• 2017 azcentral.com Sports Awards Female Athlete of the Year

    2017 azcentral.com Sports Awards Female Athlete of the Year

  • 2017 azcentral.com Sports Awards Male Athlete of the Year

    2017 azcentral.com Sports Awards Male Athlete of the Year

  • azcentral.com Sports Awards Female Athlete of the Year finalists

    azcentral.com Sports Awards Female Athlete of the Year finalists

  • azcentral.com Sports Awards Male Athlete of the Year Finalists

    azcentral.com Sports Awards Male Athlete of the Year Finalists

High school sports are all about camaraderie, the spirit of competition and the drive to improve every day.

And for one night, all three aspects that capture the essence of preps’ sports wove together in celebration.

For the second year, azcentral sports brought together the top student-athletes, coaches and fans at ASU Gammage in Tempe on Sunday night at the azcentral.com Sports Awards, presented by Arby’s.

This red-carpet event showcased the passion, determination and accomplishments of student athletes, coaches and high school sports. Attendees who were dressed to impress filled the room, taking picture after picture. And azcentral sports’ Paola Boivin and high school sports columnist Scott Bordow held interviews with student-athletes eager to see where their nights would go. And with azcentral sports’ Dan Bickley as the host, the night was ready to go.

As the night went on, some of the best moments of the night came from the student-athletes.

Comeback Award winner Jamie Baker, a swimmer from Scottsdale Saguaro who returned to the pool after treatment for stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was given a standing ovation from the audience.

Girls Big Schools Soccer Athlete of the Year winner Amanda Dahl (Gilbert Perry) asked the other two nominees to stand up for recognition. And Boys Big Schools Soccer Athlete of the Year Danny Baca (Gilbert) became emotional as he thanked his family, especially his twin brother who plays alongside him on the field.

COMPLETE LIST: 2016-17 azcentral.com Sports Awards winners

But one of the most anticipated moments was when Boivin, in her final azcentral sports assignment, led a Q&A discussion with the show’s special guest, Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

As they greeted each other, Boivin’s cards fell to the floor. But in true Fitz fashion, he kneeled down to help her pick them up.

He spoke about how his high school experience in Minnesota affected the man and NFL player he is today.

“I remember my high school memories very fondly, and to see these young athletes honored is a lot of fun to be part of,” Fitzgerald said.

He gave shoutouts to his parents, past and present coaches, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and former quarterback Kurt Warner, who Fitzgerald said gave him a slice of “humble pie” when the wide receiver was a “snotty, arrogant kid.”

He also spoke of fatherhood and how tough he can be on his sons, but he doesn’t push them to do things they don’t want to do.

“Just give me your best effort,” he said when thinking of his sons. “Play hard and have a good time.”

And as his sons grow older, he’ll probably give them the same advice because he valued his time in high school sports. That’s how it all began.

“Playing high school sports was the most authentic experience I had.” 

NOMINATE: Male, Female Athlete of the Week or Academic All-Star of the Week

Athlete of the Year winners

Allie Schadler, a senior cross country and distance track star from Rio Rico, was crowned the Female Athlete of the Year and Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year. The nationally renowned runner finished her high school career by winning her fourth Division III state championship.

“I wasn’t expecting this award,” Schadler said. “I love having nights like these because it’s proof of all the hard work we put in.”

She also finished second in the Nike Cross Southwest Regionals and seventh at the Nike Cross Nationals. Throughout her four years as a Hawk, she placed outside of the top 10 twice.

The Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year nominee will be running for Washington in the fall.

Ryan Hoffer, a standout senior swimmer from Scottsdale Chaparral, was named the Male Athlete of the Year and the Boys Swimming Athlete of the Year. Specializing in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and relays, Hoffer set a new standard for future Arizona preps swimmers.

He also broke his own state record in the 50 freestyle at 19.34 seconds, the second-fastest time by a preps swimmer ever nationally recorded.

“It’s a big deal,” Hoffer said. “There’s never been an event like this. I’m so grateful that they can recognize these athletes.”

But his success didn’t stop there. He won the 100 butterfly in a state-record 46.97. He also was part of two state-winning relay teams. Hoffer won seven career gold medals at state during a stellar four-year career.

Hoffer will continue his swimming career in college at California.

The azcentral.com Sports Awards started in the 2015-2016 school year, with Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer as the guest speaker.

The Spring azcentral.com Sports Awards Athlete of the Year winners will be announced after all state championships finish.


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