By Bill Spinks
Red Oak basketball star Breanna Davis and Midlothian multisport athlete Tanner Henderson were among the big winners at the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror’s All-Ellis County Best of Preps awards ceremony on Thursday evening.
Davis, who racked up numerous state and district awards in leading the Lady Hawks to a district championship, added another huge honor as she was named All-Ellis County Female Athlete of the Year.
Henderson earned Male Athlete of the Year after running to the District 15-4A gold medal and the UIL state cross country championship meet last fall, and helping lead the Panthers to the 15-4A boys’ soccer championship as well.
Davis is a sophomore who is rapidly gaining the attention of major college scouts, while Henderson will run cross country and track starting this fall at the University of Texas-Arlington.
This marked the second year the Daily Light and Mirror have played host to the awards show. Because of COVID-19 precautions, this year’s event was changed from a live, in-person gala to a virtual broadcast, with a star-studded group of athletes and a Super Bowl-winning coach introducing the winners.
Among the high-profile announcers were NBA great Steph Curry, Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, tennis champion Venus Williams, track and field legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick introduced Midlothian girls’ basketball coach Amy Tennison as Ellis County’s Coach of the Year. Tennison took a team without its top performer because of injury, and led them all the way to the Class 5A Region II finals, where it required a triple-overtime loss to eventual state champion Frisco Liberty to stop their run.
A highlight of the event was the introduction of the winner of the Chuck Beatty Courage Award, which went posthumously to Maypearl baseball coach Brian Bilbrey, who lost his nine-month battle with cancer on Oct. 25 at the age of 41.
Bilbrey taught and coached at Maypearl High School for eight years. He took over the Panthers’ baseball program before the 2016 season and led them to playoff berths each year from 2016 to 2018, including the Class 3A Region III semifinals in 2017. During his illness, Bilbrey continued to teach special education.
Belichick introduced Ennis’ Sam Harrell as Ellis County’s football Coach of the Year. Harrell, who has won three state titles with the Lions (2000, 2001, 2004) before leaving coaching to battle health problems, returned to the sideline in 2018. Last fall, Harrell led Ennis to the District 8-5A championship, the Class 5A Division II state quarterfinals, and an overtime loss to eventual 5A Division II state champion Aledo.
Harrell’s starting quarterback, junior Collin Drake, was introduced by Brees as the Ellis County Football Player of the Year. Drake passed for more than 2,500 yards and almost added 1,000 more yards on the ground, and was named the unanimous 8-5A MVP.
Curry, a two-time NBA MVP and three-time champion with the Golden State Warriors, introduced Life Waxahachie’s Vernon Johnson and Davis as Male and Female Basketball Players of the Year respectively.
Phelps, who won Olympic gold 23 times and 28 medals overall, introduced Midlothian Heritage schoolmates Marcus Bilke and Kellyn Lansdowne as Male and Female Swimmers of the Year.
Rounding out the athletes who received All-Ellis County Player of the Year recognition were Henderson and Waxahachie junior Emma Curry (cross country), Red Oak’s Raul Acosta and Waxahachie’s Angel Garfias (soccer), Hailey Hunt of Red Oak (volleyball) and Jackson Carter of Midlothian (wrestling).
The entire ceremony is available for viewing on demand at www.waxahachietx.com/preps.