NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., center, answers questions from Chattanooga Times Free Press Sports Editor Jay Greeson, left, and Assistant Sports Editor Stephen Hargis at the 2014 Best of Preps Banquet on Thursday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Earnhardt was the guest speaker at the annual event which honors the area's best prep athletes.
In the athletic realm there is little the three major award winners from Thursday night's Best of Preps Banquet have in common except, obviously, success.
One common theme, however, from the overall coach, female and male athletes of the year is the path to that success and the acknowledgement that so much more is involved than individual glory.
For Coach of the Year Jake Yost, Female Athlete of the Year Brooke Copeland and Male Athlete of the Year Slade Dale, Thursday's coronation in front of the largest crowd in banquet history was a chance to reflect on what got each of them there.
"This is such a cool experience to be recognized for our program doing so well," said Yost, who in two seasons as the coach of Cleveland's juggernaut wrestling team has won four state titles. "A lot of it is due to so many people and facets of the program that I just happen to be the representative of, from the coaches to the parents and to the people in the community."
That sentiment was also a major theme of guest speaker Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said his NASCAR success is all about teamwork and being part of a family. Ringgold's Dale, after hearing racing's most popular driver's words, was moved to thank his own actual and athletic families.
"It's a great honor to win the Best of Preps overall award," said Dale, who is headed to the University of Georgia after earning first-team honors in baseball and football and winning the Red Etter Award for outstanding achievement in football. "I want to extend a special thanks to my family: They're my biggest supporters and the reason I compete. I want to also thank Coach [Robert] Akins. I look up to him like a father and I love him to death. I couldn't do this all by myself, and I understand the importance of my teammates and the role God has played in my life."
Bradley Central star Copeland, who starred in basketball and volleyball, was the overall female winner for the second year in a row. She's heading to the University of Florida to play basketball.
"I feel extremely blessed to even be nominated, and to win this again is incredible," she said. "This is great closure for my career and for my life in general in the Chattanooga area. I'm very honored and grateful. If there's one thing I would pass along to the athletes coming up is to give everything you have, no matter what you're doing, and to keep God first in everything you do because he's the reason you're here."
The three also took in Earnhardt's message to stop for a minute and enjoy their success.
Said Yost: "One of the main things I try to do is to get the kids to enjoy life and be good people. Enjoy every aspect of life, including the hard work. Have fun and see the bigger picture and understand it's not just about winning a wrestling match."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., answers questions from the audience at the 2014 Best of Preps Banquet on Thursday at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Earnhardt was the guest speaker at the annual event which honors the area's best prep athletes.
Best of Preps award winners
Mickey Haddock Award for Boys' Cross Country -- Derek Barnes, McCallie
Phoebe Wright Award for Girls' Cross Country -- Mallory Young, Signal Mountain
Neely-Merrill Award for Volleyball -- Courtlyn Ison, Ooltewah
Jim Phifer Award for Boys' Golf -- Patrick McDonald, McCallie
Brooke Pancake Award for Girls' Golf -- Blakesly Warren, Baylor
E.B. "Red" Etter Award for Football -- Slade Dale, Ringgold
Robert High Award for Boys' Basketball -- Levi Woods, Meigs County
Jackson-Lacy Award for Girls' Basketball -- Brooke Copeland, Bradley Central
Farr-Worsham Award for Wrestling -- Jonathan Ragsdale, Gordon Lee
Guerry Award for Boys' Tennis -- McClain Kessler, Calhoun
Bartlett Award for Girls Tennis -- Samantha Caswell, Baylor
Steve George Award for Boys' Soccer -- Eder Mora, Dalton
Best of Preps Girls' Soccer Award -- Victoria Wicks, Baylor
Wirt Gammon Sr. Award for Baseball -- Conard Broom, Gordon Lee
Buck Johnson Award for Softball -- Bayli Cruse, Northwest Whitfield
John Phillips Award for Boys' Track -- C.J. Fritz, McCallie
LaQuisha Jackson Award for Girls' Track -- Selena Popp, Baylor
John Franklin Award for Academics -- Lucy Whitfield, GPS
Sandy Sandlin Award for an Unselfish Sportsman -- Jerry Jones, LFO
Guy Francis Award for Person Who Goes the Extra Mile -- TreVar Moore, Cleveland
Bobby Davis Award for Heart and Desire -- Austin Clark, Hixson
Scrappy Moore Award for Female Athlete of the Year -- Brooke Copeland, Bradley Central
Scrappy Moore Award for Male Athlete of the Year -- Slade Dale, Ringgold
Scrappy Moore Award for Coach of the Year -- Jake Yost, Cleveland wrestling
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...