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Oregon Sports Awards blossom over the years

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Accepting an award for former Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly, UO football players Taylor Hart (center) and Marcus Mariota (right) take the Oregon Sports Awards stage alongside presenter and coaching legend Mouse Davis.It began 12 years ago as a vision at the Portland Tribune.

And then, a few months after our newspaper first hit the stands on Feb. 9, 2001, the idea became a reality — the Bill Hayward Banquet of Champions, which were canceled in 1997, would be reborn.

The new event would be called the Oregon Sports Awards.

It would have several new categories and a lively stage presence, instead of a rubber-chicken dinner and (sometimes boring or too-lengthy) keynote speaker from another part of the country.

The marketing talent, energy and elbow grease brought by our partner SportsOne Inc., made the Oregon Sports Awards happen, as did the generous support from Nike, which provided its beautiful Tiger Woods Center, broadcasting capabilities, show direction and staff help in numerous areas.

The first Oregon Sports Awards took place on Feb. 24, 2002, and honored our state’s best from 2001.

Our first hosts: Charles Barkley and Bill Schonely.

Does it get any better than that?

No, and yes.

Barkley helped launch the show with his humor and celebrity power, and the stars have continued to come out at the Oregon Sports Awards, year after year after year.

The event annually revives and pays tribute to the best from its predecessor. And this year, the Oregon Sports Awards also expanded in quantity, adding 19 more high school award categories. This drew even more wide-eyed, enthusiastic and amazing young people on Sunday to a place where they could be saluted, in effect, by the entire state. It was their night to be applauded by the greats who came before them, previous award winners who were either in the crowd or on the stage, from Mike Riley to Mac Wilkins to Mariel Zagunis.

During the past 12 years, the Oregon Sports Awards has been graced by many big names serving as host, presenter or recipient. Icons and champions from our state’s sports history have been a part of it. Clyde Drexler. Brandon Roy. Rick Adelman. Paul Allen. Joey Harrington and Jordan Kent (before they became TV commentators). Terry Baker. Mary Slaney. Dick Fosbury. Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. Terrell Brandon. Peter Jacobsen. Ndamukong Suh. The list goes on and on.

And so does the process of determining who wins. It’s a painstaking effort — the number of candidates we research each year has hit four digits.

Nominees are determined either on the basis of specific award criteria (being an All-American or national champion, for example) or by nomination by sports experts (see our website, oregonsportsawards.com for more information).

Through various means and votes, the long lists of nominees are trimmed, typically to semifinalists and then finalists. This can be the hardest part of all. A lot of very good candidates don’t make it to the finals, or even the semifinals. The votes are often very close.

The Portland area always is well represented in the Oregon Sports Awards process, and this year was no exception. Nearly a dozen high school athletes from Portland schools and a half-dozen contenders for non-prep awards made the semifinal round.

Here’s a quick shout out to them: distance runner Nick Obletz, tennis player Rachael Nedrow and soccer forward Anastasiya Chevtchenko (all state champions from Oregon Episcopal School); Central Catholic cross-country runner Kyle Thompson; Jesuit’s Megan McCool (state champ in volleyball), Khyan Rayner (state winner in boys basketball) and Conor Leahy (first in state doubles tennis); Lincoln soccer goalie Sam Zasloff-Cohen and Cardinals Allie Hueffner and Cam Kincaid (tennis); and Grant’s Brent Chin (tennis).

Oh, and you also might have heard of these athletes with Portland ties, who each just missed being an Oregon Sports Awards finalist for 2012:

Terrence Jones (NCAA basketball champion with Kentucky), Ty Rattie (high-scoring Portland Winterhawks forward), Mo Farah (double gold medalist in the long distance track events at the London Olympics), Kara Goucher (Olympic marathoner), Eric Whalen (NAIA shot put winner from Concordia University) and Emily Thomas (Lewis & Clark College runner who dominated the Northwest Conference both on the track and in cross country).

The Oregon Sports Awards motto says: “Make History. Be History.”

Without question, everyone who has been involved in the show the past 12 years — athletes, coaches, organizers, sponsors and more — has done both.

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Twitter: @sbrandonsports