The more than 300 high school athletes who attended Sunday's Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence banquet see each other most often as opponents.
They face off on basketball courts, football fields and baseball diamonds; they size each other up in tennis matches, around golf tees and across wrestling mats. But Sunday they were colleagues, celebrating one another's athletic prowess.
The Daily Herald hosted about 350 high school athletes from 60 different schools along with their families Sunday at the Sears Centre Arena. A scrolling display that circled the stadium listed the names of about 750 athletes honored as the best in the region. Sunday's attendees were chosen as among the top five young men and women athletes in their respective high schools.
Doug Ray, CEO of Paddock Publications and publisher of the Daily Herald, said an important aspect of the banquet was the diverse field of athletes it brought together.
"We are recognizing successful young people in not just the main categories of sports but the ones that are often overlooked, so to speak," Ray said.
The Daily Herald has honored football and basketball players at more localized celebrations in the past. Ray said the larger banquet is a way to honor the leadership and dedication of more young athletes as well as their supportive families.
Track and field long jump star Savannah Carson, 18, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, attended with her parents Sunday. She said the banquet was a chance to see familiar faces in a new light.
"I think it's a great opportunity," she said of the first-time event. "When you see people from your school that you didn't know with this type of talent, it's cool."
Carson was the 2012 state long jump champion and plans to attend Purdue University next year.
Matt Swanson, a 16-year-old junior at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, is the quarterback of his school's football team and a pitcher for the baseball team. He said it was an honor to be recognized among the top athletes and meet his peers from across the region.
Three of Matt's grandparents attended the banquet along with his little sister, mom and dad. His father, Jeff Swanson, said the whole family was proud of Matt's dedication on and off the field.
"With him it's tied into academics that go with athletics," Swanson said. "He has very high standards with that, too."
The top 10 athletes from each school were chosen for their athleticism, multisport ability, sportsmanship and good grades.
Keynote speaker Jarrett Payton, former St. Viator High School athlete and NFL player, shared with the young athletes lessons he gleaned from watching his father, Bears legend Walter Payton. He highlighted the training, determination and persistence required for success and advised the student athletes to give back to their communities.
Payton said he always tries to "preach greatness" when he talks to young people.
"We all have greatness inside of us," Payton said. "We just have to get it out."