NFHS Spirit of Sport Award

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) developed the Spirit of Sport Award in 2008 as a way to recognize individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics. Student-athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, administrators, trainers and other individuals associated with a school’s activity and athletics programs are all eligible for the honor, which generally recognizes individuals who have overcome adversity or gone above and beyond their peers. The IHSA receives one nominee to represent the state of Illinois each school year. The individuals below are the IHSA’s nominees from each year and are champions regardless of their standing in the awards program.

Annual IHSA Nominees for NFHS Spirit of Sport Award

2008-09

AMY BRECHON, BELVIDERE NORTH HIGH SCHOOL | SECTION 4 WINNER

Amy BrechonAs a two-sport student-athlete (volleyball, soccer), Amy managed to maintain her status as an Honor Roll and National Honors Society student while also participating in numerous schools clubs and organizations that included Choir, Choraliers, Acapella, N Club, Z Club and the student leadership group Ambassador. Despite her impressive accomplishments on and off the playing field at Belvidere North, it was her work outside of the school where she best displayed her winning spirit. Amy was afflicted with breast cancer at the age of 13 and has since reached out to others to share her story as a speaker at events for Relay For Life and the Girls Scouts of America among others.

Amy Brechon on being named a Spirit of Sport Section Winner:

“This is such an honor and I am thrilled to receive the NFHS Spirit of Sport Award. I have to admit though, I was one of the lucky ones. At first I was very private about my breast cancer experience, but when I decided to become more open about it, I started to see that I had an important story to tell. My message is that you are never too young and can never be diligent enough about self examination because early detection is the key. I would like to thank the NFHS, the IHSA, Karen Reynolds, Coach Kristin Frank and Coach Bria Holzinger for their support.”

Belvidere (North) head volleyball coach Bria Holzinger on Amy:

“Amy Brechon is an inspirational leader who has made an impact on the lives of her teammates, her community, her family, her friends and her coach.”


2009-10

TORI CLARK, LAKE PARK HIGH SCHOOL | NATIONAL WINNER

Tori ClarkTori Clark was a a member of the Lake Park volleyball and basketball teams and also participated on the soccer team during a portion of her high school career. Her leadership skills and positive attitude led her teammates to vote her basketball team captain and she was also involved with a number of community events, including organizing and working a wheelchair basketball tournament.

However, those outstanding activities and accolades were just a precursor to one of the most selfless acts ever exhibited by a high school student-athlete. In October 2009, Tori saw a newspaper article regarding Christine Federico, a former star volleyball player and single mother of two in a neighboring community. Federico had recently been diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a form of pre-leukemia.

Her two daughters were volleyball players at Neuqua Valley High School, which competes in the same conference as Lake Park High School. Like many others reading the story, Tori initially felt bad for the Federico family, but she also felt compelled to do something more. Knowing that Lake Park would be hosting Neuqua Valley in volleyball in less than two weeks, she quickly began to recruit her teammates, coaches, parents and other fans to give back.

Tori had no connection with the Federico family. She didn’t know her counterpart on the volleyball court (Nikki Federico), and the two seniors didn’t have any mutual friends. Nonetheless, Tori orchestrated an evening that no one will soon forget.

Although Christine was unable to attend the October 15th match, the surprise Christine’s daughters and parents felt when they entered the gymnasium decorated floor to ceiling in orange (the ribbon color for leukemia awareness) was nothing short of overwhelming. Tori started the evening by taking the microphone at center court and explaining that the Lake Park volleyball team had dubbed the night “Teams Helping Teams.” The parents of Lake Park volleyball coach Kate Clifton owned a local t-shirt company and donated orange shirts for the event that that read “Federico Family We Support You,” that nearly everyone in the gym wore.

In the end, the team sold more than 600 t-shirts and raised in excess of $3,500, which Lake Park presented to the Federico family to help pay for uninsured medical costs. Tori was honored by the NFHS at a luncheon at the NFHS Summer Meeting in San Diego, California.

Tori Clark on the Spirit of Sport Award and Teams Helping Teams:

“To be honest, I was really surprised and honored to be nominated for the Spirit of Sport Award and even more so to have won. I never dreamed that the fundraiser would be as successful as it was or draw as much attention as it did. I am just happy that I was able to help the Federico family and hopefully raise awareness of Myelodysplastic syndrome. Thanks so much to my teammates, Coach (Kate) Clifton, her generous family and (Lake Park Athletic Director) Mr. (Pete) Schauer for allowing this all to happen. Thanks as well to the hundreds upon hundreds of Lancer fans who came out to support the fundraiser. You all looked fantastic in neon orange!”


2010-11

KEVIN CRAFTON, RED BUD HIGH SCHOOL | IHSA NOMINEE

Kevin Crafton was a standout two-sport athlete at Red Bud as a junior in 2010-11, playing on the Musketeer football team in the fall and the baseball team in the spring. He had been a three-sport athlete until high school and plans to rejoin the school basketball team during his senior year after broken bones in his foot and surgery on a torn meniscus cost him his freshman and sophomore seasons on the hardwood, respectively.

Kevin lines up all over the field for the Red Bud football team, playing running back, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back. He also earned All-Cahokia Conference honors as a kicker last fall, while finishing third on the team in scoring and tackles, catching five passes for 187 yards and snagging a trio of interceptions. On the baseball diamond, Kevin pitches, plays first base or centerfield and routinely hits in the number three or four slot in the Musketeer batting order.

Kevin has excelled at all of these endeavors despite losing his right hand in a meat grinding accident nearly seven years ago when he was nine years old. After losing his dominant hand in the accident, Kevin was forced to not only relearn how to play sports, but also the small day-to-day things that came with little thought or effort like brushing his teeth, writing his name, tying his shoes and playing video games. His resiliency, determination and fearlessness in the face of adversity made him an ideal candidate for the  NFHS Spirit of Sport Award.

Kevin Crafton on overcoming his accident:

“When I lost my hand, it required me to work twice as hard on a lot of things, as well as to spend a lot of time thinking through how to do things that came easily to me when I had two hands. I have a lot of positive influences in my life who have helped me overcome my accident, starting with my parents and my family. All of my coaches, especially the football staff at Red Bud, have also been incredibly important as well. They always push me and don't treat me differently from any of the other kids. They didn't change or lower the expectations for me and that motivated me to set higher goals."


2011-12

HERIBERTO "EDDIE" AVILA, BELVIDERE NORTH HIGH SCHOOL | IHSA NOMINEE

Eddie Avila’s harrowing story began in January 2011 during his senior year at Belvidere North when he suffered a horrific knee injury during a wrestling match that required his left leg to be amputated above the thigh. The fact that he was a talented tennis player who had decided to try wrestling on a whim, simply for the experience, during his final year of high school would seem to make this story even more tragic.

But as Eddie’s injury became national news, the story quickly shifted from a tragedy to a feel-good story, as Eddie’s positive attitude in the face adversity became an inspiration to those around him. A talented musician who plays five instruments, Eddie touched many lives during his recovery and reached his goal of walking across the stage for graduation last May.

“There are so many people who inspire me,” said Avila. “My classmate Chloe Brunke (who suffered head injuries in a car accident) was a huge motivation to me as I made it through my recovery. Looking at the things she accomplished and watching her improve made me push harder to accomplish my goals. So to be nominated for this award and be seen as an inspiration to others makes me feel really honored.”

Rockford Register Star Columnist Matt Trowbridge on Eddie:

"Heriberto Avila has – no make that IS – the most inspiring story I’ve ever heard of. He’s too good to be true, only he is true. He is a ray of sunshine who makes everyone who knows him feel good even in his own darkest hours.”

 


2012-13

TODD HOLLIS, ELMWOOD HIGH SCHOOL | SECTION 4 WINNER

Todd Hollis, a teacher at Elmwood High School and the head football coach of the Elmwood-Brimfield football coop has made significant impact on his team and community well beyond wins and losses. Hollis has strived to enrich the lives of his players with the Trojans’ Men of Virtue program, which promotes positive values. However, it’s what Hollis has done outside of football that has really distinguished him.

After Hollis’ wife, Anne, gave birth to two healthy boys, the family’s first daughter, Meg, was born in 2007 with Down syndrome. Three years later, the Hollises adopted three-year-old Alina (who also has Down syndrome) from an orphanage in the Ukraine.

As both daughters received therapy and services from Easter Seals of Peoria, the family took on an affinity for the organization and Hollis began to look for ways to give back. His initial efforts came in the 2007 season with some simple grassroots fundraising programs that generated $1,300. The following season, Hollis and his players started “Blackout for Easter Seals,” in which the team would sell black t-shirts featuring the Easter Seals logo for a select home game each season. The concept continued to spread and soon more than 30 high schools were hosting games. During the first five years of the program, more than 100 “Blackout for Easter Seals” games have been played, raising a grand total of $194,107.87 for Easter Seals.

Easter Seals Peoria President & CEO Steve Thompson on Todd:

"Through the love for his children - and every child with disabilities - Todd Hollis has dedicated his life to making this world a better place for everyone."

 


2013-14

SACRED HEART-GRIFFIN HIGH SCHOOL | SECTION 4 WINNER

Less than 24 hours after Washington High School won its first IHSA Football Playoff Quarterfinal contest since 1985, the community of 15,000 (11 miles east of Peoria) was devastated by an EF-4 tornado that leveled over 1,200 homes. As the town and team tried to pick up the pieces, while also preparing for their semifinal football game that loomed six days later, it was their opponent Sacred Heart-Griffin High School who went above and beyond to help. SHG provided water, food, transportation and raised over $75,000 for the community. Click this link for more on SHG's efforts to help Washington and WCHS.

Washington High School Football Coach Darrell Crouch on SHG:

"Coach Leonard went out of his way during an important game week to do all in his power to comfort my staff and team, far beyond what you would expect in our competitive world we live in. It would have been very easy to simply make a courtesy call and then go ahead with his preparation for the week. Ken did all in his power to help us out spiritually, emotionally and financially. I cannot say enough about him and his kind heart. He taught his players and his school some great life lessons during that week”