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Oregon Sports Awards focuses spotlight on high schools

The Oregon Sports Awards have made some dramatic changes since rebranding from The Oregonian Banquet of Champions in 2001 and bringing the show back from a four-year hiatus.

Organizers moved it to the Tiger Woods Center at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. They cut the time nearly in half to about 90 minutes. And they made it a television production, even bringing in ESPN anchor Neil Everett as host last year.

But perhaps the biggest shift came last year when organizers expanded the scope of the awards to further emphasize high school sports. For the first time, the awards included a male and female athlete of the year in each high school sport.

“We’re always looking for ways to evolve the show and keep it relevant,” said Jim Etzel, president of Etzel marketing, which stages the event. “If we step back and look at it, the biggest base of participation in sports in our state is not pro, it’s not college, it’s high school.”

The 62nd annual show is Sunday at the Tiger Woods Center. It features the Bill Hayward Award, given to the state’s top amateur male and female athletes.

But much of the show will be dedicated to high school athletes. The biggest prize is the Johnny Carpenter Award (established in 1966), given to the top male and female athletes in big- and small-school divisions. And now there are awards for each sport, with organizers using specific criteria to determine nominees and narrowing the field to three finalists. A statewide media panel votes on the winners.

Maryssa Becker of North Medford, who won the first softball award last year and is one of the finalists this year, said the award meant something extra to her.

“Every year you get your conference awards and your state awards, and there’s even the Gatorade player of the year, but to have something different come along is like another level for athletes to strive for,” said Becker, who won’t be able to attend the show this year because she is a freshman at Louisville. “And to have something with the state, and your name behind it, it’s just incredible.”

High school award finalists receive multiple tickets to the show, a television production along the same lines as the ESPYs or Grammys.

Dean Crouser, a Gresham parent whose son Sam went to the ESPYs in 2010 after winning the Gatorade national track and field award, and whose daughter Haley won the OSA track and field award last year, attended both shows and said “they are actually very similar.”

“It’s really cool because you get to see a live show being produced at the same time as watching the show itself,” Crouser said. “For the Oregon athlete, and especially high school kids, it’s just first-class. It’s out at Nike, there’s a great reception and great food. It’s kind of over-the-top as far as quality. A cool evening.”

Haley Crouser, now a freshman at Oregon, agreed.

“It’s just something that a lot of people don’t get to experience,” she said. “Going up on stage and speaking in front of everyone, I was really nervous, but it was really exciting, at the same time. I think it builds character.”

Etzel said organizers have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from high school athletes and their families.

“We get these letters that say, ‘Wow, this is like going to the ESPYs or the Grammys,’’ Etzel said. “A lot of people have never been on the Nike campus or in a theater like the Tiger Woods Center. It’s a really big deal to be a finalist for any of these sports for these kids in high school. So we’ve really focused in on that.”

Becker said she found the show inspirational, too.

“It’s great to see not only high school athletes in other sports, but to see that the state has produced so many top-notch college and professional athletes that continue to have a love for the state,” Becker said. “And to see a bunch of people there that have made great strides in their lives, and in their profession, you see that anything is possible.”

— Jerry Ulmer

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