By: Seth Stringer - Northwest Florida Daily News
OKALOOSA ISLAND — Forget the Masters' Green Jacket. Same goes for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket.
“In all the land,” Danny Wuerffel announced to the room of 1,500-or-so guests at the 51st Annual All Sports Association Banquet, “there is no jacket as coveted as the blue blazer from the All Sports Association.”
Cue laughter – deep belly laughs and cackles, including those dressed in the aforementioned blue blazer and signature red name tag.
Wuerffel was not immune to laughing at his own well timed, perfectly-deadpan delivery.
Yet to the Emerald Coast, it’s no joke. After all, it’s impossible to quantify the All Sports Association’s impact on our community.
Physically through its deep pockets. Emotionally through its never-ending support. Philanthropically through its volunteer-based nature.
Put simply, it’s immeasurable.
Well, that is unless you’re the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, the Okaloosa County chapter of Special Olympics, the Eleanor J. Johnson Youth Center and the Okaloosa/Walton County Fellowship of Christian Athletes – each of which received a $35,000 giant check.
The collective $145,000 (a $5,000 check cut to NWF State included) is just about two-thirds of what they donate annually to local schools, non-profits and community efforts. Yet those monetary donations don’t define the ASA, which for five-plus decades has celebrated and honored youth athletics.
The 51st annual banquet was no different — big-name keynote speaker, local high school athletes sharing the spotlight and college, amateur and pro athletes returning home to applause as if they’d never left.
That big name keynote speaker was Bo Jackson, who ASA president Drew Espy called “the greatest athlete of the 20th century.”
He certainly has a case for that claim, winning the Heisman at Auburn before being drafted in with the first overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then with the 105th overall pick in the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft.
The following year, the dual-sport athlete was drafted in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders, who afforded the running back the freedom to play the whole baseball season before reporting. He’d become the only professional athlete in history to be named an MLB All-Star and a Pro-Bowler, finishing his four-year NFL career with 2,782 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns and his eight-year MLB career with a .250 batting average, 141 homers, 415 RBI and 82 stolen bases.
As for his speech, Jackson opted for the Q&A approach.
He touched on recruiting — “I didn’t even know where Auburn was. I just knew it was in the state.”
His greatest mentor — “I get emotional talking about my mom.”
And clips from his playing career, including a demoralizing stiff-arm on Deion Sanders and throwing out Harold Reynolds at home.
It was informal. It was conversational. It was Bo being Bo.
And Friday was the All Sports Association being the All Sports Association — blue blazers and all, writing big checks and supporting local athletics.
Seth Stringer is the sports editor for the Northwest Florida Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org