March 25, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech takes its role as a force for positive change very seriously.
Proof of how seriously will be on display tonight at the 29th Annual Peach of an Athlete Role Model Banquet, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, when three of the school’s student-athletes will be among the honorees.
The event takes place at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, with the dinner beginning at 7 p.m. For ticket information call 770-956-3177 or visit www.atlantabsa.org/events.
Peach of an Athlete (POA) recognizes athletes who live or attend school in Georgia, college and pro, who have excelled athletically, academically, and in their commitment to service in the community.
With its three student-athletes receiving finalist status, Perron Jones (track and field), Elizabeth Kilborn (women’s tennis) and Kate Riley (swimming and diving), Georgia Tech has the most nominees of any school.
“They’ve done a great job representing Georgia Tech and in their respective sports, within the classroom then within the community because they’re involved with community service and want to represent and have balance,” said Theresa Wenzel, Georgia Tech’s Associate Director of Athletics – SWA. “They want to have balance with everything they do and they want to be excellent at what they do, which is indicative of anybody that goes to Georgia Tech.”
“These student-athlete are labeled as role models because of all the things done outside of their athletic career,” said Leah Thomas, Director of Total Person Support Services. “We nominate a group every year and three is probably the most we’ve ever had that has made it to the top 10. We’ve had three before, so that speaks volumes to the type of student-athletes that we have.”
Georgia Tech has been well-represented at past POA Banquets. In 2012, honorees included two-time All-America wide receiver and current Detroit Lions all-pro Calvin Johnson, who was awarded the Professional Honoree award, women’s basketball All-ACC Second-Teamer and WNBA first-round draft pick Sasha Goodlett (a member of the WNBA champion Indiana Fever), football player Jason Peters and softball’s Kristine Priebe, who were nominees for top college honors.
This year’s trio, Jones, Kilborn and Riley, have all ranked among the best athletes in their selected sports over their careers — Jones and Riley have set school-records, while Kilborn is among the school’s all-time leaders in wins and has helped the team to an ACC Championship and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. Academically, they’ve held a regular place on the Dean’s List, and, regarding community service events, each has made an impact as part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB).
Being part of SAAB is especially impressive to Thomas.
“That’s a coach-selected position. So that, alone, says that their coach listed them as a leader on their team,” she said. “Each one of them has gone above and beyond. As a department we do certain community service projects every year, like our [Michael Isenhour] Toy Drive or Special Olympics, things like that. Then there is stuff throughout the entire year that I’m always recruiting people to do and it’s those three, among a few others, but those are the three that are always doing stuff. Always.
“They’re always there. They’re always doing things. They’re also always responsible for when their teammates are there,” she continued. “They’ve done a very good job of not just doing something, like hearing about a project and doing it themselves, but getting their teammates to be involved in things. All three of them have been leaders in that regard. So they’ve just risen to the top just for that extra involvement than in just our normal projects.”
Thomas, who in the past has been on the POA selection committee, said that narrowing down the list to three nominees was very difficult this year, and that Women’s Basketball player Shayla Bivins easily could have qualified as a finalist. (Sting Daily will feature a profile on Bivins, a nominee for the prestigious Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award later this week).
“I realize we submitted five people (for POA consideration). Five very good candidates and we got three,” said Thomas. “I can say of our five, I don’t think I could necessarily pick one that was more deserving than the other. That alone says there was something about each one of these three that absolutely stood out from others. It was quite a list that was submitted, total, and ALL of them have things like this. So the fact that we have three speaks volumes.”
Narrowing down the list of Tech nominees for awards like POA and the ACC Post-Graduate Awards (of which Jones, Kilborn and Riley were winners this year), appears to be getting more difficult as Tech student-athletes continue to become more and more committed to community involvement.
“The process has been more challenging as the years have gone on,” said Wenzel. “Five years ago we had kids that excelled in the classroom and maybe within their sport, but not necessarily within the community. I think our student-athletes, because the Advisory Board has done a very good job, want to be strong in each of the categories.
“I think the message is getting through to our teams, within their freshman and sophomore years,” she added. “If they want to be nominated or even considered for the Peach of an Athlete Award or the ACC Post-Graduate, they have to start balancing and adding to their resumes and creating a degree of differential other than what they do in the classroom or what they do on whatever surface they play. So, I think it’s gotten more challenging, but in the same degree, as an administrator, it’s very rewarding because we keep seeing our pool of candidates get stronger and stronger each year.”
That means longer hours and bigger headaches in the narrowing-down process.
“It just means that our kids are getting stronger in every aspect. They are getting stronger and they are being more involved in the community,” Wenzel said. “That’s great for Georgia Tech and it’s great for the Athletic Department. If that makes my job a little more difficult, I’m certainly okay with that.”