Indiana Sports Awards, Pat McAfee celebrate high school sports – Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS — Even before Ajanae’ Thomas reached the stage, she received with a standing ovation from her peers.
Thomas, a North Central basketball player, smiled and became emotional as she accepted the courage award Thursday in the second annual Indiana Sports Awards. The scene was the most heartwarming moment of a night that celebrated the best high school athletes in the state.
Thomas, besides being a standout player for the Panthers, has become an inspiration for others as she has helped care for her little brother after her mother was murdered by Thomas’ father in 2009. Thomas, who is inspired by her mother, became one of the best players in state in averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game to help the Panthers to their first sectional title since 2012. Thomas, in a short acceptance speech, thanked her mother and her family. When Thomas left the stage, none of the other high school athletes had stopped applauding.
In total, athletes from 28 sports were recognized. Homestead’s Karissa McLaughlin won the IndyStar Miss Basketball award, North Central’s Kris Wilkes the IndyStar Mr. Basketball award.
The Crispus Attucks boys’ basketball team, which won its first state title since 1959 with a thrilling 73-71 victory over Twin Lakes in the Class 3A championship game, won the award for team of the year.
Nominees in 11 spring sports were also introduced. The winners in those categories will be determined after their seasons end.
Drew Kibler, a swimmer from Carmel, won the boys athlete of the year award. A Texas commit, Kibler set five records at the state meet as the Greyhounds won their third consecutive championship.
Pike’s Lynna Irby, a Georgia commit who has won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes at the state championship the previous three years, won the final award of the night as the girls athlete of the year.
“This award just lets me know all the hard work I’ve done is not going unnoticed,” Irby said. “Track is a lot of hard work and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. This award means a lot. The atmosphere was great. It felt like the Grammys. It was really fun.”
• OVERCOMING ODDS: Thomas’ mother was killed by her father
• MR. BASKETBALL: North Central’s Kris Wilkes
• MISS BASKETBALL: Homestead’s Karissa McLaughlin
The award show was held inside Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University.
Nia Robinson, a senior volleyball player from Cathedral, attended last year’s inaugural show on the terrace of Lucas Oil Stadium’s north end zone. Robinson remembered the fun atmosphere and delicious catered food. After receiving her award for girls volleyball player of the year, Robinson smiled, thanked her teammates and parents on stage and appreciated the more formal presentation to this year’s show.
“I’m still pretty shocked,” Robinson said as she held her new silver award. “This is special, and it’s crazy to think I’m in high school and at an award show like this.”
The message Pat McAfee shared with the athletes as the keynote speaker was a simple one he repeated through various stories about his teenage years. McAfee encouraged and challenged the athletes through his speech to “go for it” when it came their aspirations, whether it be in sports or their future careers.
McAfee, the former Indianapolis Colts punter who retired in February, shared how his creative tenacity led him to his scholarship with West Virginia, how his father pushed him to have a strong work ethic and how the strength in his right leg led him to the NFL.
McAfee, who is pursuing a career in comedy with Barstool Sports, provided plenty of laughter, too. He joked that his right arm was finally displayed by the Colts last season in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when he completed a pass for a first down on a perfectly executed fake punt. He also joked about how he almost missed his opportunity to receive a scholarship from West Virginia because he was allowed to skip a few classes on a Monday morning.
But beyond the jokes, McAfee explained why he thought successful people such as Peyton Manning, Steve Jobs and LeBron James were special.
“Those people are not superhuman,” McAfee said. “They worked and worked. The only enemy in life is laziness. All you have to do is go for it.”
Drew Minnich, a NorthWood senior, was recognized for his excellence in athletics and academics. As a 4.0 GPA student, Minnich won the scholar athlete of the year award. He won the IHSAA’s Eskew Mental Attitude award, is a national honor society member and is a part of the NorthWood student leadership academy.
Minnich help lead NorthWood football team to the 4A state championship game last season. He will play baseball in college at Cedarville University and plans to study chemistry. Sitting next to Minnich during the show were his parents, Darren and Lisa, who he credits most for his success.
“I’m completely humbled by this award,” Drew Minnich said. “My parents have always instilled good discipline and good habits in me. I’ve always had good friends in school and in sports and they’ve also helped supported me to do well.”
Call IndyStar reporter Nate Taylor at (317) 444-6484. Follow him on Twitter: @ByNateTaylor.