Several months ago, when Creston News Advertiser publisher Rich Paulsen came to me with the idea of starting an athlete of the year award, I wasn't sure how exactly I was going to make it all work.
It seemed like a large project to take on, but it was the sort of challenge I was interested in taking on.
Now, here were are. All five male and five female finalists have been announced.
It's a solid group of 10 athletes who have accomplished a lot in competition and that has also accomplished a lot off the field.
Each of the 10 finalists is deserving of winning the award, but, unfortunately, only one male and one female can be crowned the inaugural South Central Iowa Athlete of the Year.
Wednesday, the winners of the award will be announced.
While revealing the finalists this week, I came up with a few different "side" awards. These ideas came from observations I had about the different finalists.
I wish I had been able to come up with a few more, but frankly, I'm not the most creative person.
Now, without further adieu, here are some of those "side" awards I came up with.
The All-Hair Team: Mount Ayr's Braydee Poore and Central Decatur's Dalton Gilbert.
"Fear the 'fro." Some of the coolest shirts I've seen in a student section have been made for the best 'fro in southern Iowa, belonging to Braydee Poore.
Aside from his ability to jump out of the gym, Poore is most identifiable by his 'fro.
I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard athletes and fans from an opposing school talking about Poore, only to have someone else say, "Oh, is that the kid with hair?"
Why yes, that would be the kid with the hair. The awesome hair.
I imagine it will be a long time before we see another 'fro like his dominating the sports scene in southern Iowa, and that's why he makes the All-Hair Team.
Joining Poore on the All-Hair team is Central Decatur's Dalton Gilbert.
While Poore features the out-of-control curls, Gilbert sports the long, flowing, golden locks. A simple, yet classic look.
And, the look really seems to pop when he adds the headband.
Hopefully, we'll be able to see his flowing locks during Iowa State football games over the coming years.
The Tough Enough Award: Central Decatur's Dalton Gilbert.
Gilbert earns the Tough Enough Award for his play during football season. Specifically, for what happened in his team's eighth game of the season against Des Moines Christian.
Gilbert took a hard hit on a tackle in the first half and landed on his side. After experiencing some discomfort, Gilbert was taken to the hospital to be evaluated.
He then left the hospital, returned to the game, assured his father he was fine to play, and played the second half of the game.
Gilbert finished the game 1-of-2 passing with a 19-yard touchdown, four catches for 36 yards and 17 carries for 106 yards.
He did all that while playing with liver and lung injuries sustained from the hit in the first half. Gilbert would miss the final game of the season with the injuries, but the toughness he displayed in returning for the second half went a long way in earning him a spot on the Class 1A all-state first team at the running back position, and it also earns him the Tough Enough Award.
The Slam Dunk Award: Creston's Luke Neitzel and Central Decatur's Sadie Greene.
I'm not sure I've seen a high school wing player dunk the ball more than Luke Neitzel did this year.
He had a knack for getting himself into position for a momentum-changing slam dunk throughout the season.
Whether he was stealing the ball from a defender and racing down court for a breakaway slam, or rising up to grab a lob pass out of the air from a teammate for an alley-oop, Neitzel brought the crowd to its feet numerous times with a slam dunk during the 2012-13 season.
And, while Sadie Greene never dunked the ball, she certainly displayed a high level of confidence and ball-handling skills on the basketball court.
In a season-ending seven-point regional loss to Des Moines Christian, Greene took the game over during a stretch of the game that spanned the second and third quarters.
She worked her way inside and scored in the post, and she knocked down jumper after jumper, including at least one 3-pointer from NBA range. Greene scored 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists in that game, cementing herself as a big-game player.
The Role Model Award: Creston's Keaton Hulett and Clarke's Kylar McCann.
You can't ask for any better of role models than Keaton Hulett and Kylar McCann.
Clarke girls basketball coach Eric Zoske couldn't say enough things about McCann after the season.
As a first-year head coach at a new school, Zoske couldn't have asked for a better player to have on his team than McCann.
Her leadership qualities and ability to relate to the younger players took a lot of pressure off Zoske as a first-year coach. He could rely on her to be a player-coach for him.
Likewise for Keaton Hulett.
Hulett is the type of person who just commands respect from his peers, and leads by example.
It took a lot of hard work and determination for Hulett to win a state wrestling championship this year. And he certainly deserved it when the crowd erupted in celebration when he won.
It's hard for me to think of a nicer, more polite student-athlete than Hulett.
Like head baseball coach Steve Birchard said at the Creston baseball banquet, Hulett's athletic ability will carry him through college, but it's his work ethic and his values that will take him far in life.
I'll never forget after the reception held for the Creston/O-M wrestlers following the state tournament, one of my nephews said to me just as excited as he could possibly be, "I got to take my picture with Keaton Hulett!"
There's a lot I'll miss about this group of seniors, both on the field and off the field. They've provided me a lot of great memories from covering their athletic careers.
They've also provided me with plenty of lighter moments off the field, such as Brianna Maitlen having a knack for ruining photos at practices and photo days by making goofy faces.
Now, it's your chance as fans to tell us who you think should be the South Central Iowa Athletes of the Year. Visit the CNA Facebook page and www.crestonnews.com to find the links to the online polls where you will be able to vote for who you think should be the winner.
And, remember to look at Wednesday's CNA sports section to find out who the winners are.
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