Two years into its existence, the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month -- County Sports Zone's monthly statewide award -- is more prestigious than ever.
The award, which was first given to Dunbar football player Melvin Kiah in September 2015, highlights students who not only excel on the field but also in the classroom and the community.
In addition to Kiah, 19 student-athletes across Maryland have been honored. The group is made up of 10 boys and 10 girls who play nine different primary sports and represent eight school districts.
"It's just a great honor," Havre de Grace basketball player and March 2017 recipient Kenneth Sumpter Jr. said. "Knowing that this award is statewide and that there are lots of other people that could have won this award makes me that much happier that it's me who got selected."
The most recent recipient, Glenelg softball player Katie Dustin, agreed that the award being eligible to any public high school athlete in Maryland adds to the prestige.
"It's definitely a big honor. This is such a competitive award and it's statewide," Dustin said. "I'm just happy to represent my school, represent my softball team, and I'm just so happy that I got this award."
To Capt. John Raynor of the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, it's the exact kind of award with which the U.S. Army wants to be involved. Raynor remembers what it was like to be a high school athlete and how much it meant to be honored for working hard.
"To have something that says, ‘You do a good job; we're recognizing you,' was amazing at that age," Raynor said. "I've spoken with a few of the winners, and they've all been very appreciative and humble at the same time. They work their butts off in practice, games and away from their sports."
Recipients of the award are usually nominated by coaches or someone from a school's athletic administration, though teammates and parents can also submit nominations. Once the nomination process is complete, the list of candidates is sent to the U.S. Army, which decides who they would like to highlight that month.
The selection process can get difficult because of the sheer number of worthy candidates every month.
"I bring in the officers that work at the schools and ask them if they've met the nominee or have interacted with the team they play for," Raynor said. "We make the decision after getting input from everyone. The discussions can sometimes get a little competitive because the various soldiers argue on behalf of their schools, and if they've had good interactions with that athlete or team, it makes them want to get recognized that much more."
Once the selection is made, the recipient is honored in front of their peers. The presentation is videotaped, with a member of the U.S. Army giving the trophy to the recipient. The recipient is also given a free T-shirt from County Sports Zone.
Raynor said the presentation helps make the award special.
"We try to make it as big as possible; a great turnout will help both us and the school," Raynor said. "I've only heard good things from soldiers who we've sent to present the award."
The award has been so well-received that it's expanded to Washington, D.C. This past November, Juan Wallace from H.D. Woodson High School became the first recipient of the District of Columbia State Athletic Association U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
Ballou basketball player Kimane Jones, the January 2017 DCSAA recipient, said: "I feel honored. I really appreciate the award. I really don't know what to say; this whole process has just caught me by surprise."
For Raynor, the expansion to D.C. is just the beginning for the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month award.
"It's one of those things where you start small, word got out, then it spreads and spreads," Raynor said. "I would describe it as a small tidal wave. They've latched onto it in D.C. because they see how much positive impact the organization and community can enjoy as a result of it. I only see it growing from here."
Issue 236: August 2017