It is not very often that a select number of Cleveland’s greatest athletes across amateur and professional levels get together on a night to celebrate sports as well as the city. In fact, it only happens annually and the entire night is put on by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. And as luck would have it, two members of WFNY were in attendance to take in the entire evening.
Attendance was said to be approximately 1,200 strong. Given the amount of chairs that were placed at each table within the Grand Ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel, the estimates were not far off. TD and I had great seats, seated with Jhonny Peralta and Campy Russell, respectively. As one can see, Mr. Peralta was thrilled to be a part of WFNY’s big night out. Campy shared many laughs with Austin Carr as both were looking forward to tonight’s contest with the Miami Heat.
“Any time those two get together, you know it’s going to be a good one,” said Carr.
The event was hosted by former Ohio State Buckeye and current ESPN analyst and color commentator Kirk Herbstreit. He started the night off with the story of how his career ended up where it did as well as some behind the scenes of the ESPN College Gameday set.
“Yes, Lee Corso is that crazy,” Herbstreit said. “No, Brent Musberger is not a big jerk.”
Herbstreit went on to discuss how close of friends he is with Corso, told a story of Lee calling a timeout in a game against Woody Hayes only so the team photographer could take a picture of the team with the scoreboard behind them reading Indiana 7, Ohio State 0 (with 8 minutes to go in the first quarter), and how he truly feels that he is living a dream. To calm the nerves of Ohio State fans in attendance following an arguably rough year of recruiting, Herbstreit reiterated the ability of Jim Tressel to turn three- and four-star recruits into NFL players. He did his best to also tell the fans to root for the Big Ten (including Michigan) in any and all non-conference bouts, something LeCharles Bentley would later admit that he has a tough time condoning.
The awards portion of the night kicked off with Austin Carr and newly acquired Browns general manager Tom Heckert presenting the award for 2009′s Top Professional Athelete. The nominees were LeBron James, Mo Williams and Joe Thomas with the award going to none other than James. “Prior engagements” forced LeBron to not be in attendance, but he did create a video acceptance of the award. Cavs general manager Danny Ferry would later come out to physically accept the award and thank the fans for an amazing 2009 with 2010 hopefully bringing home that first championship.
Video montages played throughout the evening paid tribute to the St. Edwards wrestling team as well as the last 10 years of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. The centerpieces on each table laid out some financial numbers that were very surprising. For example, hosting the women’s NCAA tournament last year brought 22 million dollars to the city of Cleveland. Future events are expected to provide even more revenue as the city looks to use athletics as a medium to rebuild the city back to the years of prominence.
Tribe outfielder Grady Sizemore would join Joe Thomas on stage to present a pair of amateur athlete of the year awards for the 2009 season. Prior to handing out the awards, both Sizemore and Thomas discussed the last season as well as the one upcoming. Thomas, just returning from the Pro Bowl in Miami did mention that he was a bit unhappy with this year’s changes.
“From a player’s perspective, it’s a bit disappointing,” said Thomas. “You want to play with the best of the best and with the Super Bowl the next week, you do not get to play with the Peyton Mannings of the league.”
Jessica Beard (track and field) would take home the amateur athlete of the year award while the Akron men’s soccer team won the college athlete of the year, with their coach Caleb Porter accepting for his entire team.
St. Edwards wrestler (and current Ohio State Buckeye) Collin Palmer took home the high school athlete of the year award, presented to him by fellow St. Ed’s alum Jawad Williams along side Cleveland State’s J’Nathan Bullock who was clad in a power blue three-piece suit. Bullock will allegedly be leaving to play basketball in Australia on February 14th.
The award of the night was presented by former Ohio State Buckeye and Cleveland Brown center LeCharles Bentley. The Cleveland Clinic Courage Award was presented to St. Ignatius Gyasi Cooper. A track star with the Wildcats, Cooper fell victim to osteosarcoma in his ankle, resulting in amputation from the left knee down. His faith and strength was repeatedly mentioned in a video montage of Cooper’s journey. He was joined by two friends on stage during his acceptance while several others were up in the balcony above the stage.
All in all, the night was put together very well. Hundreds of items were donated for auction, ranging from trips to see AC Milan and the 2011 Super Bowl all the way down to autographed helmets and shoes. Collectively, the auctioned events had to raise over $100,000 for the Sports Commission which will go towards funding future events for the city of Cleveland.