SALT LAKE CITY — The state’s annual celebration of local sports had a distinctly different feel as Olympians and Paralympians were honored alongside Utah’s best high school, college and professional athletes at the 7th Annual State of Sport Awards.
More than 60 of the 92 athletes who live or train in Utah attended Wednesday night’s banquet at Vivint Arena that featured a surprise guest with an unexpected announcement. Snowboarder Shaun White discussed what it was like winning his third Olympic gold in Pyeongchang, just three months after hitting his face on the edge of a superpipe that required 62 stitches.
“Stepping out onto the snow again was a big decision,” he said, adding that he knew he couldn’t compete if he was afraid of getting hurt again. “I had to be willing to have it happen again.” White won the gold on his final run, something he hadn’t had to do when he won his first two medals in 2006 and 2010. The 31-year-old made it clear he’s not done with competition, especially since skateboarding will be part of the Olympic program in 2022.
But the big news was that he is working with local officials to bring his Air and Style — a winter sports and music festival that he brought to the U.S. from Australia four years ago. The event has been held in Los Angeles the last four years, but White hopes to bring the event to Utah, a place where he said he’s always felt at home and supported.
“I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences here in Utah, and I think it would be amazing to bring (Air and Style) to Utah. I would be proud to be your guest here.”
White participated in a panel with Olympic short track speedskater John-Henry Krueger, who won silver in Pyeongchang; Olympic bobsledder Chris Fogt, who won bronze in Sochi, which was upgraded to silver by the IOC; and Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, who won two gold medals in Pyeongchang.
They discussed their Olympic experiences and what the future might hold for them before all of those former Olympians and Paralympians with a connection to Utah were honored.
Pleasant Grove volleyball player Heather Gneiting was honored as the High School Female Athlete of the Year. She finished 2017 with 319 kills, 101 blocks and 62 aces. She was the first Utah prep player in more than a decade to earn Under Armour All-American honors (and game MVP), as well as Utah Gatorade Player of the Year, Ms. Volleyball and all-USA First Team. She signed to play for BYU next season.
Lehi football player Cammon Cooper was honored as the High School Male Athlete of the Year. The Washington State-bound quarterback finished the 2017 season with six state records and a 5A state championship. He was USA Today’s MVP for Utah, Mr. Football, and a Utah First Elite 11 finalist. He threw for 4,276 yards in the 2017 season.
Utah softball player Hannah Flippen was named the Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year. She finished her career as the U’s all-time leader in runs, hits and batting average. She was an All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, an Academic All-American, and an NCAA Woman of the Year finalist.
Utah kicker Matt Gay won the Collegiate Male Athlete of the Year. He was the state’s first Lou Groza Award winner and consensus All-American, and he led the nation in field goals made (30), as well as field goals made per game (2.31).
Alpine skier Saylor O'Brien was honored as the Adaptive Female Athlete of the Year. She won a bronze in her first-ever Super-G race in Canada and then won two more bronze medals and two more silvers.
Caden Halverson, a mountain biker from Fremont High, won the Adaptive Male Athlete of the Year. He is a Special Olympian, competes with the high school team, and earned a personal best of 1:23:08 at the Round Valley Series in Park City.
Utah Falconz defensive back and running back Jordan Willis was honored as the Professional Female Athlete of the Year. She earned the IWFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, the MVP of the All-Star Game, and she led her team to it’s second National Championship in July of 2017. She led the league with 47 tackles, 11 of which were for losses.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell earned the Professional Male Athlete of the Year. He led all rookies in scoring average with 18.2 points per game, and he earned 41-points against New Orleans on Dec. 1. He was Rookie of the Month in December, and his 636 points through December were the second most by a Jazz rookie in team history, only trailing Darrell Griffith by 106 points.
Weber State football coach Jay Hill was honored as the Coach of the Year. He led Weber State to its best season in school history, setting a school record by winning 11 games. The Wildcats tied with SUU for the Big Sky Conference with a 7-1 record. He’s had 17 players earn All-Big Sky honors.
Ethan Nell won Highlight of the Year, as the 20-year-old rookie took third in the 12th edition of the Red Bull Rampage.
Officials awarded bareback rider Tim O’Connell the Lewis Feild Bareback Riding Award. The two-time PRCA world Champion bareback rider won the silver medal at the Days of ’47 Rodeo in 2017.
Bobsled pilot Steve Holcomb and Middleweight World Champion Gene Fullmer were honored with the Legend Award.
Fullmer followed up a storied boxing career by joining his brothers, Don and Jay, in opening a boxing gym in West Jordan that introduced thousands of young men and women to the sport of boxing. Holcomb, a three-time Olympic medalist and World Champion was the face of his sport when he passed away unexpectedly last May.
His 2014 teammate Chris Fogt said he was the most successful bobsled pilot in U.S. history, but he was also the best friend and teammate one could hope for.
“What we miss,” he said, “is the friendship and the guidance that he brought.”