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GCPS district recognizes top athletes

NORCROSS -- This group, as Mike Emery puts it, is "the best of the best."

The Gwinnett County Public Schools athletic director of athletics, student activities and community schools was a major visionary behind Monday night's first Outstanding Senior Athlete Awards Dinner, designed to reward the top male and female student-athlete at each of the county's 17 GCPS schools.

Each sport typically has its own banquet to honor groups of student-athletes, but the seniors honored at the Norcross Marriott make up an even more elite group, the inaugural class of a new GCPS award.

"These are the top 35 kids out of 12,000 GCPS athletes," Emery said. "I don't know how many of those are seniors, but it's a large group. ... If I was a senior athlete I would take this to be a huge honor. With all the great athletes we have in this county, it's huge. And not just the great athletes, we have a lot of kids who have great character and are exceptional in academics."

The decisions on which seniors to honor were made by each high school's athletic director based on a specific set of criteria that included being an accomplished varsity athlete. That was in addition to the more important criteria like grades, extracurricular activities and community service.

Each student also invited a teacher or coach who had most affected their young lives to Monday's banquet. Every GCPS school had two athletes receive awards along with Mill Creek student Alex Reed, a senior on the Gwinnett Heat adapted sports teams.

"These kids may or may not be the best baseball player or the best football player at their school," Emery said. "It may go to kids who aren't always in the limelight, but are very deserving."

Emery hopes the first-year event is a building block for future scholar-athlete recognition. He is seeking to add more sponsorships between now and the Class of 2011's banquet.

"We're looking to do this year in and year out," he said. "The schools have jumped on it. Everyone who has heard about it has been thrilled."