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Legend Tommie Smith awards next generation

By Staff | May 16, 2019

Lee County student-athletes had the opportunity to hear from a truly inspirational athlete, person and one of the most influential and prominent figures of the civil rights movement in history Wednesday night.

Tommie Smith, an Olympic gold medalist who raised his gloved right fist in silent protest of discriminatory culture in America on the podium during the 1968 Games in Mexico City (alongside fellow Olympian John Carlos), was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Rotary of Fort Myers South Scholar-Athlete Awards banquet at the Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers.

“My stand. Your challenge. And retrospect forward,” Smith said was his message to students that night. “You are becoming the future strength of our nation.”

One male and one female varsity letter winner who demonstrate leadership characteristics were chosen from each of the 18 high schools around Lee County to be recognized for their scholarly achievements in the classroom as well as their performance in the realm of athletics.

“We are honored and privileged to have Dr. Smith speak at our program,” said Tracie Bagans, president of the Rotary Club of Fort Myers South. “Our goal is to challenge the outstanding high school students who have been selected for this event to excel as scholars, as athletes and as citizens. Dr. Smith embodies those virtues and more.”

Smith, who has held 13 world records in track and field, had the chance to interact on a personal basis with the student-athletes prior to the banquet and awards ceremony as they picked his brain and he picked theirs.

Smith is the only man in the history of track and field to hold 11 world records simultaneously. And his world record, gold medal sprint in the 200-meter event of the ’68 Games resulted in a moment in time that will forever embody the power sports can have in culture.

“Sports got me out of the cotton fields,” said Smith, who was raised in East Texas with 11 siblings. “Each day, I had to get up and go to work. And I haven’t stopped getting up and going to work since I was 6 years old. Athletics have kept me going.”

Smith is no stranger to being a talented athlete who knows the importance of performing well in the classroom.

“It’s the concentration of both. If you’re an athlete, you have to remember the academics,” he said on being a student-athlete.

The image of he and John Carlos on the podium is one of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement, if not of all time across all platforms.

Tumultuous times were felt by minority individuals when Smith was preparing for the Olympic Games, especially in 1968. His silent gesture sparked reaction that ran across all areas of the spectrum.

“Continue,” he said of what still rings true about his message in 1968 that applies to today’s world. “The most important thing about people who take a stand, is what are they standing for? Are you standing because your buddy stood? Or are you standing because someone told you to stand — you can’t do this. You have to explain why you stand. What you’re standing for. Who’s standing behind you. And what you think this will be, because you will suffer for it for the rest of your life. Good suffer or bad suffer. You will pay the toll.”

His advice to minority athletes in the climate of 2019?

“Continue doing what you’re doing. You know by competing in athletics, there’s something good in the soul about competition. Academic competition. Athletic competition. Just because you are a minority, be thankful that you are. It’s much more devastating in your mind than it could be anything else. Don’t wallow in your sorrows because you think you’re less-than. That makes you less-than. You’re great. Continue it.”

Smith also talked on the importance of a relationship and bond between child and parent. That they need to work together as one and, when they do, they “are making changes” for the future good.

He advised students that when the storm of life is raging, to stop, look and listen to what’s going on around you, but to never stop striving to reach your highest potential.

“Tragedy is not having a goal,” said Smith, who also received a bachelor of arts degree from San Jose State University, a master’s degree in sociology from Goddard College and an honorary doctorate degree from San Jose State University.

“Be you. Enjoy yourself,” Smith told students. “Be proud of your contribution, it is not to be stepped on.”

Each honoree was awarded a plaque, which they received from Smith while their accolades, often lofty, were announced to the audience.

“It’s just been such an honor. I’ve had so much support throughout high school, and I’m just so honored to be here around so many amazingly talented athletes,” said Addison Bone of Ida Baker High School on being recognized.

Bone participated in cross country, track and soccer, as well as being named the Science Student of the Year in 2018.

“It’s been difficult, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said of balancing being a student-athlete. “I love playing sports and being involved in so many different things. It just gives you a whole different connection with your community and your school. It’s been really fun.”

Bone will attend the University of Florida where she will study environmental science and hopes to become an environmental lawyer.

“It feels good to be recognized for my outstanding achievements,” said Adolphus Taylor of North Fort Myers, who was the 2019 state heavyweight wrestling champion as well has having the highest GPA on the football team, where he was also captain. “It was a dream,” he said of meeting Tommie Smith.

Taylor will attend Jacksonville University to study mechanical engineering and to play football. He hopes to play NFL football in the future.

Steven Rua of Cape Coral High School boasts a 5.58 GPA, as well as being a member of the swim team as captain.

“It feels pretty good. I’m pretty honored to be recognized with this award. It shows that all the hard work I’m putting in, does have an end to it,” he said of the honor.

“It’s pretty hard,” he said on balancing scholastics and athletics. “Especially your senior year when you have a bunch of big deadlines to meet. But it is manageable. You really do get a little less sleep but it’s really doable.”

He plans to attend Johns Hopkins University where he will be enrolled in the pre-med program, as well as continue to swim.

“Hoping for success,” he said of his next step at Johns Hopkins.

Rashawn Hunter was a well-known commodity on the football field, track and basketball court during his time at Mariner High School, though his 4.14 GPA is not to be overlooked.

“It feels good but I feel like I have to give a lot of credit to my family, my coaches, because I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said of the recognition.

“It’s kind of hard,” he said of juggling school and sports. “When I have a game, I get home at 11 p.m. There’s time in between, but it can be hard to balance it out. Now that the seasons are over, I can really focus on my exams.”

He will attend Marshall University next year where he will play football and major in biology.

“It’s still going to be a challenge. But I’ll have more free time on my own between practices,” he said of taking the next step as a student-athlete.

A night of celebrating some of Lee County’s top athletic scholars could not be complete without the awarding of some scholarships to help ease the financial burden of a top school, which many of these students plan on attending.

Twelve students received $1,000 scholarships, while two students, one male, one female, were awarded a top scholarship of $5,000.

Among the $1,000 winners were Jose Altamirano, East Lee County High School; Melanie Hardwick, Dunbar High School; Ariel Wallace, Lehigh Senior High School; Jordan Dovale, Island Coast High School; Abigail Thomas, Southwest Florida Christian Academy; Maylin Pino Romeu, Gateway Charter High School; Hunter Hamilton, East Lee County High School; Sam Phillips, Ida Baker High School; Jaslyn Cintron, South Fort Myers High School; Nicholas Perdue, Lehigh Senior High School; Rua and Taylor.

The top Rotary South Scholar Athlete winners were Seneca Milledge of Dunbar High School and Maria Angelino of Fort Myers High School.

“It feels great to be recognized as the top male scholarly athlete of the year,” Milledge said. “I’m very proud of myself. I went through a lot and I want to thank a lot of people for supporting me. That’s why I’m here today.”

Milledge carries a 3.74 GPA while being MVP and captain of the football team as a dangerous running back. His list of track achievements are also lengthy.

Milledge will attend the University of Virginia where he will play football for a prestigious Division I program.

“Oh, yes,” he said when asked if he’s excited about taking the next step.

Angelino played varsity softball all four years at Fort Myers High School and was a captain her senior year while carrying a 5.44 GPA.

The Class 7A ’17 State Champion is Ivy League bound, as she will attend Dartmouth in the fall where she will participate in Global Dartmouth by interning for Jake Wood and Team Rubicon.

“It feels good. I can’t say enough about how supportive my parents have been and my teammates who inspire me to be better every day. Just being around my group of friends, who are just down to earth — they keep me grounded. So having them around is what made me the person I am today,” Angelino said.

She will continue her softball career as well at Dartmouth, and is excited to embark on her next endeavor in life.

“I am very excited for the next step,” Angelino said. “I’m ready to take that leap of faith into the world and, you know, I’m a person who thinks they’re crazy enough to change it.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj