The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is proud to announce that Belvidere North High School graduate Heriberto “Eddie” Avila has been selected by the IHSA as its nominee for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) 2012 National Spirit of Sport Award.
The NFHS Spirit of Sport Award aims to recognize individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport. Student-athletes, coaches, administrators and other individuals associated with a school’s athletic and activity programs are all eligible to be nominated. The three main criterion for the award include exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship and/or citizenship, assisting others within the school or community and overcoming adversity or challenging circumstances.
“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.”
Eddie’s harrowing story began last January 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.
“Eddie’s story was national news when he suffered this injury,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “I can remember being mortified when I first heard about it and thinking that I couldn’t recall a wrestling injury of this magnitude ever occurring in my time since joining the IHSA (1991). A year ago, I could have never guessed that this story would turn into such a positive situation. It is an incredible tribute to Eddie and his parents, as well as all the teachers and coaches who clearly had positive impacts on him along the way. He is a courageous, selfless and kind young man.”
Eddie’s story was eloquently documented in a series of stories by Rockford Register Star Assistant Sports Editor Matt Trowbridge, whose stories were included as a part of Eddie’s nomination. Several individuals provided letters of recommendation on Eddie’s behalf, including the student-athlete from Genoa-Kingston High School that Eddie was wrestling at the time of his injury and Genoa-Kingston High School Athletic Director Dirk Campbell.
“Heriberto Avila is the most inspiring story I’ve ever heard of,” said Trowbridge. “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.”
Past IHSA Spirit of Sport Award nominees include fellow Belvidere North alum Amy Brechon in 2009, Lake Park High School’s Tori Clark in 2010 and Red Bud High School’s Kevin Crafton a year ago. Brechon was named the winner for the Midwest Section of the country due to her work as a breast cancer advocate and Lake Park’s Tori Clark won the National Spirit of Sport Award for her efforts in facilitating a fundraiser for the mother of a volleyball player from an opposing school.
The NFHS will announce one national Spirit of Sport Award winner and eight Section winners in February.
Click here for information on past IHSA Spirit of Sport Award nominees.