Due to COVID-19, the annual awards banquet honoring Sarasota-Manatee high school athletes will be one of 59 such events broadcast across the
Due to COVID-19, the annual awards banquet honoring Sarasota-Manatee high school athletes will be one of 59 such events broadcast across the country
For the first four years, they were big fish in a small pond.
But tonight, the area’s finest high school student-athletes become small fish in not just a pond, but a prep sporting ocean, stretching from Los Angeles, California, to Framingham, Massachusetts. From Detroit, Michigan, to Naples.
And an inlet of that ocean will snake into our three-county area.
That’s not to suggest Robarts Arena, home to the first four Best of HT Preps awards banquets, somehow was insufficient as a venue to honor the best high-school athletes from Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
In fact, the relatively small capacity of Robarts added to the event a sense of togetherness. Athletes, their parents and coaches sat at tables situated close together. It allowed for interaction among those who might otherwise see each other only on the fields of competition.
It’s been their night, highlighted by the appearances of some pretty impressive sporting names. We may have set the bar for future shows too high when Tim Tebow served as guest at the first banquet in 2016. What I’ll remember most strongly: the looks on the faces of the athletes as they posed with Tebow for photographs.
But the lineup after Tebow — Derrick Brooks, Willie Taggart, and last year’s guest, former Olympic champion Gabby Douglas — was welcomed with no less enthusiasm by the assembled crowd.
From the first day of preparing for the night, to the last of locking the doors of Robarts after everyone had left, the Best of HT Preps banquet was ours.
And we were pretty proud of it.
Then COVID-19 threw a viral monkey wrench into life as we knew it.
Our banquet, and 58 other similar ones in markets around the country, couldn’t escape its reach. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was scheduled to speak at this year’s event at Robarts, originally scheduled for last month.
The forced cancellations of these banquets across the country didn’t cancel the desire to honor our deserving student-athletes. It just necessitated a whole lot of work, done by a whole lot of people, in a short period of time
The result is tonight’s HT Preps banquet rolled into a national celebration of high-school athletes, available through a special on-demand broadcast and hosted by Jesse Palmer, Sage Steele, Dr. Jerry Punch and Courtney Cronin.
Athletes won’t come on stage to receive awards because there won’t be a stage to ascend. And where our event at Robarts featured a Q&A with that year’s guest, tonight’s show will feature 16 pro athletes serving as presenters in their sports.
The list is impressive: Pat Mahomes, Bill Belichick, Stephen Curry, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Phelps will be among the 16 presenters. On Thursday morning’s “The Today Show,” several of the athletes and presenters will be sharing their stories and promoting the show.
When you watch tonight to see our area student-athletes, just remember similar one-hour awards shows were produced in 58 other markets across the country.
Indeed, a lot of work.
But only for this year. Assuming COVID-19 has become a bad memory, the 2021 awards banquet will return to its original format. That means suits and dresses pulled from closets and paraded proudly by student-athletes on the Robarts stage. All of it live.
The way it was, and the way it will be. After all, it’s their night. It should be their show as well.
HOW TO WATCH
The show starts at 6 p.m. and is free to watch using any desktop computer or smart device at htpreps.com/best. Following the broadcast, the show will be hosted on htpreps.com for a month. The show also can be watched on any smart TV through the YouTube app by searching for the event name.