Wednesday evening, we capped an area sports year like no other with the fourth annual THB Sports Awards.

Because of the burdens a very real pandemic placed on athletes, coaches, administrators and support personnel over the last 17 months, being able to reward these outstanding IHSAA athletes felt a little more special for us.

It feels like all the winners, finalists and nominees had to work extra hard for those honors this year, having to navigate virtual classrooms, masks and the other restrictions necessitated by the awful virus that has plagued the sports landscape since last February. There was uncertainty over whether games would be played, pauses and outright cancellations due to contact tracing and overall anxiety about when or if this would ever end.

These are all adversities kids should not have to face or overcome, but time and again area student-athletes faced them head on and with far more dignity than many adults.

Despite the hardships, we were able to honor some amazing scholar athletes who were able to maintain their academic success while learning to attend class virtually on the fly.

That award, along with the mental attitude award, is among the toughest winner to choose year in and year out. Consider the nominees who didn’t even make the list for finalists in these categories. Kaden Howell and Grant Brown shared the valedictorian award at Madison-Grant and would have been just as deserving if they’d been chosen overall. If great kids like Erikka Hill or Landon Alumbaugh had been picked as our mental attitude award winners, would anyone with any sense have argued the selections?

There were two state champions, four other state finalists and multiple All-State competitors and school-record holders to choose from for our Athlete of the Year Awards, making those tough choices as well.

Nine of the 22 Athlete of the Year finalists will be back next year, which tells me next year’s choices won’t be any easier.

The annual Johnny Wilson Award nominees made for some of the longest debates among our staff for the second straight year. Almost every candidate would have been a very worthy winner in many other years.

While we had to go with a virtual presentation of the awards once again, it was great to be back alongside our emcee for the proceedings, Zach Johnson. As George Bremer pointed out during the broadcast, he takes a lot of the burden off of us by doing so well what George and I don’t.

Heather Bremer is the real star of the show. She puts together the print pages that always look spectacular and ran the controls for the visual presentation you all saw on your computers and electronic devices.

This was our fourth awards show, half in person and half virtual. Hopefully next year, we can break the tie in a good way and all gather again in person and hand the trophies and medals to the athletes in front of their families, friends and teammates. We miss greeting and interviewing guests on the red carpet before the show and, most of all, we miss things being somewhat normal.

Also, hopefully, the current rise in COVID-19 cases locally is just a temporary blip and not the start of some long-term trend that, once again, could threaten another year of school and sports.

The preventative measures are simple, and the rewards are great.

Here’s to seeing you all in person next July.

Contact Rob Hunt at

rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.

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