Video: Jayson Tatum highlight reel
2015-16 Gatorade Athlete of the Year in action.
LOS ANGELES —
Gatorade Athlete of the Year winners Sydney McGlaughlin and Jayson Tatum
began their acceptance speeches Tuesday at the LA Hotel Downtown with the same word.
It was an appropriate and understandable phrase for winning perhaps the most prestigious award in high school sports. Each beat out five other sport-specific athletes of the year.
McGlaughlin, an incoming senior at Union Catholic (Scotch Plains, N.J.)
, has already qualified for the Olympics as a hurdles phenom.
She took third in the 400-meter Olympic Trials hurdles last week in Eugene (Ore.), breaking her own national high school record in a time of 54.15 seconds.
McGlaughlin became the first American 16-year-old to earn a spot on the Olympics since 1976 — 24 years before she was even born.
See live Gatorade announcements, acceptance speeches, interviews here
Considering she started the track season with mononucleosis and then later endured the setback of her mom suffering a heart attack, McGlaughlin was understandably overwhelmed with the award.
"I promised myself I wouldn’t cry," she said, holding back tears. "This is been a long year. I didn’t think I would make it here.
"I want to thank every one that helped me get here. When I got the Olympic trials, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. My coaches told me I can do this. Three races later I’m an Olympian.
"I’m just so thankful to end this long year with this award. It tops it all off."
She still has a certain track meet in Brazil to compete in.
Tatum averaged 29.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game to lead Chaminade (St. Louis, Mo.)
to a state title. He had 40 points in the championship game.
The 6-foot-8, 190-pound wing was a first-team MaxPreps All-American.
Tatum thanked God, his family, teammates, coaches and entire support system. He acknowledged the other finalists and appreciated "hanging out with you the last couple of days. You’re better people than even athletes. Please keep in touch."
Mostly, he thanked his parents.
"Dad I love you and I’m the biggest mama’s boy there ever was. That’s not going to change any time soon."
This was the 14th Gatorade Athlete of the Year ceremony and the awards were presented by the usual star-studded cast of Gatorade professional athletes, many who were once honored as preps by Gatorade.
were NFL quarterback Matthew Stafford, and
running back Todd Gurley, NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns,
soccer stars Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach, former softball sensation
Jenny Finch and beach volleyball Olympian April Ross.
The other female nominates were volleyball's Khalia Lanier,
of Xavier College Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.)
, cross country's Katie Rainsberger
, of Air Academy (US Air Force Academy, Colo.)
, basketball's Erin Boley, of Elizabethtown-Lewis Central (Elizabethtown, N.Y.)
, soccer's Ella Stevens, of Grayson (Loganville, Ga.)
and softball's Madilyn Nickles
, of Merced (Calif.)
Other male nominees were football's
, of Lake Stevens (Wash.)
, cross country's Andrew Hunter, of Loudoun Valley (Purcellville, Va.)
, soccer's Lucas Mendes, of Lee (Washington, D.C.), baseball's Kyle Muller
, of Dallas Jesuit (Dallas, Texas)
and track and field's Michael Norman
, of Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.)
Earlier in the day, Towns and Ross helped pitch Gatorade's new initiative, "Play it Forward," to promote declining numbers in youth and high school sports.
Starting in 2016-17, the Gatorade State Players of the Year will chose a
local or national youth sports organization which will be awarded a
$1,000 grant from Gatorade with the chance to donate even more.
Towns, the 2013-14 Gatorade Athlete of the Year and 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year, rekindled fond memories in New Jersey playing basketball.
The reality of schools and programs closing around New Jersey – and other places throughout the country – hits hard with Towns.
"This is a huge move by Gatorade not just for basketball players but for society," he said. "Sports is a great way to help with the fundamentals of life and help a lot of kids stay on course."
Said Southern California native Ross, who will be playing in her second Olympics this summer: "With the numbers dropping in high school, you need companies like Gatorade to come in and institute programs like Play it Forward. Who else is going to do it? The government is strapped for resources. If Gatorade doesn't do it and athletes don't come back and help out with programs like ‘Play it Forward,' then numbers are going to keep declining."