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EGGERS: Stars shine on center stage

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Neil Everett (left), host of the 62nd annual Oregon Sports Awards, joins the Aloha High cheerleading squad at the start of Sundays show. The event was delayed last month by a snowstorm, prompting Everett to dress prepared to shovel his way through, if necessary.There are always a few stars who shine just a little brighter than the rest at the Oregon Sports Awards.

For me, there were four who stood out Sunday night at Nike’s Tiger Woods Center.

One was ESPN’s Neil Everett, who struck just the right strut in his second consecutive year as the event’s master of ceremonies.

Everett’s genuine warmth is palpable, and his love for the state of Oregon — born in Portland, attended Willamette University and the University of Oregon — is unabashed. He is not getting rich by flying up from Southern California to host the show, folks. He is doing it because he sincerely enjoys his affiliation with our state.

Everett is off-the-wall funny (“we do not discriminate if you wear Speedos,” he cracked while presenting a swimming award) and self-deprecating and pretty darn knowledgeable about sports in the state for a guy who hasn’t lived here in 30 years. He was sharp enough to mention that prep basketball winner Calvin Hermanson had joined fellow Portlanders Stephen Holt, Garrett Jackson and Paul McCoy on the team at Saint Mary’s.

The Sportscenter host even used Sunday’s event to reveal he had married his girlfriend — the former Stephanie Krohn, a Madison High and UO grad — last summer in Seaside.

“It’s all Oregon-based,” Everett told the crowd. “That comes from the heart.”

Everett is a little weak on some sports — he referred to “overage” instead of “stoppage” time for soccer, wasn’t aware of the Timbers’ long heritage and used “full nelson” when only “half nelsons” are apropos in amateur wrestling. But as my son Drew notes, Everett confesses to mistakes in such a charming way, it makes it easy to forgive.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Jake LaCoste, standout running back at West Albany High, captured one of 23 high school awards as the Class 6A-5A male prep athlete of the year.Lily Gordon, a South Salem High senior who won a “Be Like Neil” contest to sit at an ESPN-like set and read news with Everett at the top of the show, handled her role superbly. “The show went downhill after you left,” Everett deadpanned in her direction late in the show. Maybe we’ll see Gordon alongside Everett for real some day.

Craig Rothenberger, the long-time basketball coach and athletic director at Junction City who was presented the Game Changer Award, was choked up by a glowing video tribute from peers and former players. Then Everett joined Rothenberger in the audience, interviewing him and Josh Wilcox of KFXX 1080 AM the Fan, who played for Rothenberger at Junction City. It was meaningful stuff.

Then there was Travis Koski, the 16-year-old Century High student who absolutely stole the show.

This was not the first rodeo in terms of public speaking for Koski, the winner of the Lou Burge Special Olympics Athlete of the Year Award. If he doesn’t hold a Toastmasters card, I’ll eat my press pass. Koski was relaxed, poised, likable and earnest in his five-minute chat with the audience.

“This is one of the biggest things I’ve ever accomplished,” said Koski, who participates in track and field and soccer and revealed he had earlier in the day won “three gold medals” in downhill ski racing. “The thing I love the most about Special Olympics — more than anything else by far — is how positive everyone is. Everyone around you immediately becomes your family.

“Whenever you’re challenged, we come together to build each other’s confidence. Then we go out there on competition day and put our hearts and souls in what we do. If we come out on top, that’s fantastic. But in the eyes of Special Olympics, everybody is a winner just by going out there and giving it the best they possibly can, and, of course, remembering to have fun with it.

“Special Olympics has enhanced me as a person. It has boosted my confidence through the roof, and it has let me know how much I’m capable of.”

Koski cleverly revealed his disability when speaking about Special Olympics’ March 1 “Polar Plunge” fundraiser on the Columbia River. “It was cold enough,” Koski quipped, “to freeze my Asperger’s off.”

On his first experience with soccer, on Century’s junior varsity 2 team last fall, “Even though the ball was its own creature when the ball touched my foot, I had an absolute ball,” Koski said. “If it weren’t for Special Olympics, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

The Oregon Sports Awards are also about honoring the biggest names in the state with the Slats Gill and Bill Hayward and Harry Glickman awards. And they are about bestowing recognition on those to whom sports means every bit as much but don’t often reap the headlines. Stories like those of Koski, which, in Everett’s words, “give you chicken skin.”

Everett engaged Slats Gill Award winner Caleb Porter, the Portland Timbers coach, in a short Q&A that was nicely done. I’d liked to have seen more of that with a cast of presenters that included Brian Grant, Mouse Davis, Bill Schonely, English Gardner, Matt Centrowitz, Jordan Poyer, Sean Mannion, De’Anthony Thomas, Keanon Lowe, Jack Jewsbury and Ed Dickson.

Octogenarians extraordinaire Davis and Schonely, incidentally, would have my permanent invitations to be part of the show.

It was great to see such greats as Ad Rutschman, Jack Dunn, Scott Brosius and Mike Riley on hand, too. Wish there had been more past winners in the audience to be acknowledged.

What I’m espousing would expand the show beyond its current two hours, which I understand is already pushing the limits of attention span. If they could just get those clowns who accepted the DNA award Sunday to shorten their act, that would help.

At the close, Everett told the audience, “This truly means a lot to me. I’m Oregon through and through. I work on SportsCenter, but the bottom line is, I work for you guys. That’s how I feel about it.”

That’s how a lot of us feel about it. People such as Jim Etzel and Joe Kaleel and all the great folks at the Etzel Agency. And Joaquin Hidalgo and Michael Doherty and the movers and shakers at Nike, without whom the show just wouldn’t go on.

Oregon sports is special. So are the Oregon Sports Awards.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers