If you spent Wednesday morning at the Miami Herald’s annual All-Dade awards ceremony honoring our finest young athletes, and the evening at the Miami Herald’s annual Silver Knight awards honoring our most service-minded high school seniors, then you are still in a state of awe.
The Herald’s annual All-Broward athletic awards ceremony will be held Friday, so prepare to be bowled over again.
If you think kids have turned into texting, Snapchatting zombies whose world revolves around the device in the palm of their hands, think again.
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We can be inspired by teenagers. They care so much about their communities, their schools and their teammates, it’s a wonder they ever sleep.
The adage that sport builds character certainly applies to these incredible kids. But it’s also true that sport attracts character because they have used sport to infuse themselves and others with undeniable power.
Sport is like the pole-vault runway that launches them into their leap of faith.
South Florida is rich in stories of fortitude, perhaps because it is a place that demands fortitude. Like our palm trees adapted to bend but not break in harsh winds, so these teens have withstood whatever buffets them.
Fred Mathieu, a Coral Reef High senior, won the Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award for his endurance through difficult times. He cared for his mother, ill with pancreatic cancer, until she died three months ago while he worked two part-time jobs, was responsible for his younger siblings and competed as a wrestler and sprinter/hurdler on his school teams. He used to take a bus at night from Cutler Bay to Mercy Hospital so he could be with his mother.
Talk to football coaches Roland Smith at Central and Tim Harris Jr. at Booker T. Washington and track and field coach Carmen Jackson at Northwestern about the obstacles some of their athletes must overcome to be champions. They’ve lost friends and relatives to gun violence, been evicted from their homes, shuttled through foster care. But they always come to practice. They’re the ones who show the most heart, even if their hearts are breaking.
Destiny Wilson, a Pace High junior, is deaf, but that did not deter her from becoming a first-team All-Dade flag football player and a second-team basketball player.
Likewise, Claudio Martinez never let cerebral palsy prevent him from becoming a Coral Reef High wrestler. He’s an Eagle Scout, too. He won the Silver Knight award in Social Science for his selfless devotion to children with disabilities. He has volunteered as a physical therapy and scuba diving assistant.
Sarah Roberts, the Math winner from Ransom Everglades, tutored underprivileged kids, then taught them how to swim, introduced them to boating and donated her babysitting earnings to create a scholarship. The swimmer and water polo player truly has to love the water to give hundreds of hours of her time to sharing that love with others.
Waleed Mneimneh, the Athletics winner from Palmer Trinity, has an autistic little brother. So he founded the Autism Awareness Club that raises funds by staging a tournament in his favorite sport — tennis.
Margaret Schloss, the Broward Athletics winner from St. Thomas Aquinas, somehow finds the energy to be president of her student council, maintain excellent grades, run at such a high level that she was state cross-country champion and deliver 3,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless each month.
No one does all that just to win a statuette. These teens shine with an inner light.
South Florida is fortunate to have visionary leaders who donate multiple millions of dollars from their fortunes to those in need. But our metropolis is not known for the breadth of its philanthropy. We could learn from our younger generation. They have the courage to do what they can — like Tanner Redding, the Business Silver Knight winner from Pembroke Pines Charter. The football team captain organized a Jingle Bell Trot to raise money to purchase Christmas gifts for poor kids.
Coaches deserve honors, too, for steering these teens toward their full potential — like Yvette McKinney, winner of an All-Dade Lifetime Achievement Award for dedicating 40 years to coaching students (including yours truly) and directing athletics at Palmetto High.
Sport helped give these remarkable young people a marvelous spirit. Now and for years to come, we can be thankful that they’re giving back.