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April 30, 2012Once again, it was one of the best days of my year.
The annual Gilson Sixth Man Award presentation was held yesterday afternoon at Central City's Performing Arts Center. And once again, the stories and the kids who have lived them were inspiring.
Some of you have experienced a Gilson Award ceremony; all of you should. To hear the stories of of these high school athletes and their sacrifice, perseverence and physical and emotional toughness - all served up with a heapin' helpin' of sunny attitude - moves the soul. And never more than on Sunday.
The ceremony itself is very nice. The trophies the kids win are very nice. The facility we held the presentation in was very nice. But all that takes a back seat to stories emotion of the day - it got me, I know that - and all for these kids, none of whom are all-staters or, in most cases, even all-town, but rather ordinary kids who to go extraordinary measure to be a part of the game of basketball, a sport they love.
Not only that, but they come from all over. We had attendees from Scottsbluff to Yutan, Tecumseh to Dunning, West Point to Lawrence-Nelson. It was great to have all of you here - the athletes, their brothers and sisters, moms and dads, with a nice sprinkling of grandmas and grandpas - for what is always one of the best days of my year. And now you know why...
Here is a review of the winners for 2012:
T'Keyah Stapleton, Omaha Central. A true success story who at one point in her career was dismissed from the team but later became a key player off the bench for the 2012 Class A state champions. "Her's a real inspiring story and she made a bunch of big shots for us the past two seasons," says Central head coach Thomas Lee.
Danielle Brennan, Alliance. "Danielle was our unsung hero," says AHS head coach Nate Lanik. Slowed by injury, her personal statistics were not indicative of her importance to the team. "She wound up playing a lot of positions she'd never expected to play," adds Coach Lanik. She also was an integral part of the Lady Bulldogs "Think Pink" campaign, which raised over 1,000 cans of food for the local food pantry, and is a volunteer youth coach.
Gina Nelson, Boone Central. An unselfish player with a great attitude, Gina cheering her teammates, leading the scout team and giving great effort in practice. When she did get her shot, she made a key three-pointer in a big win over eventual C-2 state champion Crofton and another against O'Neill. "Gina has been a great example to all of us that unselfishness, positive attitude, determination and hustle are still alive and well in high school basketball," says Boone Central head coach Mike Kennedy.
Lexie Kelly, Yutan. A senior who started early in the season before losing her job to a freshman, she kept a great attitude and was a key contributor to the team. "Lexie showed great team spirit even when her minutes where diminished," says Yutan head coach Rod Henkel. "When she played, she played hard and she played well for us, setting a great example for everybody on the team."
Sara Bender, Loup City. Her season began brightly - Sara was named team captain - but she then suffered an injury within the first three minutes of the game and didn't play the rest of the year. "She has never missed a practice and has done a great job of fulfilling her leadership role even after her injury," says her head coach, Josh Asche.
Madison Novicki, Dodge. After starting as a sophomore and the first three games of this season, the junior was moved to the bench. "She was broken-hearted when she was told the news but never once did she show it in front of her teammates," says Dodge head coach Brent Dinslage. "She came to practice and games and demonstrated a team-first attitude, giving us some real important quality minutes off the bench."
Jon Dau, Lincoln North Star. A quality player on a team that won a game at the state tournament, a first in the program's history, Dau provided great character and leadership for the Gators in 2011-12. "Jon is a great student, a good character person and a great asset to our team," says North Star head coach Tony Quattrocchi.
Michael Hadden, Scottsbluff. After starting every game last season as a sophomore, Hadden volunteered to come off the bench for the Bearcats in 2011-12; it worked out pretty well, as Scottsbluff won its first state basketball tournament championship since 1955. "Michael was a catalyst to our district and state titles, a great kid and a great teammate," says SHS head coach Tony Siske.
Jared Schroedter, West Point-Beemer. "Jared is a shining example of the ultimate teammate," says West Point-Beemer head coach Nick Kroon. Jared was diagnosed with a rare digestive order issue as a young boy, something which led to him having a number of health issues. Despite the adversity, Jared has been one of the team's hardest workers and has been an inspiration to his teammates, coaches and all who have watched him struggle and succeed. "Jared's inspirational track back to being 'normal' has been an awesome experience to watch unfold," says Coach Kroon.
Layne Kettelhake, Johnson County Central. A 5-10 senior, Layne was truly the team's sixth man, filling for an injured starter for parts of this season, playing every position on the court but mostly point guard. "Layne is a great hustler, defender and team guy, a real great teammate and he's smart, too, with a 3.78 GPA, which makes him an honors student," says JCC head coach Chris Hutt.
Tanner Drews, Sandhills/Thedford. "This kid has dealt with the effects of diabetes for the past three years and wore an insulin pump this season. I have never heard him complain about it once or ever use it as an excuse," says his head coach, Adam Marten. "He relishes his role as sixth man, even though it's meant playing behind younger players who have started ahead of him. He embodies dedication, unselfishness and teamwork."
Ryan Kile, Lawrence-Nelson. A promising young player, Ryan's life was altered forever last April when he was injured in an auto accident, suffering damage to his spine that left him paralyzed below the waist. He spent six weeks in the Craig Institute and was told he would never walk again. After months of excruciating therapy he has again developed some sensation in his toes and now the doctors at the Craig Institute believe he could again someday walk. "Ryan is such a positive force in all our lives, in all our communities, and I don't expect that to ever change," says Lawrence-Nelson head coach Tom Jensen. "Many players are worthy of this award but none more than this young man. He's truly an inspiration to us all."