The National Consortium for Academic and Sports announced its 2015 national winners, and among them was Chicago high school coach Shawn Harrington, who was part of the 1994 “Hoop Dreams” documentary and who last year was the victim of a mistaken identity shooting that left him paralyzed as he tried to protect his daughter during the incident. Below are the winners and their stories, via the NCAS:
The National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) is proud to announce the Winners of the 2015 National STUDENT-Athlete Day Giant Steps Awards. Winners have been chosen from a pool of nominees received from around the country.
Giant Steps Awards are given in conjunction with National STUDENT-Athlete Day, a program of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS). National STUDENT-Athlete Day honors the hard work and dedication of high school and college student-athletes nationwide who have excelled in the classroom and on the playing field, while having made significant contributions to their schools and communities. Since its inception, over 3.6 million student-athletes have been honored with award certificates for their outstanding achievements.
Giant Steps Awards are given to individuals who have overcome adversity while still succeeding in life, who use sport as a vehicle for positive social change, who break down barriers to provide opportunities to those who follow behind them, and individuals who inspire us to do great things using the positive aspects of sport.
The mission of the NCAS is to use the power of sport to effect positive social change. We educate and empower individuals and organizations by inspiring values-based thinking leading to actions that promote social responsibility and equality.
This year’s Giant Steps Award Winners include:
Shawn Harrington, Coach
Growing up on the west side of Chicago, a place notorious for violent crime, Shawn Harrington used basketball as an escape. Growing up the game became a large part of his life and when it was time for high school, he followed his family’s tradition of attending Marshall High School where he played the game he loved. As a star basketball player he had a small part in the sports documentary Hoop Dreams.
He was recruited to New Mexico State where he continued playing. However, Shawn was known for more than just his game. He was described by his coach as a tough player on the court and as a fighter like most players from Chicago, but Shawn was different. He could separate life on the court from life off it and was affectionate with his teammates, letting them know he cared.
Shawn’s mother did not want him to return to the increasingly violent streets of Chicago. He returned anyway. Growing up without his father, Shawn vowed to be there for his children and play an instrumental role in their upbringing. He’s been doing that with his daughter. In 2003, his mother was a victim of the street violence she wanted to keep Shawn from when she was fatally shot while trying to help her neighbors during a home invasion.
After a long, hard journey dealing with the loss of his mother, he returned to his alma mater Marshall to teach special education and coach. But one morning in January 2014, his life changed. Shawn was driving his daughter to school like he did every morning. The only difference was he was driving a rental car. At a stoplight he noticed two guys pointing at the car and before he knew what was happening they were under attack, bullets smashing through the car.
He wanted to keep his daughter calm so he told her they hadn’t been hit and covered her with his own body. But Shawn knew he’d been hit in the back, although he did not know the severity of his wounds. At the hospital, he watched the reaction of his family when talking to the doctor. That was when he realized he might be paralyzed. While he sometimes asks why, he has never given up and has been an inspiration to those around him including those individuals who are helping him everyday to literally get back on his feet.
Austin Hatch, Courageous Student-Athlete
In November 2014 Austin Hatch scored his first point as a member of the University of Michigan’s Men’s Basketball Team. It had always been his dream to play basketball for the Wolverines. Michigan is his mother’s alma mater and the team he cheered for with his family growing up. For Austin the journey to this court has been a long one. His life has been full of tragedy and loss, but it is his outlook on life, something he knows his parents would be proud of, that makes him so special.
In 2003, when Austin was 8 years old, his family was traveling in their private plane from the family cabin in Michigan to their home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. His father was at the controls and noticed something wrong. The engine stopped working. Just after 8:00 p.m. the plane struck a utility pole. The crash claimed the lives of his mother, sister and brother.
His father and he were the only survivors of the crash. They had each other and the game they both loved, basketball. They played together for hours in their driveway and Austin remembers how they trash talked back and forth. In 2004 Dr. Hatch met Kimberly Neal who had three children of her own. The two married and they became a close blended family.
As a 6’6” sophomore at Canterbury High, Austin was a standout player. The University of Michigan was the one school that stuck out in his mind for the future. Michigan’s Head Basketball Coach John Beilein watched Austin play in a game where he scored 30 points and 16 rebounds.
He knew right away he was going to offer Austin a scholarship. Austin accepted right away. Nine days after signing Austin was in a second plane crash, but this time he was the only survivor. He lost both his father and Kimberly. Austin was severely injured including a massive brain injury. Doctors weren’t sure if he would wake up and if he did they didn’t know if he would ever walk or talk again.
After being in a coma and largely unresponsive he came around. He knew basketball was his future and how much work it was going to take to get there. He continued to rehab for over a year until he moved his senior year to Los Angeles to live with his Uncle Mike who brought him to Loyola High School and Coach Jamal Adams. Coach Adams brought in Rasheed Hazzard to help him rehab. They worked together for months and after three years without having played a game he was asked to step up by Coach Adams when Loyola had a large lead. Austin scored on his first shot. From there he went on to fulfill his dream of playing for Michigan.
Lauren Hill, Courageous Student-Athlete
Lauren Hill committed to playing basketball at Mount St. Joseph University on her 18th birthday. An exciting time for a young woman, whose dream was to be a college student and play basketball. A few weeks later while playing her senior year at Lawrenceburg High School (Indiana), she started feeling slow, dizzy and often numb. In November she was diagnosed with a rare inoperable brain tumor. Doctors told her she had two years of life left to live. Lauren hoped for a miracle, but her doctor told her that pediatric cancer was underfunded and that pediatric brain cancer needed a face. Lauren now had a purpose.
Lauren was determined to play a college game and went after her dream. But after an MRI in fall 2014 her life expectancy was shortened to December. There was nothing anyone could do. Time was slipping away and Mount St. Joseph’s basketball season didn’t start until November. The school petitioned the NCAA to have its first game moved up two weeks so Lauren could fulfill her dream of playing a college game.
Lauren played that game scoring the first two points. In fact, she played four more games during the season. Lauren’s story went national and she truly has become the face of pediatric cancer. She raised over $2 million for cancer research and has been honored by the United States Writers Association with the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award. Lauren knows that she won’t be around when a cure is found, but she hopes people continue to come together to help find one.
Lauren is still fighting today with a smile on her face as shown on her Facebook page Easter Sunday.
Willie Burton, A Hero Among Us
From the time Willie Burton came into the world he was faced with challenges. His birth mother was a teenager who called the local church to see if someone there would adopt him. Brenda and Larry Burton were those people. He was born two months premature and had cerebral palsy caused by a bleed in the part of his brain that controls walking and affects speech. However, Willie’s mental capacity was not affected.
Willie had physical therapy everyday of the week and speech therapy a few of those days. Despite his physical limitations, Willie always wanted to do more than his body would allow. He wanted to challenge himself and play mainstream sports. When he entered high school, he decided to join the wrestling team. He wanted to compete against someone one on one where the best person won. No one was sure how this would work out, but Willie was given no special treatment from the coaches. He worked as hard as everyone on the team. His freshmen year he wrestled 20 times and lost every match.
But when preseason conditioning began he rolled around the track in his wheelchair for two miles with his hands bleeding and he never complained. He wanted to be a wrestler and by his sophomore year he was. He gained self-esteem and was surrounded by his teammates who drove him to compete on a daily basis. He was one of them. Everyone wanted him to win a match, but no one more than Willie. But that day would never come. He lost every match his sophomore and junior years. His senior season was coming to a close and he still had not won a match.
There were times when Willie wanted to give up, but he looked inside himself and thought about what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind. Did he want to be the kid who never one or push himself harder than he ever had.
In February 2014 Willie went out on the mat. The match was intense and in the final period the match was tied, but Willie forged ahead and won. For the first time in over 100 matches Willie’s hand was raised in victory. He said that all the hard work he put in was not a waste. It would be the one and only match he’d win, but he said that it was wrestling that made him who he is today.
Carmen Tarleton, Civic Leader
Carmen Tarleton is a true survivor and heroic woman. Her story has stunned those who have heard it, but they are also inspired by her perseverance to overcome such adversity and move forward in life after such insurmountable suffering.
In June 2007, Carmen was beaten with a baseball bat and doused with industrial strength lye by her estranged husband. That night would change her life forever. Carmen once lived a typical life in Vermont. She had two daughters and worked as a nurse. After divorcing, she moved to Los Angeles where she joined the staff at UCLA. Now a single mom, she worked long 12-hour days to support her two daughters. It was there that she met Herb whom she would date for three years before the two married. The family moved back to Vermont, but after their nine-year relationship, the two filed for divorce. There had been no domestic violence history in their relationship, but five months later that changed with his violent attack.
Carmen’s body was burning from the inside out and the prognosis for survival was bleak. After only hours, her burns were so bad that she was unrecognizable to her family except for her hands and teeth. She was put in a medically induced coma during which she underwent 38 surgeries. After 3 months she woke from the coma disfigured and blind. She was in constant pain physically and emotionally. She underwent countless surgeries and received a rare face transplant. Carmen realized that her story had to be told and by sharing she could help people even more than when she was a nurse.
Throughout her lifetime Carmen has always been a life-long fan of sport. She was the only girl on her little league team and played softball in middle school and on her high school varsity team. She followed the New England Patriots and Red Sox watching football every Sunday and baseball games throughout their season. Her daughter described her as jumping up and down when the Pats won the Super Bowl. While she was living a horrible existence following her attack she listened to every Red Sox game. She describes those games as sometimes being the only thing she had to look forward to.
Carmen strongly believes that organizations such as the NFL would be helping a large number of people by not tolerating domestic violence and showing that there are consequences to that behavior. She also believes that anything the NFL did would inspire people and anyone who is inspired has an opportunity to make change. While she is still a beloved fan of the Patriots, she is unable to see and decipher each player and what team they’re from, but she is there listening each week supporting them. But even more, Carmen wants to know whom the person will be to stand up and start to make change.
1955 Cannon Street YMCA Little League, Barrier Breakers
The story began in the heart of the American South. The U.S. Supreme Court already had ruled (in 1954) that segregated schools were unconstitutional. South Carolina was among some of the southern states resisting federal pressure to discard segregation.
In the summer of 1955, 14 African-American boys from the Cannon Street YMCA Little League in Charleston, South Carolina, were looking forward to entering the local Little League Tournament along with tens of thousands of other kids from across the United States and several other countries. For the few lucky enough to win, there would be a trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League Baseball World Series. There were 62 Little League programs in the state. Of those teams, 61 were made up of all white players and one was made up of all black players. All 61 teams refused to play the team from Cannon Street even after the National Little League organization insisted that they do and informed them that if they didn’t, they would not be allowed to participate in the tournament. The 61 teams separated themselves from the Little League organization and started their own league which left the Cannon Street team without anyone to play, but also ineligible to enter the tournament.
Little League rules state that in order to advance to the next level that each team must have played and beat other teams in South Carolina. However, even though the Cannon Street team was unable to play, Little League invited the boys as their special guests to the World Series. At the time, those 14 young boys probably had no idea the impact they had on society. They inspired people then and continue to even today.
Any Body Can, Community Organization
Founded in 1957 by boxing legend Archie Moore and carried on by his son Billy, the program uses boxing as the backdrop for lessons about life, character and citizenship. The most common result being a transformation for boys and girls who don’t fit in, to those who fit in well with others, as well as fit comfortably within their own skin.
As a trainer of note for many years in professional boxing, Billy Moore wishes to focus strongly on youth as a promise to his father as well as to himself.
Any Body Can offers a wide array of programs including, “Bridging the Gap,” boxing for self-defense and building self-esteem, nutrition, and it has recently expanded and become a complete after school program.