After their high school success, The Sun's Athletes of the Year have continued to stand out since the award began in 1967.

June 04, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN AND MIKE KLINGAMAN | PAUL MCMULLEN AND MIKE KLINGAMAN,SUN REPORTERS

In June 1967, the Orioles wore shiny new World Series rings. Baltimore still had pro teams in basketball and ice hockey. And kids listened to pop music on transistor radios tuned to WCAO-AM.

That month, The Evening Sun corralled 18 male "Prep Stars of the Week" at a restaurant atop the downtown Holiday Inn and named its first High School Athlete of the Year.

Times change.

On Tuesday at M&T Bank Stadium, that event will be held for the 40th time. A male and female Athlete of the Year will be selected from among The Sun's 76 weekly winners named during the school year.

Many of the 69 former Athletes of the Year (42 men and 27 women) honored during the past four decades are expected to attend. One of them - Karen Stout, who is now president of Montgomery County Community College (Pa.) - will address the group. Stout, a three-sport standout from Bel Air, broke ground as the newspaper's first female Athlete of the Year in 1978, a time when Title IX was just beginning to open doors for women.

At its start, the ceremony was limited geographically. All 18 hopefuls hailed from inside the Beltway or from private schools in the metro area. They included Tim Nordbrook (Loyola), Sherm Bristow (Gilman), Wayne Jackson (Edmondson) and Lenny Scott (Dunbar).

The judges - then a panel of area high school athletic directors - surprised everyone by bypassing those 18 prospects and selecting as grand winner an athlete who hadn't been singled out during the year. He was Don Russell, of Southern.

Southern has since undergone a name change (Digital Harbor). So has the event. The Evening Sun ceased publishing in 1995.

The sponsor changed, but not the general criteria for choosing the champions. From the beginning, the award has favored athletes who excel in all seasons. For instance, Russell played football, basketball and baseball, as have 10 of the winners who have followed him.

Versatility is emphasized over specialization. In 1983, for instance, the award went to neither of the two future NBA stars from Dunbar High, but to a three-sport standout from Anne Arundel County.

Seated at his table at the banquet, Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, of Northeast High, thought his chances nil.

"[Dunbar's] Reggie Williams was in the running. Muggsy Bogues was there," Abdur-Ra'oof said. "I said, `I don't have any chance at all.'"

When Abdur-Ra'oof's name was called, "I was stunned," he said. "Do you know who gave me my trophy? Cal Ripken."

At that fete, Ripken was the guest speaker, having been named American League Rookie of the Year in 1982. Four years earlier, as a baseball star at Aberdeen, Ripken had competed for the Athlete of the Year award himself.

Ripken lost. In 1978, the trophy went to Calvin Maddox, a premier basketball player, long jump champion and football ace from Dunbar High.

Small schools, too

In 1987, that tri-season excellence thrust Jenny Achziger Gosselin to the head of the pack. A three-sport star, she hailed from Francis Scott Key, a speck in the far western reaches of the metro area.

"I didn't think," she said, "that someone from a small school out in Carroll County would ever win."

As with Maddox, Achziger Gosselin's talents were needed every season.

Call it the Gilman effect.

Gilman School encourages its athletes to play sports year-round, perhaps one reason a record eight Athletes of the Year hail from the private school in North Baltimore. One of them is the only male double-winner - Damien Davis (1998 and 1999).

Only two other schools - Towson and Broadneck - have produced as many as three Athletes of the Year.

Historically, it pays to be a football player. Thirty-five of the 42 male winners played that sport.

Female winners have come from a mix of schools and fall sports, including field hockey, soccer, volleyball and cross country. The latter helped Dulaney's Mandy White Pagon become the first double winner in 1992 and 1993.

While high school accomplishments outweigh potential in the selection of grand champions, most Athletes of the Year combined both. Rosemary Kosiorek Meyer (1988) went from being a three-sport All-Metro athlete at Mercy High to West Virginia, where she was voted the nation's best women's basketball player 5 feet 6 or shorter.

Dunbar's Tommy Polley (1996) helped Florida State to the Sugar Bowl and the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl. But he really perks up when talk turns to the city and state titles he won while in high school.

"I was a part of football and basketball teams that had a lot of success," said Polley, the former Raven who is now a free agent. "The fact that we were good, I'm sure that had something to do with me winning [the trophy]."

Making history

A few winners have helped change the sports landscape, at home and abroad. Michael Phelps (2001) was a 15-year-old sophomore at Towson High when he first made swimming history. He won six gold medals at the 2004 Games in Athens and is in position to become the first Olympian to win 10 golds.

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