NCAA celebrates inspiring honorees

Nineteen individuals were recognized at the NCAA Honors Celebration. Above, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills speaks after being presented the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

From recent student-athletes who exemplified excellence both on the field and in the classroom to a renowned former runner at Kansas who overcame poverty and racism to become an inspirational Olympian, 19 individuals were celebrated Friday night at the NCAA Honors Celebration.

The Theodore Roosevelt Award was presented to Billy Mills, a Native American who spent his early years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota before earning an athletics scholarship to the University of Kansas. Mills went on to win a gold medal in the 1964 Olympic Games, serve in the military, become a successful businessman and co-found a nonprofit organization that serves Native American youth.

Dara Torres accepts her Silver Anniversary Award.

“I am humbled to be considered a colleague of tonight’s honorees,” Mills said while accepting the Theodore Roosevelt Award. “Your sports performances have inspired many. But when I sat and listened and watched your passion for humanitarian deeds, I was taken on a journey, a powerful journey, to the center of my soul.”

The award is named after the former U.S. president whose concern for the conduct of college athletics led to the formation of the NCAA in 1906. The award is given annually to an individual for whom competitive athletics in college and attention to physical well-being afterward have been important factors in a distinguished career of national significance and achievement.

Rodney Peete is recognized with a Silver Anniversary Award.

 “Sport helped me in so many ways,” Mills said. “As a young person, sport helped me meet the winds of change that continue to occur in our rapidly changing world. It helped me take advantage of opportunities that ultimately await all of us. I was fortunate to have great leaders, great coaches, great teachers and mentors throughout my sports career.”

Other awards presented Friday recognized Today’s Top 10, given to 10 student-athletes who completed their athletics eligibility in the 2012-13 academic year to salute their excellence both in and out of their respective fields of play.

Former Wisconsin-La Crosse football student-athlete Jason Church accepts the Inspiration Award.

The Silver Anniversary Award was given to six individuals who are 25 years removed from completing their college athletics eligibility and have gone on to notable accomplishments in their careers.

Additionally, the Award of Valor was given to Cameron Lyle, a New Hampshire track and field student-athlete (discus, shot put, hammer and weight throw) who donated bone marrow to a complete stranger. Jason Church, a former football player at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who joined the Army and lost his legs below the knee after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan, received the Inspiration Award.