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NCAA’s best are recognized

Awardees share the stage at the 2015 NCAA Honors Celebration

Awardees share the stage at the 2015 NCAA Honors Celebration.

Mannie Jackson considers one of his seemingly minor accomplishments his most monumental: He was elected team captain by his teammates on the University of Illinois basketball team during the 1959-60 season, his senior year. Jackson didn’t want to accept the mantle, yearning to focus only on what transpired on the court. But his father implored him to embrace his first opportunity to be a leader.

More than five decades later, that decision came full circle: Jackson was presented the Theodore Roosevelt Award – the NCAA’s highest honor – at Friday’s 2015 NCAA Honors Celebration for his exploits on the court, his rise to becoming an executive of a major corporation, his time as owner of the Harlem Globetrotters and an enduring commitment to philanthropy, among other accomplishments. Jackson was honored alongside the NCAA’s Silver Anniversary Award winners, Today’s Top 10 winners and the recipients of the Inspiration Award and Award of Valor. The ceremony took place during the 2015 NCAA Convention.

“I’ve never been so honored. I’ve never felt like the body of work, my career, that someone has acknowledged it,” Jackson said before the event. “I’m still processing it.”

The parents of former University of Alabama swimmer John Servati, who sacrificed his own life to save his girlfriend during an April 18 tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa, Alabama, accepted the Award of Valor on his behalf. The award is bestowed upon someone with ties to college athletics who acted bravely and selflessly when confronted with a dangerous situation.

April Holmes, a former Norfolk State University runner who lost her leg in a train accident and went on to become an accomplished Paralympian and motivational speaker, accepted the Inspiration Award, which is given each year to someone who had to overcome trauma and has gone on to become a role model to others who face similar obstacles.

The Silver Anniversary Awards are given to former student-athletes who have excelled in the 25 years since their college athletics eligibility expired. Former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Mike Mussina, who attended Stanford University, was among the six recipients on Friday. He credits older teammates with helping him navigate the complexities of being an 18-year-old far from his Pennsylvania home who had to learn to balance baseball with the demands of attending one of the nation’s top schools. He said this award means a lot to him because of the important role Stanford played in his formative years, even though a noteworthy professional baseball career followed.

“Whoever I am now as a person, there’s a little bit of Stanford in there,” Mussina said. “Because of that, [events like this] are important. I want to do anything I can to represent Stanford University.”

The other Silver Anniversary Award recipients were: former Stanford basketball player-turned-professional basketball standout Jennifer Azzi; Brent Lang, a former University of Michigan swimmer who is now president and CEO of Vocera Communications; former Oregon State University football player Pellom McDaniels, who now works as a professor of African-American Studies at Emory University; former Brown University basketball player and current Stanford Athletics Director Bernard Muir; and Tamyra Rogers, a former women’s basketball player at the University of Oklahoma who became a physician and weight-loss specialist.

Former Emory University softball star Megan Light, was a recipient of the Today’s Top 10 Award, which was given to 10 outstanding college athletes who were seniors in 2013-14, said she appreciated the opportunity to share time and a stage with the Silver Anniversary Award winners, admitting she even gawked at their lists of exploits on Wikipedia as she sat with them during a session held earlier in the day. Light was recognized for her talents on the field and for her already-robust accomplishments in public health.

“I see this award as a culmination of my athletic experience, of what I’ve done since I was little all the way through Emory,” Light said. “But it’s also a start – motivation for what I want to do moving forward.”

Other Today’s Top 10 recipients that were recognized included: Bentley University women’s basketball player Lauren Battista, Dartmouth College runner Abbey D’Agostino, Loyola University-Maryland lacrosse athlete Joe Fletcher, Grand Valley State University runner Kristen Hixson, University of Oklahoma football player Gabe Ikard, University of Alabama gymnast Kim Jacob, Calvin College runner Nicole Michmerhuizen, Livingstone College basketball player Mark Thomas and University of Georgia swimmer Shannon Vreeland.