NCAA student-athletes celebrate Flamespy Awards
The glitz and glamour of Hollywood filled the Schilling Center and Tower Theater Monday evening, April 28 as a part of the fourth annual Flamespy Awards. Student-athletes from all of Liberty’s NCAA Division I teams, as well as members of the support staff for Liberty Athletics, were honored during the event.
Cozy seating areas, a photo booth, movie-themed food stations and Hollywood-style decorations surrounded the giant Flamespy letters at the back of the Schilling Center as hundreds of athletes milled about the room for the pre-show reception.
From the bright pink jackets to elegant gowns, unique bowties and a bright blue suit, attendees showed off their best fashion for the event, which senior Meghan Babcock of the swimming and diving team called a gathering of “a giant, awkward family.”
Redshirt senior guard on the women’s basketball team Emily Frazier, who attended the event for the last time in her Liberty career, said the event is a relaxing way for student-athletes who have worked hard all year to end the semester.
“I love being with my teammates one last time and just seeing everybody else having (a good time),” Frazier said. “We get to see everyone else’s accomplishments, so it’s just so fun.”
The event is one of only two times all of Liberty’s NCAA athletes come together during the school year, according to Liberty Director of Athletics Jeff Barber.
“(R)eally the reason we do this is to celebrate the year together,” Jeff Barber said. “There have been a lot of fun things that have happened, a lot of accomplishments. We just like for them to come in here and enjoy each other … and have a good night.”
Following about an hour of mingling, picture taking and enjoying the Sodexo-catered dining options, athletes walked the red carpet to the Tower Theater, where the 90-minute show presenting 22 awards took place.
Throughout the night, an assortment of senior athletes and Liberty coaches presented the glass Flamespy awards, which were engraved and appropriately shaped like a flame. According to Alan York, co-host of the show, the awards nominees are compiled by the Liberty Athletics Communications staff and are voted on by the athletes themselves.
The night’s top honor, The Roc Royer/Mac Rivera Award, went to senior first baseman/pitcher for the baseball team Alex Close.
The award, which was established in honor of Liberty’s first football coach and a former member of the basketball team who were “great Christian men” who both died at a young age, is given to the graduating senior student-athlete “who has maintained an exemplary testimony on the playing field, in the classroom and among the student body,” according to liberty.edu/flames. This year marked the 40th time the award was given.
A few of Close’s numerous accomplishments include being selected in the 2014 MLB Draft and being named as a 2014 Capital One Academic All-American. Close was also named to the Big South All-Conference team in 2014. This year, Close is leading the Flames as a team captain with a .353 batting average. He is also in the top 10 in the Big South Conference in batting average, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage and saves.
“It’s a huge honor,” Close said. “It’s very humbling to be with all those other nominees. … It’s cool, and I didn’t think there was any chance I would get it. But like they said, this a very cool award named for two outstanding people that I personally would have loved to have the chance to meet.”
Close also noted that receiving the award made him think back over his last few years at Liberty.
“It kind of makes me sad (being almost done),” Close said. “… (But) I’m so thankful for God bringing me here and all that he’s done since I’ve been here, so this (award) is just cool to be able to have.”
Other awards that highlighted off-the-field accomplishments included the Commitment to Excellence Award, Darius Dixon Service Award, Perseverance of Job Award and Dr. Jerry Falwell Leadership Award.
Four senior student-athletes, Helen Doolittle (field hockey), Matt Pennington (baseball), Megan Robinson (softball) and Brittany Yang (women’s tennis), took home the Commitment to Excellence Award after finishing their Liberty tenure with a 4.0 GPA.
“It just goes to show that all your hard work really does pay off and (that it is important) to really always put in 100 percent, because it’s really worth it in the end,” Yang, a graphic design major, said.
The Darius Dixon Service Award, which is named for Darius Dixon, a freshman on the track team who died in a car accident Dec. 13, 2013 shortly after his first meet as a Flame, was given to women’s volleyball. The team earned the award for its commitment to unselfishly serving others.
Redshirt sophomore thrower on the track team Yana Babbitt took home the Perseverance of Job Award. Babbitt, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery and endured a shoulder injury, is now competing again.
“I did not expect it,” Babbitt said. “I was hoping that Emily Frazier would win it, because she’s gone through way more than I have, but it is an honor to have won it.”
Dual-sport senior Mercedes Cox (field hockey, women’s lacrosse) earned the Dr. Jerry Falwell Leadership Award as the top female to exemplify the vision of Liberty’s founder in leadership, service and athletic talent. Men’s tennis senior Dillon Segur secured the men’s honor.
Additionally, Jessica Barnes (swimming and diving) won the Assistant Coach of the Year Award, and Jim Toman (baseball) earned the Head Coach of the Year Award.
Eleven Flamespy awards were also given for student-athletes’ on-field performances. A full list of these awards and winners can be found below.
Awards given to Liberty Athletics’ behind-the-scenes staff and other integral figures included the Gifts of the Spirit Award, Support Staff of the Year Award and the Cornerstone Award. The first of the three awards went to Tyler Bunzey, a student-athlete tutor who helped athletes with their academic workload. Ryan Kindt, Liberty’s director of ticket sales, earned the second award, and the third went to Ron Kennedy, Liberty’s executive vice president for Marketing.
According to Jeff Barber, Kennedy and his staff have served Liberty Athletics with the promotional material they produce, including dozens of videos for the Liberty Flames website and all the team introduction videos shown prior to every home game.
In addition to the presentation of awards, two voices of the Liberty Flames Sports Network Nick Pierce and York, along with Liberty Athletics nutritionist Donna Barber, treated attendees to a purposely cheesy, Kanye West-like skit. Attendees also saw inspirational videos of student-athletes who had overcome trials and a reel highlighting Liberty Athletics’ commitment to the Lynchburg community.
Following the show, guests made their way back to the Schilling Center, where they were able to enjoy an assortment of desserts including cupcakes, popcorn, mini pies, ice cream and a loaded candy bar.
Flamespy Awards (on-the-field performances):
Best Clutch Performance — Caroline Douglas (redshirt junior, volleyball) against Virginia Sept. 23, 2014)
Best Finish — Mallory Cuccio (junior, field hockey) against No. 11 Louisville
Best Upset — Football defeats No. 1 Coastal Carolina Nov. 22, 2014
Best Championship Performance — Aklesso Agama (sophomore, men’s track and field) at 2015 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championship
Most Outstanding Team — Football
Player of the Year — Chima Uzowihe (senior, football) blocked field goal against Coastal Carolina
Breakthrough Athlete of the Year — D.J. Abnar (junior, football)
Female Rookie Athlete of the Year — Katy Pridemore (freshman, women’s lacrosse)
Male Rookie Athlete of the Year — Jovanni Chavez (freshman, men’s soccer)
Best Female Athlete of the Year — Ashley Rininger (junior, women’s basketball)
Best Male Athlete of the Year — Shawn Clowers (senior, baseball)
BROWN is the former editor-in-chief.