In what is annually one of the best celebratory events of the year, the 2011 Greater Cleveland Sports Awards went off without a hitch last night, commemorating the best of all things Cleveland sports.
Taking place once again at Cleveland’s Renaissance Hotel, 1250 individuals joined together for the annual fund-raising event benefiting the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. Amongst the main sponsors and local corporations in attendance, the GCSA allows for a very interactive evening as those in attendance have the opportunity to mingle with some of the area’s more beloved athletes of past and present.
The master of ceremonies for this very night was none other than ESPN’s Mike Tirico. Following in the footsteps of colleague Kirk Herbstreit, Tirico kicked the evening off with a monologue that was appreciated by all. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Tirico spoke very highly of the midwestern region of Cleveland, calling inhabitants “real, good people.” A well-documented “blue collar” town, all of the white collars seated near Tirico’s stage chuckled when the ESPN play-by-play man spoke about the elation in Clevelanders at the mere appearance of the sun in February.
Coming armed with a few jokes, Tirico humored a few asking if Jerry Jones had done anything with the seats for the night’s event – a timely move given the recent lawsuit-based events. He also joked that he was the second choice as emcee as Jim Grey was ultimately unavailable, but Tirico himself gladly “took his talents to Cleveland.” He also struck a chord with the audience when he discussed the current state of Cleveland’s professional sports teams.
“When everyone else is jumping off of the bandwagon and breaking their ankles, you all are buying low,” Tirico said, speaking to the never-say-die fan base that permeates the city of Cleveland.
Upon completion of Tirico’s introduction, those in attendance were treated to two great video montages, paying respect to those who the city lost in the last year; the second video was a chilling remembrance, strictly for Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who passed away this past December after his long fight with Leukemia.
Naturally, several awards were handed out on the evening, celebrating the best in professional, collegiate, and high school athletics. Chris Grant and Kellen Winslow Sr awarded the “Best Professional Athelete” award to the Browns’ Joshua Cribbs, who was very gracious for being selected despite having an admittedly poor season. He beat out teammate Joe Thomas and the Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo for the award.
A bit of a change of pace, Cribbs was the first professional athlete not named LeBron James to win the award for the last several years. He thanked the crowd repetedly, and exclaimed his sincere appreciation for the recognition on and off of the field.
New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur joined recently-added Indians advisor Mike Hargrove on stage to hand out the award for best high school athlete, going to St. Edward baseball player Stetson Allie. Allie can hit 98 miles per hour on the radar gun with his fastball and has been clocked at 91 with his slider. Standing in at 6-feet-4-inches and 255 pounds, Shurmur greeted the recently-drafted Allie with, “So…do you play football?”
It was Shurmur’s first public event since being hired by the Browns. As an opener, he asked Hargrove for a bit of advice as a coach in Cleveland. Hargrove’s response drew a few laughs as he told Shurmur to “just keep moving – it’s hard to hit a moving target.”
Other award recipients on the evening were the University of Akron men’s soccer team, Mentor rower Katie Spotz, and Dr. John Bergfeld from the Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic’s annual “Courage Award” was given to 13-year old Olivia Warhop who earned a standing ovation following her battle with bone cancer.
Special recognition – and other standing ovation – went to the 1995 and 1997 Cleveland Indians who were represented by Hargrove as well as former Indians Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome. For a city in the middle of a 26-game skid, a little bit of nostalgia was enough to bring smiles to 1250 faces.
Others in attendance were former Cavaliers Austin Carr, Larry Nance and Campy Russell, former Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, and current Cavaliers JJ Hickson, Christian Eyenga and Samardo Samuels. While media opportunities are available (Fox Sports Ohio broadcasted the event live on their website) for the event, the night can only truly be appreciated from the main ballroom. Once again, I cannot recommend it enough as it’s the one night where a few can celebrate the city of Cleveland, regardless of wins or losses.
(Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)