The five nominees for the Male Athlete of the Year
The 76th annual Sports Star of the Year, presented by ROOT SPORTS (FSN), will be held Wednesday at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle (200 University Street).
Launched as the “Man of the Year” banquet in 1935 by late Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports editor Royal Brougham, the show grew into the “P-I Sports Star of the Year” program in the early 1990s, when the newspaper began recognizing the area’s greatest male and female sports achievers.
Following closure in March 2009 of the print P-I, the one of the region’s top sports traditions was in jeopardy of ending. With the help of the Seattle Sports Commission and Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Sports Star of the Year a year ago celebrated its 75th year on the big stage at Benaroya Hall.
More than 1,000 attended at the new venue to reconnect with community sports history. The commission committed to protect and grow the program, one of the longest-tenured events of its kind in the nation.
The program calls for the selection by voters of the Professional Sports Star of the Year, the Male Sports Star of the Year, the Female Sports Star of the Year, and the Sports Story of the Year (for ticket information, click here).
Male Sports Star of the Year award nominees (nominees listed alphabetically):
J.R. CELSKI, USA Short Track Speedskating
The youngest of three boys, Celski began skating inline at Pattison’s West Roller Rink in Federal Way. He switched to speed skating after watching fellow Federal Way native Apolo Ohno star at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. From 2002-08, Celski dominated junior short-track nationally, then delivered a breakthrough performance at the 2009 World Championships by winning five medals and finishing second in the overall standings. Celski recovered from a career-threatening injury (gashed his leg with his own skate) in time to make the 2010 Olympic team. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Celski earned a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters, finishing just behind Ohno. Celski then teamed with Ohno and two others to win a second bronze medal in the 5,000-meter relay. Those aren’t his only major medals. Celski has also won two gold, two silver, and four bronze medals at the World Championships. He also owns a bronze medal from the World Team Championships and five medals (two gold, one silver, three bronze) from the World Junior Championships. After the Olympics, Celski said he intended to start his first year of college at the University of California, but delayed his entry to school to concentrate on a new business promoting the Seattle arts scene.
MASON FOSTER, UW Football
Husky linebacker became the first UW player at that position to make first-team All-Pac-10 in in 13 years (Jerry Jensen was the last to do it). Foster was also named to four All-America teams after a monster senior season in which he led the Pac-10 Conference in tackles with 163 tackles (including the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska), most by a UW player since former Husky James Clifford had 168 to lead the Pac-10 in 1989. Foster finished his Husky career ranked No. 8 in school history with 378 career tackles. Consider some of Foster’s efforts: 15 tackles against Nebraska, 14 against BYU, Oregon and Washington State, and 12 against Arizona State and Oregon State. Foster’s season low: nine vs. California. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection after his sophomore and junior seasons, Foster came to the Huskies from Seaside, CA. He played as a true freshman in 2007, became a full-time starter in 2008, and ended his UW career as the team’s Defensive Most Valuable Player. Foster finished the season with 151 tackles (tops in the Pac-10).
APOLO OHNO, USA Short Track Speedskating
Ohno became attracted to short track speed skating while watching the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Eight years later, in Salt Lake City, Ohno became an Olympic gold medalist for the first time, and eight years after, in Vancouver, B.C., became the most decorated American athlete in Winter Olympics history. By winning three medals, Ohno hiked his career total to eight, breaking the previous record of six, held by speedskater Bonnie Blair. Ohno won more Olympic medals than any athlete (summer or winter) in state sports history. In addition to the two gold, two silver and four bronze Olympic medals, he also owns eight gold, seven silver and six bronze medals in World Championship meets, and one gold and one bronze in World Team Championship meets. Ohno is also a three-time World Cup overall champion. Once a state champion swimmer, Ohno has been a member of three U.S. Olympic teams (Salt Lake City; 2006, Turin, Italy, and Vancouver). A celebrity apart from sports, Ohno, along with partner Julianne Hough, won ABC’s Dancing With the Stars” competition on May 23, 2007, beating out singer Joey Fatone and boxer Lalia Ali.
QUINCY PONDEXTER, UW Basketball
Over the final 14 games of the 2008-09 season, Pondexter emerged as a potential star, averaging 15.4 points per contest and leading Washington to its first-ever outright Pac-10 championship. Pondexter took his game to a higher level as a senior in 2009-10, when he led the Huskies in scoring at 19.3 points per game and finished second in voting for the Pac-10 Player of the Year award. Pondexter joined an elite group of Huskies to exceed 600 points in a season and finished his career as the No. 3 scorer in UW history with 1,786 points, trailing only Chris Welp (2,073) and Jon Brockman (1,805). Pondexter was the principal reason the Huskies went 26-10, won the Pac-10 Tournament and reached the Sweet Sixteen at the NCAA Tournament. Among other honors, Pondexter made first-team All-Pac-10, was named to the USBWA All-District Team, and to the All-Tournament team at the Pac-10 Tournament. Pondexter made the the biggest shot of his career on March 18, 2010, when he connected on a bank shot with 1.7 seconds to play, giving Washington an 80-78 win over Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Jose. He was Pac-10 Player of the Week award five times during the 2009-10 season. That broke the previous single-season record of four he shared with Oregon States Gary Payton (1989-90), Arizonas Chris Mills (1992-93), UCLAs Ed OBannon (1994-95) and Arizona States Eddie House (1999-00).
KLAY THOMPSON, WSU Basketball
Thompson seems destined to go down as one of the great basketball players in Washington State University history. As a sophomore in 2009-10, Thompson started 30 of 31 games for the Cougars and was named to the All-Pacific-10 Conference first team. He was also named USBWA and NABC All-District, NetScouts Basketball All-Pac-10 first team and The Sporting News second team all-conference. Thompson led Washington State in points (19.6 ppg), minutes per game (35.4 mpg) and steals (44, 1.4 spg). Thompson led the Cougars in scoring 21 times. In conference play, ranked second in scoring (19.6 ppg), fourth in minutes (35.4 mpg), fifth in 3-point field goals (76, 2.5 mpg), eighth in free-throw percentage (.801) and 14th in rebounding (159, 5.1 rpg). He started the season with six consecutive 20-plus-point games, marking the most consecutive 20-plus-point performances by a Cougar since Isaac Fontaine during the 1996-97 season. Born in Los Angeles, Thompson earned three letters at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where he earned first-team Best in the West. Klay’s father, Mychal, was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1978 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Mychal Thompson played 12 seasons in the NBA with the Blazers and L.A. Lakers and won three NBA championships while with the Lakers.
OTHER SPORTS STAR OF THE YEAR AWARD NOMINEES
Female Sports Star of the Year
Sports Story of the Year