The best in the Bi-City were honored Wednesday at the eighth annual Celebration of Sports Excellence Awards at the Hughston Foundation Auditorium, and the best of those were named as the Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City athletes and coach of the year.
Each of the All-Bi-City players and coaches of the year in each sport were recognized at the ceremony. Three of those winners took the year’s top athletics honors, another won a scholar-athlete award and a past All-Bi-City winner was recognized.
The All-Bi-City Girls Athlete of the Year award went to Columbus’ Kristina Delpesche, a two-sport honoree who led her team to a cross country state championship in the fall and won an individual track state championship in the spring.
Columbus golfer Jimmy Beck, who has spent much of his career ranked among the top 50 junior golfers in the country, had another dominating season and led his team to its second consecutive state title to earn the All-Bi-City Boys Athlete of the Year award.
And Spencer wrestling coach Robert Sanders, who has watched his team grow from about 15 wrestlers to a group of 40 this year, including a state champion, was named the All-Bi-City Coach of the Year.
Columbus volleyball player Kristen Fleming was recognized for her academic achievements with the Jerry Rutledge Scholar Athlete Award, and former Carver, Georgia and NFL football player Herman Archie was the Janice Davis All-Bi-City Alumni Award recipient.
The Girls Athlete of the Year award is the latest addition to Delpesche’s collection of accomplishments, a list that includes a pair of state titles and athlete of the year honors in two sports.
The rising senior earned All-Bi-City Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year in the fall after she finished second overall and led Columbus to a Georgia High School Association Class AAA state cross country title, and she was named Girls Track Athlete of the Year last week after winning the 1,600-meter run at the Class AAA state track and field championships.
“I feel really blessed for all of it,” Delpesche said. “I’m so thankful for my family’s support and my friends’ support and my coaches.”
The road to Boys Athlete of the Year honors was a long one for Columbus’ Beck.
He began golfing at age 5, won his first tournament that same year and was the Class AAA medalist in 2011 as he led Columbus to back-to-back team championships.
Beck has signed with Kennesaw State and said his experience at Columbus and as a top-50 junior golfer has set him up to make a smooth transition to the next level.
“It was a great time,” Beck said. “Starting my freshman year, we were expecting to have four state championships at Columbus.
“But my first two years, we got close. But these last two seasons have been great, especially this year, when we got to prove everyone wrong and show that we could win anywhere and not just at home.”
Spencer’s Sanders, the Coach of the Year, began working as an assistant wrestling coach eight years ago and took over as head coach five years ago. After nearly a decade, he saw the program reach new levels.
He finished the season with a 23-3 duals record and a berth in the GHSA Class AA state duals championships, sent seven of his wrestlers on to the Class AA traditional state championship meet, and coached one of them, \Wrestler of the Year Quintni Noel, to an individual state championship.
Sanders gave credit to a group of upperclassmen who spent four years working in the program and said 2010-11 was the culmination of their hard work.
“It was the senior class we had this year, that group of seven guys,” Sanders said. “They came into the program about when I did, and they really had a vision of doing something special their senior year.
“Those seven kids really reached a pinnacle for me and also for the school.”
Columbus’ Fleming has been one of the Bi-City’s best volleyball players through her four seasons and set an all-classification GHSA state record with 4,707 career assists to prove it.
And the 2010 Volleyball Player of the Year also knows how to carry her work ethic over to the classroom, where she earned the Jerry Rutledge Scholar Athlete Award by finishing her senior year with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Fleming said her mother, Columbus volleyball coach Donna Fleming, pushed her to achieve on and off the court.
“My mom has always stressed working hard in the classroom as well as on the court,” said Fleming, a Southern Mississippi signee. “You can be an athlete, but you won’t necessarily get to that next level if you don’t have the grades, and eventually you will need to pay the bills with your grades.”
The Jerry Rutledge Scholar Athlete Award is named in honor of former Ledger-Enquirer sports writer Jerry Rutledge, who died two years ago.
When he accepted the 2011 Janice Davis All-Bi-City Alumni Award, Archie, a former Carver and Georgia standout, reminded athletes that their educations are paramount and told coaches they are not doing their athletes any favors if they let them slide in the classroom.
Now a district director in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, Archie said he was honored to have an opportunity to speak at the CSE ceremony and receive the award.
“Any time you can come back and share your message with younger athletes or the community, it’s a blessing,” Archie said. “As far as the award, I wish I had known Ms. Davis.
“She seemed like a wonderful woman who cared about the community, its youth and their excellence. I’m very thankful to get this award in her name.”
The award is given to the a former All-Bi-City winner who has gone on to distinguish himself or herself outside the athletic arena. Davis led the Columbus Sports Council before her death in 2009 and was a co-founder of the CSE.
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.