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NCAA celebrates former student-athletes with top awards

Theodore Roosevelt, Silver Anniversary awards among recognitions at Honors Celebration

A retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army who played football for Army West Point as a cadet, then returned decades later as the institution’s superintendent. Ten recent college graduates who excelled in the classroom and in their sports, yet also made time to give back to their communities. A half-dozen former student-athletes who concluded their college sports participation 25 years ago, then went on to distinguished careers.

The NCAA celebrated the accomplishments of these and other former college athletes Wednesday evening at its Honors Celebration in Orlando, Florida, where the leaders in college sports have assembled for the 2019 NCAA Convention. The annual awards dinner celebrates individuals who have made a significant impact in college athletics.

“This is how we know we’ve achieved success, when we have young men and women … who are a reflection of everything that intercollegiate athletics stand for,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “They’re a reflection of everything that’s great about American higher education.”

Among the honorees was retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, a former center on the Army West Point football team who went on to develop strategy and lead troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2013, Caslen returned to lead Army West Point as superintendent. He retired in June.

Caslen received the NCAA’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, given annually to a distinguished former student-athlete of national reputation and outstanding accomplishment who exemplifies the ideals of college sports. The award is named after the former U.S. president whose concern for the conduct of college sports led to the NCAA’s formation in 1906.

“My time as a student-athlete and in intercollegiate athletics and the lessons that I learned there helped me persevere and get through some of those difficult challenges,” Caslen said. “Lessons of discipline and mental and physical toughness and tenacity and the will to win and to win the right way.”

The other individuals honored Wednesday:

  • Shaquem Griffin, NCAA Inspiration Award. Griffin was a football standout and human communication major at the University of Central Florida, where he excelled on the gridiron despite being born with a medical condition that led to the amputation of his left hand as a child. Today, Griffin is a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and the first one-handed player in NFL history.
  • Maggie Nichols, NCAA Inspiration Award. In 2018, Nichols released an 898-word statement announcing that she, too, had been sexually assaulted by former USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. By announcing that she was “Athlete A” in the reports of Nassar’s actions, she helped to shine a light on sexual abuse and became a powerful face and voice for the protection of young athletes.
  • Col. Tim Cullen, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who competed in fencing for Air Force, where he majored in astronautical engineering. Cullen is now the director of safety for Pacific Air Forces based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
  • Mia Hamm, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who won four national championships at North Carolina while earning a degree in political science. The two-time Olympic and World Cup champion is the founder of the Mia Hamm Foundation.
  • David Hirsch, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who competed in wrestling at Cornell and is now chief of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery/General Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
  • Lisa Leslie, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who competed in basketball at Southern California and went on to become an Olympic champion, WNBA player and broadcaster.
  • Heath Shuler, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who competed in football for Tennessee and today is a retired NFL player, former U.S. congressman and founder of the Heath Shuler Foundation.
  • Jason Varitek, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, who competed in baseball for Georgia Tech and is now a retired Major League Baseball player and special assistant to the president of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.
  • Ama Biney, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a management engineering major who competed in basketball and softball for Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
  • Andrea Bryson, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a chemistry major who competed in swimming for St. Cloud State.
  • Jevon Carter, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a sport management major who competed in basketball for West Virginia.
  • Lucas Kaliszak, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a human performance exercise science major who competed in swimming for Alabama.
  • Alison Lindsay, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a political science and French major who competed in cross country and track and field for Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Alex McMurtry, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, an applied physiology and kinesiology-exercise physiology major who competed in gymnastics for Florida.
  • Keturah Orji, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a financial planning major who competed in track and field for Georgia.
  • Ben Reeves, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major at Yale who competed in lacrosse.
  • Kyle Snyder, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a sport industry major who competed in wrestling for Ohio State.
  • Julia Wilson, NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award, a psychology major who competed in swimming for Kenyon.