Athletic greatness was on full display Tuesday evening during the inaugural All-Ellis County prep sports banquet.
The event, hosted by the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror at the Waxahachie Civic Center, recognized outstanding student-athletes and coaches from 19 schools across Ellis County and in 20 sports.
Of course, the celebration also brought MLB Hall of Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to the Ellis County community for a 40-minute question-and-answer session.
Rodriguez, who was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017 on his first ballot, used the opportunity to speak to the over 630 parents, student-athletes and community members in attendance about the importance of education, determination, teamwork and respect for one's self, family and team.
He also fielded questions from several student-athletes and coaches in attendance, ranging from how he adjusted as an immigrant to "Do you like my bowtie?"
Rodriguez did, in fact, like the bowtie and promised to wear the baby blue tie accented by pink sailboats on an upcoming appearance on Fox Sports Southwest, where he serves as a pre- and post-game host for the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez also posed for photos and signed memorabilia during a pre-event VIP reception, as well as stood with each award-winner for a photo during the event and after they had received a plaque on stage.
In addition to awarding the player and coach of the year for each sport, the Daily Light Media Group also recognized two overall players of the year, an overall coach of the year and the first-ever recipient of the Chuck Beatty Courage Award.
The 2019 Female Athlete of the Year award went to Red Oak graduate Makayla Rushing.
Rushing led the Lady Hawks soccer team to a 21-3-2 record and District 14-5A championship after scoring a county-high 42 goals and 102 points (18 assists). She averaged 1.9 goals and 4.6 points per match and will attend Alabama A&M University in the fall.
The award was sponsored by Lisa Burke at Sun West Mortgage.
TaRon Smith, a graduate of Milford High School, was then named the 2019 Male Athlete of the Year.
Smith led the Bulldogs to a 12-2 record this past season that ended in the program's sixth trip to the 1A state football championships.
He completed 116-of-his-190 passes for 2,028 yards and 51 touchdowns to four interceptions. He also amassed a team-high 1,639 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on 97 carries.
On the basketball court, Smith averaged 22 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Bulldogs. He then carried a .332 batting average on the baseball field.
Smith also excelled on the track during his senior campaign. He ran well in the 100-meter dash and recorded a season-long 18-foot-3.5 in the long jump, while also helping the 4x100-meter and 4x200-meter relay teams reach the 1A Region IV championships.
The award was sponsored by Wirth Collecting, located in Waxahachie.
The 2019 Coach of the Year award went to Ray Hydes, who recently completed his 21st season as the skipper of the Midlothian Panthers baseball team with a 5A Region II championship appearance.
Hydes and the Panthers had to win six of their final seven regular-season games in order to sneak into the 5A playoffs. They then captured bi-district, area, regional quarterfinal and regional semifinal championships to reach the regional championship series for the first time in 12 years.
Midlothian ended the season with a 26-15 record.
The award, sponsored by Methodist Midlothian Medical Center, will annually honor a coach who exhibits extraordinary leadership, care and success in his or her sport.
The evening concluded with the awarding of the first-ever Chuck Beatty Courage Award, which aims to recognize a coach or student that exemplifies courage and perseverance both in and out of the athletic arena.
Following a short video introducing the award's namesake, Mr. Beatty joined Juan Fresquez, president of Methodist Mansfield and Midlothian Health Systems, on stage to present the award to Red Oak graduate Swinton Jackson.
A full-feature on Jackson will run in a commemorative All-Ellis County prep sports section will publish Sunday, June 30 in the Daily Light and Thursday, July 4 in the Midlothian Mirror.
Colten Crist, on behalf of the Daily Light Media Group, noted the Daily Light and Mirror are the "premier source for high school sports news" and that Tuesday's event was the perfect celebration to highlight that fact.
"This event is really a celebration of what our reporters do each and every day," Crist continued. "These stories that come from the fields and courts help shape our community and high school sports are something that we all recognize, know and love."
Methodist Midlothian Medical Center served as the title sponsor for the event. Community partners for the event currently included Red Oak ISD, Waxahachie ISD, Carlisle Chevrolet Buick GMC and Hardesty Law Office, PLLC, while table sponsors were Pearman Oil & L.P. Gas, Inc., David Hill Custom Homes, LIfe School, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP and Midlothian Chamber of Commerce.
"It is such an honor to be a part of this great event," said Nate Rodriguez, senior group publisher for GateHouse Southwest, as the event closed. "[...] Thank you, athletes, parents, coaches and community supporters for making this night possible."
He added, "And the amazing thing is, not only are these students some of the best athletes in the state, but they're also great kids that make their communities proud. This event allows us to celebrate these student-athletes and recognize all the hard work and sacrifices they've made, as well as those of their coaches and families."
In an email following the event, Jeremy Barnett applauded the efforts of all involved.
"The event on Tuesday evening was really cool," said Barnett, whose son, Justin, was named an All-Ellis County first-team soccer player following his senior campaign at Midlothian High School. "[It was] first class and the community truly appreciates you guys 'giving back.' My family was really impressed, and people don't say it enough but thank you for covering our athletes and for a truly wonderful event! You guys rock!"