WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi's softball team won two of the five trophies handed out at the Blue Mountain Sports Awards during the 35th annual Blue Mountain Youth Recognition Evening Wednesday at the Walla Walla Elks Lodge.
Hope Klicker, the 2010 Gatorade Washington State Softball Player of the Year, was chosen 2011 Female Athlete of the Year, while Blue Devil coach Jerry Humphreys took home the Coach of the Year trophy.
The two were part of last season's Wa-Hi team that finished with a 27-2 record and its second straight Class 4A third-place finish after rain shortened the state tournament.
Mac-Hi soccer standout Oscar Flores, who missed the awards while on a college visit in California, earned Male Athlete of the Year, Walla Walla Valley Academy track star Chinonso Opara topped Scholar-Athlete of the Year voting and Weston-McEwen's state-champion volleyball team won Team of the Year.
Wa-Hi's softball team was also nominated for Team of the Year, but being edged by the TigerScots' volleyball team didn't dim the evening for Klicker and Humphreys.
"I was nominated last year," Klicker said. "I knew it was going to be an honor if I were to receive the award. My first reaction (to receiving the 2011 award) was I automatically thought about my team and my coaches. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to achieve it (the award)."
"It's an honor to be nominated," Humphreys said. "You look at the other programs (coaches that were finalists) that were there, and it's great to be thought of in the same breath as some of those. It's humbling and honoring at the same time.
"It (the award) says a lot for the school and the help we get there," he continued. "And (it says a lot) especially for the youth programs and the girls we have coming in softball. You can't be a coach unless you have good kids to work with. We have a great group of athletes. It's enjoyable to be out there with them and an honor to represent them."
The award for Klicker is the culmination of countless hours of softball play, starting from a young age and continuing through many summer seasons. This season, the Blue Devils are making a push for the 2011 state title.
"I love the sport," Klicker said. "I played the sport through middle school, but I started loving it in high school because of the Blue Devil program. I fell in love with the coaches and my teammates. It's a special experience to be part of it (Blue Devil softball)."
The payoff for Klicker's "love of the sport" doesn't end with the Blue Mountain Sports Award honor. Klicker has accepted a Division I college scholarship to the College of Charleston and will begin her collegiate career in the fall for the Charleston, S.C. Cougars.
"I'm so excited (about the opportunity to play at C of C)," Klicker said. "It's unbelievable to think that the year is almost over, but we still have so much to do. I know next year it will be awesome to be in the South and playing down there.
"The connection (with C of C) was basically through Jill Meliah (Wa-Hi girls basketball coach)," Klicker said of landing with the Cougars. "She (Meliah) has a cousin who plays there. It happened to work out."
For Klicker and her Blue Devil teammates, the "we still have so much to do" attitude continues Saturday in Richland in the district tournament. Wa-Hi, 19-1 on the season and co-champions of the Columbia Basin Big Nine 4A league at 11-1, opens play with the survivor of a loser-out game between Chiawana and Wenatchee today. If the Blue Devils win Saturday, and co-champion Richland wins its opening game, Wa-Hi will face the only team to defeat the Blue Devils this season, the Bombers, for the district title Saturday afternoon.
"They (Richland) are a great team," Klicker said. "They're competitors and we'll have to bring our ‘A' game. Hopefully, we'll be able to take care of business."
Klicker and her Blue Devil teammates aim to march on to the regional tournament May 21 and then a return to the state tournament the next week.
For Humphreys, dedication to softball and his coaching stretches beyond the boundaries of his Blue Devil program as he has been instrumental in developing what has developed into a very successful support program for Blue Devil softball.
"I was one of the founding memories of Blue Mountain girls softball (the Blue Mountain Girls Softball Association)," Humphreys said. "There are others that are working harder now than I am to keep that thing going. There are about 400 girls that are playing. It (the progress) is really showing. It's in its seventh year. The majority of the kids that are playing at the high school have come through that program. They (the high school players) know what we are doing, and what we are expecting. It's making our life easy and enjoyable. It's super."
Successful coaches realize that success is more than x's and o's. The players have to bring an intensity and passion for the sport, he said.
"The number one thing is developing a passion (for softball)," Humphreys said. "If the kids have a passion to play, they are going to work hard enough to be really good. We are fortunate that we have a lot of kids and parents that are passionate about the game, and it really shows for us."
But for a Coach of the Year, it is always about the next game. Humphreys is in the midst of preparing the Blue Devils for another shot at a state title.
"We are looking forward to playing this weekend," Humphreys said of district play. "The kids are struggling with too many days before we get to play. They are like race horses and you have to hold them back, and they just want to fly. We are looking forward to having a great weekend.
"If it all pencils out the way it's (the district tournament) supposed to," Humphreys continued, "we're really looking forward to playing Richland (the only team to beat the Blue Devils this season) again."
Oscar Flores' brother, and Mac-Hi boys soccer goalkeeper, Francisco Flores, accepted the trophy Wednesday while his brother is scouting colleges.
"If my brother, Oscar, could have been here he would've thanked everybody," Francisco Flores said. "He would've really liked it because he hasn't won anything like this before. He has been to a lot of these events before. He has been nominated a lot before but never won."
Oscar Flores was named Greater Oregon League Player of the Year and an Oregon Class 4A All-State player, as well as being recognized as the top scorer in the nation with 74 goals by ESPN Rise.
Oscar Flores is visiting the University of California-Irvine, but is also considering other colleges in California, Ohio and a soccer academy in Europe, Francisco Flores said.
"Oscar graduates this year, but I'll be back next year to play goalie for the Pioneers," he said, adding that Oscar's influence will continue on Mac-Hi's squad. "As my teammate and brother, Oscar was a good influence and somebody to look up to. I really look up to him."
Like Oscar Flores, Chinonso Opara couldn't attend the ceremony with college duties. He's currently at the University of Washington.
"My name is Ngozi Opara, Chinonso's mother, and my first name means blessing, like God bless me," Ngozi Opara said after accepting her son's Scholar-Athlete of the Year trophy. "Chinonso means God is with me."
Chinonso Opara was a district track champion in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters, with the state's best Class B 200 time (he was third in the 100 and fourth in the 400) last season. He compiled a 4.0 GPA at WWVA.
"If my son could have been here, he would say thanks be to God," his mother said. "God gave us good hope and faith. To continue to do things to make god happy, so that we keep encouraged.
"He would have been grateful and thanked the school, the teachers and coaches that supported him in track and his studies," she said. "Coach Ray Douglas has given him a lot of training. Coach Douglas has given him much encouragement and support."
Renee Baumann, Weston-McEwen's volleyball captain as well as finalist for Female of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year, accepted the TigerScots' Team of the Year trophy after leading W-M to a 30-2 record and the Oregon Class 2A title.
"Our team worked together as one," Baumann said. "It was 10 people putting out on-court full-effort all the time. We worked together, had fun together, played together, fought together and we even had struggles together. What I liked about it is that we were a team as a whole this year.
"We were state champions in the 2A class," she said. "Eight years we have been in the state championships and this is the second state title," Baumann said. "It is a good accomplishment and we're very happy.
"The four seniors on the team were Jordan Reger, Tiffany Cain, Leanne Hearndon and myself, the captain. The head coach is Shawn White. The three assistant coaches were Debra Shread, Janet Herbes and KC Ashley.
"Everyone played a big role."
Blue Mountain Youth Awards were also presented. Honored were DeSales' Peter VanderGriend; Mac-Hi's Belen Betancourt; Pomeroy's Jay Briethaupt; Prescott's David Brock; Touchet's J.P. Riggs; Waitsburg's Megan Withers; Wa-Hi's Nicholas Bushman; WWVA's Herbert Sweezey; and W-M's Danielle Hinchliff.
The Blue Mountain Youth Recognition Evening is presented by Baker Boyer Bank and the Union-Bulletin.