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Michelle Snow looked once at the podium as she spoke. There weren’t any notes or script, but there was a reason.
Her cell phone had the timer running. She met her goal of an 11-minute speech Wednesday night at the 65th annual Pensacola Sports Awards Banquet, presented by Cox.
From the heart, her address as guest speaker compacted minutes of powerful motivation and riveting inspiration. It ended with a standing ovation from the hundreds who gathered at New World Landing.
“Everyone in this room had somebody who dashed that dream,” Snow said, as the audience was fixated. “What did you do when that happened? Did you believe them? Did you give up?
“It is so easy to lose focus. I want to beg you guys, please stay focused. Not just in athletics, but whatever it is you want to do in life. Use the stage you have. It can take you anywhere you want to go.”
t took Snow from Bellview Middle School, where she played against boys with an eight-foot basketball goal, to stardom at Pensacola High, where she grew from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-5 in one year and led PHS to a state championship.
What followed was success at the University of Tennessee, playing for legend Pat Head Summitt, then worldwide fame in 16 years playing women’s professional basketball.
“I promise you, I am an example to each and every one of you with a dream in this room,” said Snow, 38, who retired after last year and now lives in Pensacola where she is a motivational speaker, basketball teacher and entrepreneur.
“Every time somebody tells me no, I write it down. I have a notebook of every hurtful thing someone has said to me.
Snow, 38, who retired last year after 16 years in professional basketball, including 13 years in the WNBA, had earned Pensacola Sports awards in her career.
But Wednesday night was her first as the featured speaker. Her dynamic address had people crowding around her for photos and greetings long after the event concluded.
It was part of a special night celebrating 2018 for Pensacola’s individual and team athletic success at all levels.
From 8-year-old running phenom Cameron Chandler, who posted the nation’s fastest time in the 100 yard dash last year, while winning an AAU national title, to power lifter Larry Tilley, who at 65-years-old set a world lift record for his age last summer in winning a national U.S. Powerlifting event.
They were among 26 honorees for Special Achievement Awards at the banquet.
The event included Marty Stanovich, who helped start the First Tee of Northwest Florida and followed his father, Stan Stanovich, in dedicating himself to help grow junior golf, receiving the prestigious Sportsman of the Year Award.
The award is always kept secretive and Marty Stanovich was overcome with emotion as he walked to accept the award and deliver a speech.“My father would be 100 years old (Thursday). That is not lost on me (last night),” said Stanovich, who lost his father to cancer when Marty was 11-years-old.
The Divot Derby renamed its trophy for the boys overall champion as the Stan Stanovich Trophy. Former Pensacola Sports executive director Jerry Stephens applied the honor before Stan’s death in 1981.
“There are so many people this award belongs to far more than it does I,” said Marty Stanovich, who led the reopening of the Goofy Golf, miniature golf complex on Navy Boulevard, adjacent to the soon-to-be completed First Tee practice facility.
“Nobody does it alone,” he said. “None of us do it alone. Keep the faith, work hard, great things happen.”
In addition, Fred and Tia Robbins, co-founders of Mr. Robbins Neighborhood to help area youths in sports realize the importance of education and life values, were inducted into the Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame.
Fred Robbins, a Tate High and Wake Forest grad, played 12 seasons as a star defensive tackle in the NFL, helping the New York Giants to a Super Bowl championship.
His wife has received numerous awards for her work in various Pensacola charities and organizations.
“This is different for me. I have won a lot of sports awards throughout my career, but this one is different,” Fred Robbins said. “This one if from the heart. It is about Tia and my commitment to where it all started for me in Pensacola and we are committed to help.”
Drew LaBounty, who received the Pensacola Sports Amateur Athlete of the Year, produced another inspiring moment.
LaBounty, a shortstop who led Pensacola Catholic to an undefeated season and state baseball title, lost sight in his right eye during a freak batting practice accident prior to his senior season last year at South Alabama.
He is now starting his coaching career at Pearl River (Mississippi) Community College.
“Wow, thank you to all the city of Pensacola for recognizing me for this. I never thought I would be in this situation, but I am glad to be here right now,” LaBounty said. “When I think about this award, I can’t accept it by myself.
“This award is not really about me. It’s about Christ and how (Christ) is faithful to us is in our suffering.”
Bubba Watson, named the Professional Athlete of the Year Award winner for his three PGA Tour victories last year, provided a video thank you from Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, where he began play Thursday as defending champion in the Genesis Open.
Sally Garst, retiring after decades of work for Pensacola Sports was named the Excellence in Tourism winner.
Prior to her speech, Snow asked the entire gathering to stand for an ovation to all the award winners.
“I want you to understand, everything you worked so hard for… it paid off, it matters,” said Snow, addressing the group. “Every moment when no one was looking, you get to now relish in that moment.”
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and current senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Studer55. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sportsman of Year – Marty Stanovich
Hall of Fame – Tia and Fred Robbins
Professional Athlete of Year – Bubba Watson
Amateur Athlete of Year – Drew LaBounty
Special Olympic Athlete of Year – Ryan Hamm
Excellence In Sports Tourism Award – Sally Garst
Volunteer of Year – Katie Kehoe