Top suburban high school athletes were recognized not only for their physical prowess Thursday night at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates but also for traits including sportsmanship and overcoming adversity.
About 820 students, their parents and others gathered on the Sears Centre floor for the seventh annual Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards. Professional treatment was accorded to the student-athletes, who posed for photographs at an ice sculpture upon entering and moved on to collect a plethora of gifts.
Sports columnists Patricia Babcock McGraw and Joe Aguilar co-hosted the festivities that celebrated 584 athletes in 22 sports from 64 schools. Five categories of winners were announced.
Two of the most compelling winners were Downers Grove North High School volleyball players Margaret Mahlke and Maddie Degiorgio, who shared the female Spirit of Sportsmanship Award. They were lauded for their actions after the death of teammate Beth Dunlap.
DuPage County prosecutors say Joseph Kucharski of Naperville was asleep at the wheel and coming down from a four-day cocaine bender Feb. 19 when he drove through a Downers Grove intersection, striking and fatally injuring Dunlap, a junior on her way to school with a teacher.
Before DG North played at Downers Grove South High School in a packed gymnasium March 1, Degiorgio and Mahlke took a microphone and talked about their late friend and teammate. They then requested 18 seconds of silence -- representing Dunlap's number -- before the game began.
Mahlke said it was an honor and a privilege to know Dunlap. Degiorgio reflected on the evening she and Mahlke addressed the crowd at DG South.
"It was difficult," Degiorgio said. "I mean, it's also sharing ... the impact Beth had on me. It was really special, too. I had known her for so long. It was just like, awesome, to see so many people from North and from South coming together for it."
Naperville Central High School football player Payton Thorne won the male Spirit of Sportsmanship Award.
Receiving the Heart and Soul Award were Corinne Angle, a Streamwood High School volleyball and softball player, and Conant High School basketball player Raj Mittal.
Grayslake Central High School's Abby Tonkery and Antioch High School football player Dylan Czerlanis received the Overcoming Obstacles Award.
Winning the Sweet Moment Award were the Maine West girls basketball team and coach Kim deMarigny, and St. Charles North High School's boys swimming team and coach Rob Rooney.
Bill Schalz, girls swimming coach at Rosary High School in Aurora, and Matt Ellett, baseball coach at Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin, received the Beyond the Bench Award.
High school athletic directors nominated five senior female and male athletes who were considered their most fitting representatives of excellence in sports.