Friday, June 27, 2014
Burke track and field star Raven Saunders wasn't sure what to expect as she headed to campus Wednesday.
Her coach, Herbert Johnson, said it was a surprise. Her mother, Clarissa, just smiled. It wasn't until she stepped into the office and saw a Gatorade rep holding the gold and glass trophy that she knew.
Saunders was named Gatorade National Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year Wednesday, becoming just the third athlete from South Carolina to win the national honors in the award's 28-year history.
“I was really surprised,” Saunders said. “It was a great feeling. The fact that I didn't know what was going on made it that much more great. I finally see how big my accomplishments really are.”
Hundreds of friends, family members and fans piled into the Burke High auditorium to witness Saunders accept her award. She joins a prestigious list of former recipients that includes the likes of Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Candace Parker and Lolo Jones. Only former Northwestern quarterback Justin Worley (2011) and former Daniel softball pitcher Carley Hoover (2013) have ever won the award from South Carolina.
In July, she'll fly to Los Angeles to attend the ESPN ESPY awards with the 11 other 2014 Gatorade national award recipients to spend the night celebrating sports with the best coaches and athletes in the world.
“It feels amazing joining the select few athletes that come out of this state,” she said. “Not too many people out of South Carolina ever get a chance like this so it gives me a really great feeling to know that I'm one of the people that had a chance and won.”
Saunders dominated her high school competition her senior year at Burke. She set the national high school indoor shot put record at 56 feet, 7½ inches in March and then set the national high school outdoor record at 56 feet, 8¼ inches in April. She won two individual state championships in May and won a national championship in shot put at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships in June.
She'll compete at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon in July, and likely the World Junior Championships later that month before heading to college at Southern Illinois University.
“This is a realization for me of how big my accomplishments are,” Saunders said. “Hard work really does pay off, and what this award means to me is that my future in this sport is a bright one.”
Frankie Mansfield, the sports reporter for the Moultrie News can be seen all around the state following teams to meets, games, and matches. For score updates, breaking sports news, and more, follow @fjmansfield on Twitter and like Moultrie News Sports on Facebook.