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Author: Bill Vilona, Pensacola News Journal
Guest speaker Dick Hoyt had to pause several times in his delivery.
The ovations were frequent, along with standing ovations. And Hoyt was moved.
Hoyt and his son, Rick, who have produced of the nation’s most compelling athletic storylines, provided the 62nd annual Pensacola Sports Awards Banquet a fitting connection Wednesday night of inspiration and achievement of honorees.
“Three small words, Yes… you… can. Because for 54 years, everybody has been saying, no you can’t. There is no such word in the Hoyt family,” said Dick, whose 54-year-old was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic soon after birth.
In the most incredible of feats, Dick and his son became a tandem in marathons and triathlons and gained world-wide acclaim. The large gathering at New World Landing kept turning to each other in amazement as Dick Hoyt shared his life story.
It offered a fitting backdrop for one of the most special nights in the event’s history. The major award winners included Gulf Breeze High senior Tori Bindi and her incomparable swimming feats making her an easy selection as the Pensacola Sports Amateur Athlete of the Year.
“I am most proud for staying true to myself and doing well in school and staying on track,” said Bindi, prior to her speech last night where she thanked all the people in her life who made it possible. “Being honored for this pretty much sums it into one element. It points to me as a role model now. This really hits it.”
Bindi, an eight-time state champion and the first in the modern era of prep swimming in Florida to sweep state titles all four prep years, now turns her focus to the University of Florida’s renown women’s swim program. She heads to Gainesville in June to begin preparing for her freshman year.
Bindi has been a frequent honoree at the Pensacola Sports banquet as a special achievement winner. She sensed something was different when her mother explained “there’s something different about this one.”
That same element applied to Ray Palmer, executive director of Pensacola Sports, receiving the highest award as Sportsman of the Year. Palmer was chosen for the organization earning the 2015 Florida Sports Leadership Award by the Florida Sports Foundation.
“This is the greatest honor ever for me,” said Palmer, who fought emotions in accepting the award. “It is a wonderful honor. We have many, many years and much left to do. We want to continue to making a positive impact on Pensacola.”
Gulf Breeze High and Stanford grad Doug Baldwin was saluted as Pro Athlete of the Year after his sensational season with Seattle Seahawks. Among the feats, his 14 touchdown catches set a Seattle franchise record and tied him as the most in 2015 among NFL receivers.
“He really appreciate it,” said his father, Doug Baldwin Sr., in accepting the award. “As you all may know, he got engaged a couple days ago, so he really has a lot going on.”
Long-time Pensacola Sports staff member James Currie, who recently retired, was overcome with emotion after learning he was being saluted and the Volunteer of the Year Award, which went to Michael Capps with the Pensacola Bay Center, was now being titled the James Currie Volunteer of the Year Award.
Four new members of the Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame were inducted: Tim Bryant, Charles Gheen, Mike Killam and Fred Robbins.
For Robbins, it was his first time attending the banquet since his senior year at Tate High School. He later went on to a stellar college career at Wake Forest, then played an amazing 12 seasons as NFL defensive tackle for three different teams.
“Anytime you get recognized for accomplishment, it’s always truly a blessing,” Robbins said. “I think it just shows the character of yourself. And when it’s all said and done, that is what I am most proud about. The fact people realize some of the good things you do.
“This area not only produces pro athletes but top athletes in their divisions, whether it be high school, college, amateur sports, you name it. It is amazing to see it.”
Bryant, the co-owner and general manager of Five Flags Speedway, was saluted for what the half-mile oval race track has meant to this community with the Snowball Derby and the entire year of race events at the facility.
“I had to read (notification letter) two or three times,” Bryant said, laughing. “I don’t belong in the hall of fame… but it’s a great organization. I am proud Pensacola Sports recognizes the racing community. accept this not for me, but all of the racing community in Pensacola.”
Killam, a 1978 Tate High graduate, played for two local prep coaching legends: Carl Madison in football, Floyd Adams in baseball. Both were in attendance and singled out by Killam in his speech.
Killam, the area director for Northwest Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as well as national FCA vice president, remembered how he was 120 pounds at 8-year-old and could not be permitted to play football until eighth grade due to his size.
“This is cool. I am flattered. I am honored,” he said.
Gheen was a 1968 Pensacola High grad and part of the Tigers winning state championship golf team. He became a running enthusiast in the 1980’s, then later a triathlete in 2000.
“When I started (triathlons) I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t have a bike and I wasn’t running at the time. Other than everything was fine,” he said, laughing. “When you look at people on that (HOF) list, it’s pretty amazing.
That kind of night.
62nd Annual Pensacola Sports Awards Banquet
2015 Special Honorees
Special Olympic Athlete of the Year — Janis McGowan
Amateur Athlete of the Year — Tori Bindi, eight-time state champion swimmer at Gulf Breeze High.
Professional Athlete of the Year — Doug Baldwin, set Seattle Seahawks single-season TD receptions record (14) and tied for 2015 NFL lead in that category.
Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame Inductees — Mike Killam , Charles Gheen , Fred Robbins, Tim Bryant.
James Currie Volunteer of the Year — Michael Capps.
Sportsman of the Year — Ray Palmer, executive director of Pensacola Sports.