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updated: 6/8/2018 2:57 PM

Daily Herald celebrates top high school athletes

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  • Video: Prep Sports Excellence Awards

  • Video: Road to the Sears Centre

  • Zach Damenti of Lakes High School poses for pictures with his award hardware as well as with Uncle Mike Damenti and Aunt Julie Damenti of Libertyville as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards on Thursday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Zach received the Heart and Soul Award.

      Zach Damenti of Lakes High School poses for pictures with his award hardware as well as with Uncle Mike Damenti and Aunt Julie Damenti of Libertyville as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards on Thursday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Zach received the Heart and Soul Award.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Kylie Graves of Elgin High School holds her Heart and Soul Award on stage Thursdya night as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Kylie Graves of Elgin High School holds her Heart and Soul Award on stage Thursdya night as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Kylie Graves of Elgin High School speaks after receiving the Heart and Soul Award on Thursdday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Kylie Graves of Elgin High School speaks after receiving the Heart and Soul Award on Thursdday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Zach Upp of Wheaton Academy receives the Overcoming Obstacles Award from Eileen Brown of the Daily Herald Media Group on Thursday night as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Zach Upp of Wheaton Academy receives the Overcoming Obstacles Award from Eileen Brown of the Daily Herald Media Group on Thursday night as part of the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Betty-Ann Garrett of Willowbrook High School has her picture made near an ice sculpture on Thursday at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Betty-Ann Garrett of Willowbrook High School has her picture made near an ice sculpture on Thursday at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Nancy Lill of Hersey High School shares a moment with Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod after Lill received the Beyond the Bench Award on Thursday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estate.

      Nancy Lill of Hersey High School shares a moment with Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod after Lill received the Beyond the Bench Award on Thursday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estate.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Jarrett Payton, a former St. Viator standout and the son of late Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton, was the guest speaker Thursday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Jarrett Payton, a former St. Viator standout and the son of late Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton, was the guest speaker Thursday night at the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 

High school athletes who are among the finest in the suburbs were saluted in an awards ceremony befitting professionals Thursday night at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.

About 1,000 students, their parents and others filled the Sears Centre floor for the sixth annual Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Awards. The fun began with a buffet dinner and the collection of gifts, followed by a grand entrance by Naperville Central High School's drum line and the celebration of the student-athletes from 68 high schools covered by the Daily Herald.

Jarrett Payton, an alum of St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights whose sports media work includes being host of CLTV's "Sports Feed," was the evening's guest speaker. The son of late Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton was a stellar high school soccer and football player.

Payton told the crowd how his father sparked his passion to help others at a young age. He also spoke about on how his dad designed a plan that mostly required him to give up fun with friends over a summer for intense workouts to become a better running back and attract football scholarships from prominent colleges.

"I sacrificed going into that senior year and worked my tail off to be able to have an opportunity to go to the University of Miami, where I had a chance to win a national championship," Payton said. "For me, the sacrifice, it was something that when you're passionate it, you don't have to really sacrifice because you love what you do."

Daily Herald sports columnists Patricia Babcock McGraw and Joe Aguilar co-hosted the extravaganza. Five categories of winners were announced.

High school athletic directors nominated five senior female and male athletes who were considered their most fitting representatives of excellence in sports.

Libertyville High School's Drew Peterson's won a Sweetest Moment award for a regional final basketball game against Conant High School. After struggling for the first three quarters, the Wildcats star and deadly long-range shooter scored 20 of his team's 23 points in the fourth and won it in overtime with an off-balance 3-point shot at the buzzer.

"I actually wasn't expecting this award," Peterson said. "But, yeah, that was one of the craziest games I ever played, and I really appreciate the award."

Geneva High School's Stephanie Hart received the other Sweetest Moment award.

Wauconda High School's Annalyse Maze received an Overcoming Obstacles honor for playing at a high level on the girls soccer team after an anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2016. This year, she helped lead the squad to the Class 2A sectionals after a regular season that featured 13 shutouts in the regular season.

Zach Upp, who was born without a right hand, received his Overcoming Obstacles award for thriving on Wheaton Academy's volleyball team.

With a list of achievements including being a three-sport standout and a co-founder of the Maroon Buddies program dedicated to enriching opportunities for those with developmental disabilities, Elgin High School's Kylie Graves received a Heart and Soul award. Graves, the top-ranked student in her class, was captain of the girls basketball team for three consecutive years.

Zach Damenti of Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa also received a Heart and Soul award. Football became a crucial element in his development after he was diagnosed at an early age with high-functioning autism.

Buffalo Grove High School tennis player Dasha Ignatova and basketball star Jack Vaselaney received the Spirit of Sportsmanship award shared by each gender. They were among the founding members of Buffalo Grove's Elevate program, which was the result of their participation in a national effort called "Life of an Athlete."

Elevate members began sharing ideas including practical and helpful guidance on what athletes should avoid and embrace in pursuit of optimal performance

Beyond the Bench awards went to baseball coach Robin Renner of Neuqua Valley High School and

Nancy Lill, Hersey High School's girls and boys volleyball coach.

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