Jayson Tatum and Sydney McLaughlin took home the hardware last night as they were named Gatorade Male and Female Athletes of the Year for 2016. We were on hand at the L.A. Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for the festivities hosted by ESPN’s Sage Steele. This prestigious award for high school athletes has been an annual tradition since 1985 (when it was know as the Player of the Year Awards), and this was our fifth year covering this fun event. The event was attended by sports stars including Cam Newton, Karl-Anthony Towns, Todd Gurley, April Ross, Abby Wambach, Landon Donovan and Matthew Stafford.
The 2015-16 Gatorade National Players of the Year included six male and six female sports who were nominated for the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Awards.
Khalia Lanier – Volleyball
Katie Rainsberger – Cross Country
Erin Boley – Basketball
Ella Stevens – Soccer
Madilyn Nickles – Softball
Sydney McLaughlin – Track & Field
Jacob Eason – Football
Andrew Hunter – Cross Country
Jayson Tatum – Basketball
Lucas Mendes – Soccer
Kyle Muller – Baseball
Michael Norman – Track & Field
Every year, I cant help but marvel at the quality of the young athletes represented at these awards. Gatorade stresses character along with athletic accomplishments when choosing winners, and that is always reflected in how the winners carry themselves.
Jayson Tatum is the latest in a long line of impressive basketball players who have won this award, including superstars and current NBA champions LeBron James and Kevin Love from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Recent winners have included back-to-back #1 picks and NBA Rookie of the Year winners Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Tatum will be attending Duke, so he’ll certainly have the chance to star and make his own mark. The 6’9″ forward came across as very humble when we spoke with him, and he laughed when we pointed out he’ll probably be guarding LeBron James when he inevitably enters the NBA after his year at Duke.
Many Americans will likely become familiar with female winner Sydney McLaughlin this summer as she will be representing USA in the Olympics in Rio. At the age of 16, she will be the youngest U.S. Olympian to compete in track and field since 1972 after finishing third overall in the 400-meter hurdles final at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. She also won the 400-meter intermediate hurdles with a time of 54.46 seconds at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships, breaking a 32-year-old national prep record.
Sage Steele did an incredible job as the master of ceremonies for the event, much of which was dedicated to conversations with each of the young athletes along with the professional athletes in attendance. Sage proved why she is a consummate pro, as she kept the conversations light and entertaining, showing her impressive sense of humor as she needled the athletes and offered self-deprecating jokes throughout the evening.
We spoke with most of the pro athletes who attended and all of them seemed to genuinely enjoy spending time with the younger athletes being honored. Todd Gurley was probably the most frank of the group, as he readily acknowledged he was enjoying his time off and wasn’t looking forward to the grind of training camp. Cam Newton was also enjoying himself as he toyed with reporters, even turning the tables and offering some thought-provoking questions to surprised reporters. Still, when we asked him if he was chomping at the bit to get back at it after the tough ending to last year’s amazing run to the Super Bowl, he became serious and gave a very clear impression he was anxious to address unfinished business as he talked about the importance of team effort and getting back together with the guys. Meanwhile, April Ross explained her excitement about going to the Olympics in Rio with partner Kerri Walsh Jennings in her attempt to bring back gold. She also joked about how she really didn’t like coaching but that spending time with these younger athletes inspired her to perhaps get more involved in coaching in the future.
Earlier in the day, Gatorade had a panel discussing the company’s new Play It Forward program, which is targeted at increasing participation levels in high school sports after a decade of declining participation. The program will enable all 606 annual winners of the Gatorade Player of the Year around the country to donate $1,000 provided by Gatorade to a local or national youth sports organization of their choosing. Gatorade’s national partners include Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Up2Us Sports, Disabled Sports USA and Women’s Sports Foundation.