SALEM, Ore. -- What a magical evening.
For the first time, the best high school athletes from the Salem area came together under one roof Tuesday night for the Mid-Valley Sports Awards at the Salem Convention Center.
The red-carpet event honored all of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice athletes, coaches and families make to represent their schools and communities in competition.
Joey Harrington, the iconic former Oregon Ducks quarterback, emceed the event along with Statesman Journal reporter Capi Lynn.
NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice highlighted the event with a question-and-answer session with Statesman Journal reporter Gary Horowitz, offering stories and wisdom from throughout his career and life.
“It was a dream come true for me. I want to say to the athletes here, just go for it,” Rice told the crowd. “Never doubt yourself. Dreams can come true.”
The high school athletes had a chance to meet Rice and get their picture taken with the three-time Super Bowl champion for the San Francisco 49ers.
“He was very nice, very cool,” Salem Academy’s Kiera Supple, who was up for the Girls Swimmer of the Year award said about Rice. “I think this is a great way to get all of the athletes in the Mid-Valley together.”
Cameron Stone, from St. Paul, agreed.
“I like it, I’m enjoying it,” said Stone, who was up for the Volleyball Player of the Year award. “It was cool (to meet Rice).”
Sprague’s Logan Blair, the winner of the Boys Tennis Player of the Year award, said that he was really impressed by the size of the Mid-Valley Sports Awards event.
“It’s awesome. I didn’t expect it to be this big. It’s a great thing,” Blair said. “It’s awesome to be able to meet somebody who was at that top level. All the effort and belief that he had in his career really excelled him to the top of his sport, and that’s something that I think can inspire all of the younger athletes here.”
Blair said that he would like to see more events like this in Salem in the future.
“I think this is just a stepping stone for years to come,” Blair said. “I definitely think it’s going to get bigger and even more exciting in the future. People will love it.”
Rice, who is the all-time NFL leader with 207 career touchdowns, said that it has taken time for him to feel comfortable in the spotlight off the field, such as being a contestant on Dancing with the Stars or highlighted guest at the Mid-Valley Sports Awards.
“To be honest with you, it’s been a difficult process. Coming from Mississippi, I was a very quiet guy,” Rice said. “But you learn how to transition, which was very important. I had to adjust when I went to the big city of San Francisco.
“I finally came to the conclusion to just be myself,” Rice added. “Be myself and have fun. I enjoy people. I enjoy the interaction with people.”
Rice laughed when asked if he was more nervous before his first Super Bowl or Dancing with the Stars.
“Did you hear that?” Rice asked Harrington. “You know what, I was in my element being on the football field. But then all of a sudden, you’re doing this show on a condensed dance floor that’s very small, and then you’ve got people all around that dance floor. It made me feel a little bit uncomfortable, but I did the same thing — I adjusted.
“That’s something that I’ve always been able to do. I think you’re always going to be nervous, but I think that brings out the best in you,” Rice added. “I was always nervous when I played playoff games, Super Bowls and even just a regular-season game. But that brought out the best in me. If you don’t get nervous, you shouldn’t be playing.”
Rice and Harrington had good charisma on the stage, with Harrington mocking Rice’s height a number of times.
Harrington also delivered a great line after South Salem golfer Ellie Slama, who is an Oregon State commit, won the Girls Golfer of the Year award.
“If Oregon State is going to have golfers like Ellie Slama, I have to say, go Beavs,” said Harrington, who is a Central Catholic High School graduate and former Heisman Trophy finalist for the Ducks.
West Salem and South Salem were big winners Tuesday night.
The Titans took home the Capitol Cup as the best sports school in the Mid-Valley during the 2015-16 school year. West Salem edged out South Salem with its performance in the spring season.
Other West Salem winners included Ahmed Muhumed, who won Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year and Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year, as well as Volleyball Player of the Year Paige Whipple, Boys Swimmer of the Year Micah Masei, Boys Golfer of the Year Andrew Eyre and Baseball Player of the Year Andy Armstrong.
For South Salem, basketball star Evina Westbrook won the Female Basketball Player of the Year and Girls Athlete of the Year awards. Also for the Saxons, multi-sport star Gabe Matthews won the Football Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year awards, and South Salem girls basketball coach Nick McWilliams was named Coach of the Year.
In other awards for the Saxons, Anna Chau won Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year, Ellie Slama won Girls Golfer of the Year, Jillian and Loryn Studer won Girls Tennis Players of the Year, and Elijah Schwartz won the Heart and Desire Award.
Mid-Valley Sports Awards Winners
FALL SEASON AWARDS
Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Anna Chau, South Salem
Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Ahmed Muhumed, West Salem
Girls Soccer Player of the Year: Baylie Cameron, Silverton
Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Ivan Navarro, Stayton
Volleyball Player of the Year: Paige Whipple, West Salem
Football Player of the Year: Gabe Matthews, South Salem
WINTER SEASON AWARDS
Boys Swimmer of the Year: Micah Masei, West Salem
Girls Swimmer of the Year: Marissa Kuch, McNary
Wrestler of the Year: Marlon Tuipulotu, Central
Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Harry Cavell, McNary
Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Evina Westbrook, South Salem
SPRING SEASON AWARDS
Girls Golfer of the Year: Ellie Slama, South Salem
Boys Golfer of the Year: Andrew Eyre, West Salem
Boys Tennis Player of the Year: Logan Blair, Sprague
Girls Tennis Players of the Year: Jillian Studer and Loryn Studer, South Salem
Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year: Ahmed Muhumed, West Salem
Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year: Lindsay McShane, Amity
Baseball Player of the Year: Andy Armstrong, West Salem
Softball Player of the Year: Maggie Buckholz, Silverton
Heart and Desire Award: Elijah Schwartz, South Salem
Courage Award: Bryce Webber, Sprague
Comeback Player Award: Josh Scrocca, Regis
Fan Experience Award: Cascade High School
Female Athlete of the Year: Evina Westbrook, South Salem
Male Athlete of the Year: Gabe Matthews, South Salem
Coach of the Year: Nick McWilliams, South Salem
Capitol Cup Award: West Salem