BY SPNW Staff 12:12AM 01/23/2012

Nominees For 2011 Pro Athlete Of The Year

The Sports Star of the Year awards program Wednesday at Benaroya Hall includes a category in which fans can select the Professional Athlete of the Year from a list of five nominees.

Former Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller, one of the nominees for Professional Athlete of the Year, greets fans at CenturyLink Field. Keller retired after a 20-year soccer career. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

The 77th annual Sports Star of the Year awards program, presented by ROOT Sports, will be held Wednesday at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle (200 University Street). Tickets are available at or by calling 206-215-4747.

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 1977 and expanded again in the early 1990s, when the newspaper began recognizing the area’s greatest female stars as well as male.

Following closure in March 2009 of the print P-I, one of the region’s top sports traditions was in jeopardy of ceasing.

But with the help of the Seattle Sports Commission and Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Sports Star of the Year celebrated its 75th year on the big stage at Benaroya Hall in 2009. More than 1,000 people attended.

The program calls for the selection by voters of the Professional Sports Star of the YearMale Sports Star of the YearFemale Sports Star of the Year, and Sports Story of the Year.

A winner will be chosen from these five nominees for the Professional Sports Star of the Year. The winner is selected via  online ballot on the Seattle Sports Commission website. To read more about this year’s nominees, go to this page.

KASEY KELLER, Seattle Sounders FC

Seattle and environs has produced a multitude of outstanding soccer players, but only one deemed worthy of induction into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, Michelle Akers (1996 Female Star of the Year recipient), a former Shoreline resident who became an NCAA All-American at Central Florida, an Olympian and a World Cup star, paving her way to Hall induction in 2000.

Kasey Keller, goalkeeper for Seattle Sounders FC, a save, made the MLS All-Star team in each of three seasons with the club. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

When the second Hall of Famer from the Pacific Northwest is announced, it could well be Kasey Keller, who concluded his national/international career with Seattle Sounders FC at the end of their 2011 season.

A native of Olympia, Keller led the Sounders to their third consecutive U.S. Open Cup victory in 2011. Keller also earned the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award and Best XI honors.

Prior to joining Seattle Sounders FC, Keller played in Europe while accumulating U.S. National Team goalkeeping career records for most caps (102), wins (53) and shutouts (47).

Keller played in three of the world’s top leagues: England’s Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. During his European career, Keller spent four years with Millwall (1992-96), three years with Leicester City (1996-99), four years with Tottenham Hotspur (2001-05), and two years with Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany).

Keller is a graduate of North Thurston High School and the University of Portland. He received his first professional experience in 1989 when he played for the Portland Timbers.

The Sounders announced recently that Keller will become a part of the club’s broadcast team in 2012, serving as a color analyst alongside play-by-play voice Ross Fletcher, a veteran of the BBC.

Brandon League emerged as an American League All-Star in 2011, when he saved a career-high 37 games for the Mariners. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

BRANDON LEAGUE, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners fully expected that David Aardsma would serve as the team’s closer in 2011. But when Aardsma couldn’t come back from an arm injury, Brandon League, a former set-up man, stepped into Aardsma’s role and delivered an All-Star season.

After having saved just eight games from 2004-10, League finished 2011 with 37 (of the Mariners’ 67 wins) while posting a 2.79 ERA. League saved nine games between April and May 5 before blowing his first save opportunity. By the time he made the All-Star team (for the first time in his career), League had 23 saves.

With 2009 Pro Athlete of the Year Felix Hernandez also on the All-Star team, it marked the first time since 2003 that the Mariners were represented in the Midsummer Classic by two pitchers.

Brandon League had only eight career saves between 2004-10, then registered 37 with the 2011 Mariners, tied for the fourth-most in franchise history. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

League’s saves ranked third in the American League, and tied for the fourth most in a season in franchise history.

Only Kazuhiro Sasaki, the 2000 Sports Star of the Year (45 in 2001), J.J. Putz (40 in 2007), David Aardsma (38 in 2009), and Sasaki (37 in 2000 and 2002) had as many or more saves.

From May 17 through the end of the season, League went 27-for-29 in save opportunities with a 1.04 ERA and a .205 opponent batting average.

A California native who attended high school in Hawaii, League was a second-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001. He made his major league debut Sept. 21, 2004.

League came to the Mariners Dec. 23, 2009, in a trade that sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays.

He made 70 appearances for Seattle in 2010 and recorded six saves, the high single-season total of his career before his breakout, All-Star season in 2011.

JASON TERRY, Dallas Mavericks

Terry first appeared on the Star of the Year ballot in 1999, just as he was emerging as an All-America guard under Lute Olson at the University of Arizona (selected Pac-10 Player of the Year and consensus Associated Press All-America in 1999).

Now he’s back, 13 Star of the Year events later, after having played a major role in the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA championship run last spring.

A Franklin High grad (the school retired his No. 31 Feb. 2, 2007), now in his 12th NBA season, Terry tied a playoff record with nine 3-pointers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, and scored 27 in Dallas’ title-clinching victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

The 10th overall pick (by Atlanta) in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft, Terry spent his first five pro seasons with the Hawks before joining the Mavericks in 2004-05.

Jason Terry, a 12-year NBA veteran from Franklin High School, helped the Dallas Mavericks win the league championship in 2011. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

Terry averaged 16.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists during his career. He made the 1999-00 All-Rookie team and won the Sixth Man of the Year Award for the 2008-09 season.

Terry produced his career high in points on Jan. 15, 2002, pouring in 46 in Atlanta’s 116-107 loss to the Mavericks. He had his top assist game March 3, 2007, racking up 15 in a 108-93 Dallas victory over the Orlando Magic.

Terry’s nickname, Jet, derives from his initials. He also has the number 206 tattooed on his chest.

EARL THOMAS, Seattle Seahawks

Nominated for his play for the 2010 Seahawks, whose season included a stunning 41-36 victory over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Jan. 8, Thomas put together a remarkable debut season.

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas matched the club rookie record for interceptions (5). Thomas became a first-time Pro Bowler in 2011. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

He matched the franchise record for interceptions by a first-year player with five (Michael Boulware in 2005) and became the first rookie since Kenny Easley in 1981 to intercept two passes in a game (Sept. 26, 2010 against San Diego), the second of which preserved a 27-20 Seahawks triumph.

Thomas also finished with on the team with 71 tackles, including 60 solo.

Thomas scored the first touchdown of his NFL career on a 10-yard return of a blocked punt vs. Kansas City (Nov. 28, 2010), the first time that had occurred for the Seahawks since Alex Bannister returned one nine yards against Denver Oct. 14, 2001.

Acquired with the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft (the only safety besides Easley selected in the first round), Thomas made his NFL debut with six tackles against San Francisco Sept. 12, 2010, and twice had eight stops in a game, at New Orleans Nov. 21, 2010, and vs. Kansas City Nov. 28.

Due to his ability to cover ground, Thomas brought a new dimension to the Seahawks’ defense. If Thomas is voted the Pro Athlete of the Year, he would become the first Seahawk to win a Star of the Year award since wide receiver Bobby Engram in 2007. Thomas would also become the first Seahawks defensive back so honored (last Seahawk DB nomination: Darryl Williams in 1997).

Although Thomas didn’t have as many interceptions in 2011 as he did in 2010, his all-around play earned him his first Pro Bowl invitation.

Earl Thomas is the first Seahawks safety selected to play in the Pro Bowl since Darryl Williams in 1997. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

DAVE VILLWOCK, Hydroplane Driver

When Villwock collected his ninth American Power Boat Association (APBA) Gold Cup last July on the Detroit River (fourth consecutive) in his U-96 Spirit of Qatar, he also surpassed the legendary Bill Muncey as the most successful driver in unlimited hydroplane history.

Villwock’s triumph marked the 63rd of his career, one more than Motorsports Hall of Fame legend Muncey (P-I Man of the Year in 1962).

In order to win the Gold Cup, Villwock had to survive a violent collision in the season-opening race in Indiana. Once in Detroit, he was forced to borrow parts from fellow competitors in order to keep the U-96 functional.

Hydro driver Dave Villwock shows off his Bill Muncey Cup trophy, which goes to the winner of the unlimited race on Mission Bay in San Diego. / Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission

In the final heat, Villwock averaged 138 mph, easily holding off second-place Scott Liddycoat.

In addition to his victory in Detroit, Villwock, an Auburn resident and 1972 graduate of South Kitsap High School, also won races in the Tri-Cities and in San Diego.

Villwock notched the first unlimited victory of his career on Mission Bay in San Diego in 1992.

Since then, he has won 65 races, earned 10 national high-points championships, capturing 145 of 223 heats in the process.

Villock has also won the Seafair Trophy race a record 10 times, last in 2009.

Ironically, for all of the popularity that unlimited racing has enjoyed in since the sport was introduced in Seattle in 1950, only two drivers have won a Star of the Year award, Stan Sayers in 1950 and Muncey in 1962.

Of his Sports Star of the Year nomination, Villwock said, “It’s an opportunity for boat racing to take its place among the major professional sports. Its an honor to be mentioned among this group.”


The Seattle Sports Star of the Year awards program is at Benaroya Hall Wednesday. Created by Royal Brougham and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1936 and currently presented by the Seattle Sports Commission, the Star of the Year recognizes professional and amateur athletic achievement. Tickets are $35 (show only) and $75 (pre-show reception and show). Each can be purchased at or by calling 206-215-4747. The $75 ticket includes admission to the show and the reception where complimentary beverages, including beer and wine, and heavy appetizers will be provided. You can find more information here.