The suburbs' top high school athletes joined their families and coaches Sunday to celebrate their hard work and achievements at the third annual Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence awards banquet at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.
More than 600 student athletes representing 68 high schools from 28 sports attended the banquet. The Daily Herald asked each school to nominate five boys and five girls to attend.
Joe Aguilar, the Lake County High School Sports Coordinator for the Daily Herald, said the athletes were successes not only on the field of play, but students who made their schools and families swell with pride away from sports.
"If those were my kids, my head would be the size of a medicine ball," Aguilar said.
From the crowd of exemplary student athletes, eight were awarded special honors for providing memorable moments in competition, displaying extraordinary courage and sportsmanship, and showing us that being a great teammate is about more than just one's contribution to the final score.
Lauren Van Vlierbergen of Jacobs High School won the girls' Heart and Soul Award. The track and cross-country star's dedication to her team and her community earned her the national Wendy's High School Heisman award.
Aaron Gabriel, the Daily Herald Prep Sports Editor, said that Van Vlierbergen is a rare athlete that seems to have it all.
"Her athletics, academics and community service all put into one person is very rare. She's one of a kind," Gabriel said. "We should all be so fortunate to be around athletes with this kind of heart and soul."
Van Vlierbergen said the award was a huge honor, and she thinks her teamwork was one reason she earned it.
"I tried always being there for my teammates," she said. "We worked hard to achieve all we did in our four years of high school."
The Coach Award for a girls team went to Bartlett's varsity basketball coach Denise Sarna, who was unable to attend the ceremony. One of Sarna's former players, Lindsay Schrader from the class of 2005, was on hand to help accept the award on her behalf. She said it was the least she could do after all Sarna did for her.
"When I graduated, she told me that a player like me only comes around once in a generation," said Schrader, who was named Miss Basketball Illinois and played collegiately at Notre Dame. "I want everyone to know that a coach like her only comes around once in a lifetime."
The John Hersey High School drum line opened and closed the awards with their rousing, rhythmic performance. They were joined by mascots from suburban high schools including the South Elgin Storm, Naperville Central RedHawk and the Larkin Royal.
The afternoon's program was hosted by comedian Mike Toomey, who was in charge of loosening up the large arena crowd.
"I want everyone one the count of three to say which school they are from," Toomey instructed the crowd. After everyone answered at once, Toomey quipped, "that's my alma mater."
In fact, Toomey graduated from Glenbard North High School and grew up in Carol Stream.
The athletes and their parents had many opportunities to capture their special day at the Sears Centre. Many posed for pictures in front of a large ice sculpture with the event's logo in it. There was a long line to pose in front of a postgame news conference styled wall, before which parents and students wore silly hats and held signs that read "Google this." Every athlete's name scrolled by on a continuous videoboard around the arena, and some attendees timed their selfies so could get their name in the shot.
Winners of special awards this year included: