By: Seth Stringer - NWF Daily News
OKALOOSA ISLAND — The speeches ran the gamut. As they should have, the honorees at the 49th annual All Sports Association Banquet ranging from high school to college and the pros. And then there was Austin Scott representing the Special Olympics, one of the four organizations the ASA wrote a $35,000 check for.
Some of the athletes were funny, like Fort Walton Beach’s Lucy Rudman and Stanford sophomore Nadia Fingall.
Rudman, the Scholastic Female winner, talked about swapping places with her sister, who two years earlier was on stage accepting the same award.
“Emma, I love you sis, but I like the view from the stage much better,” said the state medalist swimmer.
Choctaw alumna Nadia Fingall, the Female Collegiate Award winner who two years earlier was the co-Female Scholastic winner, also provided a little levity to the night after being unable to make the banquet. It was the second time the 6-foot-4 center was absent as an honoree, the first time due to Choctaw’s deep postseason run and this time due to Stanford’s game against California.
Her solution to freeing her up? Have the banquet during football season.
Some of the athletes strictly were thankful, like Collegiate Male Award winner Eli Stove.
The Niceville alumnus and current Auburn wide receiver was soft-spoken as usual, but he broadly thanked everyone that inspires him to be a future NFL great.
Wil Spencer, the Pro Award winner and a former recipient of the Amateur Award winner, thanked his family, coaches, God and the ASA, the latter who he said facilitates a community love for sports. He also praised his fellow honorees, who he was humbled to join on stage.
Two-time World Champion water skier Adam Pickos, the Amateur Award winner, was thrilled to see his discipline take center stage for a couple of minutes. And to also wish his girlfriend a happy birthday.
“It’s great to be at an event that celebrates all our disciplines,” Pickos said. “Water skiing is a sport that deserves the spotlight.”
Scott, too, was glad to be an ambassador for Special Olympics.
“Trust me, this means so much to me,” said Scott, who plays basketball, soccer, softball and golf and also swims “It doesn’t matter if you have special needs or not, sports are about having fun. With the Special Olympics, everyone has fun.”
The ASA’s attention to philanthropy caught the attention of Wuerffel Trophy Award winner Courtney Love, a senior linebacker at the University of Kentucky. Of course it did, Love the recipient of college football’s premier award in community service.
“I hope to start my own foundation that serves youth ages 7-18,” said Love, who is currently readying himself for Pro Day and the NFL draft. “I would say I want to help get youth everything they need, whether it be helping with sports or arts or whatever they want to do in life.”
Some athletes had messages of handling adversity.
Hours before the Banquet, Taylor Haugen recipient Maddie Hiers addressed The Arena at NWF State and its 1,700 students on hand for the FCA breakfast. It was then she embraced Haugen’s message of “Don’t quit. Never give up.”
The South Walton senior talked about how her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer her sophomore year. A year later her dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever been through,” she said. “I used volleyball as an outlet. It was the one thing I could control. And through it all, my sisters were there for me and so was God.”
Niceville senior Steven Azzano, the Male Scholastic winner who even thanked the night’s wait staff, talked about the adversity of him and his mom being separated from his dad after his recent deployment.
Through it all his family has become stronger.
And that’s what the All Sports Association is: A family. Each unique in their message, but united by their love of sports.