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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Lessons for the Gatorade Players of the Year

By Jessica Mendoza

Last night I was lucky to be one of the hosts, along with Lisa Leslie, Allyson Felix, Kevin Love and Matt Stafford, of the Gatorade Player of the Year awards, recognizing the top high school athletes in baseball, softball, track and field, cross country, soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Picture many of the past Player of the Year winners -- Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Kerri Walsh, Candace Parker, Maya Moore -- sitting out there in those same seats before they were stars. I looked around the same room, and saw high school athletes who have gone above and beyond, within their sports, classrooms and communities, but their names are still unknown. You know that many, if not all, will soon be on magazine covers, and the talk of SportsCenter. This is why I love this event.

I sat across from baseball player Dylan Bundy, the Male Athlete of the Year winner. He joked, with a boyish, nervous grin, about how much bigger the steaks are in his Oklahoma hometown than the fancy steak we were eating in Hollywood. I thought about how many more fancy steaks he will be eating before his career is done, and how I got to sit next to him for his first.

When asked what my biggest message was for the high-school-athletes-soon-to-become-superstars, I answered simply: humility. We all know these high schoolers are beyond talented in their sports, but continued success can only come with the ability to see their own weaknesses and to always try to be better. And with humility, they'll never forget where they come from, and they'll remember the next generation of athletes, to whom we should all continue to pay it forward.

That is what makes the dinner so great. The superstars of today, paying it forward to the next generation, and a company like Gatorade making it a very big night in Hollywood.