All-Area awards. But when it came to the Player of the Year recognition, the race was wide open.
On most occasions, winners of this award typically win their sports’ top honors, too. But on Tuesday, that didn’t happen for either the boys or girls athlete of the year award. Cape Coral’s Megan Galbreath took the honor on the girls side after Fort Myers senior Kendall Brent won the All-Area swimming award.
But it wasn’t until The News-Press’ Ed Reed began to read off Kennedy’s accomplishments on stage that you began to see the shock on his face. The student with the perfect SAT score had no idea he was even in the running.
Which meant it was a great moment for Kennedy, one of the top students in his junior class at Fort Myers and a top level runner for the Green Wave.
Best speech: Dwayne Donnell, Dunbar
It made sense that Donnell, a 23-year girls basketball coach, won the Jeff Sommer Memorial Coach of the Year award.
For years, he’s exemplified what being a coach truly means.
On the court or off, in the classroom or outside it, Donnell has been a presence in his athletes’ lives. He’s served his Tigers in countless ways, not only helping players receive scholarships to play at the next level, but also guiding them through tougher moments off the court.
He said he learned to have that kind of influence from Sommer, the late Estero coach and athletic director whom the award was named after and of whom Donnell developed a bond late into their careers together.
Ending his speech Tuesday, he summarized his thoughts succinctly.
“Hopefully, when it’s time to hang up my whistle, and it’s time for me to move on, people will say that I did the best that I could, and I did have an imprint in on kid’s lives,” he said.
There’s no doubt. Donnell has.