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An Association determined to illuminate student-athlete success at this week’s Convention turned on its brightest lights at Friday night’s Honors Celebration.
Among those honored was Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, who received the NCAA’s highest individual recognition – the Theodore Roosevelt Award. She told the crowd about how her experiences shaped her life and career, calling herself a simple foot soldier compared to past recipients of the award.
Before becoming the first woman to command a battalion in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and earn the rank of four-star general, Dunwoody competed in gymnastics and tennis at the State University of New York at Cortland.
“It really was in the embryonic stages of gymnastics and tennis and women’s sports,” the 1975 graduate said of competing in the early stages of the Title IX era. “And I see what these student-athletes are doing today, and it’s quadruple the kinds of things that I did. That’s what makes me proud. I’ve seen the journey that these young folks have been on and where they are today. That’s the exciting part.”
Dunwoody, who sat next to NCAA President Mark Emmert through most of the event, accepted the award on behalf of military personnel serving the country.
Also honored were six Silver Anniversary Award recipients, recognized for their achievements 25 years after their days as student-athletes, and the Today’s Top VIII, honoring top seniors from the preceding year. Merzudin Ibric, an analyst for the U.S. government whose family fled war-torn Bosnia when he was a youngster, leading him to publicly speak out against genocide, received the Association’s Inspiration Award.
Like her fellow honorees, athletics has been a cornerstone of Dunwoody’s life. She picked SUNY-Cortland because it was a top school for physical education, her major.
“The military is a demanding profession both physically, mentally and emotionally,” she said. “I feel blessed that my profession and my education and my upbringing in the area of athletics and sports have prepared me so well for my career in the military.”
Similarly humbled was Silver Anniversary Award recipient Lisa Caputo, now the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Citi.
“For me, this by far is the greatest personal honor that I’ve ever received because athletics and academics are core to how I was raised,” said the former field hockey and lacrosse student-athlete at Brown whose mother played field hockey and whose father competed in track and football.
“To have both come together with the Silver Award is overwhelming. It’s a recognition that I was raised with the right values, and these are values I’m trying to now pass down to my own kids.”
Caputo joined a Silver class that also included Yankees manager and former All-Star Joe Girardi (Northwestern), former NFL and MLB player and commercial icon Bo Jackson (Auburn), former NFL player and analyst turned attorney Tim Green (Syracuse), five-time Olympic basketball medalist Teresa Edwards (Georgia) and PGA Tour member Scott Verplank (Oklahoma State).
For many of the recipients, the Honors Celebration offered an opportunity to look back fondly on their days as a student-athlete.
“In four years, I managed to grow from an immature kid to a responsible young man,” Jackson said. “That was all due to the people that I surrounded myself with at Auburn, starting from my teammates to my coaches to the professors who made me study when I didn’t want to.”
Girardi said the bonds he formed as a student-athlete have remained strong. He said his Northwestern family, especially his coach, comforted him when his mother died when he was just 19.
“When I went through the difficult times in my life, the guys who have been there have been my college teammates,” Girardi said.
Also taking the opportunity to reflect was Inspiration Award honoree Ibric, a former track standout at Wheaton (Massachusetts).
“Every day, I’m thankful for having the opportunity to be where I am and to have achieved and accomplished what I have,” Ibric said, adding that he hopes to continue to inspire others.
The Today’s Top VIII honorees included Zach Carr (Stevens Institute of Technology soccer), Greg McElroy (Alabama football), Amy Backel (Oklahoma track and field), Casie Hanson (North Dakota ice hockey and softball),
Dan Laurent (Wisconsin-Lacrosse wrestling), Marcia Newby-Goodman (Georgia gymnastics), Jessica Pixler (Seattle Pacific cross country and track) and Jeff Spear (Columbia fencing).