Howard’s Woods wins 2020 Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award

By The Sports Pulse Staff

WASHINGTON – During the 2020 ESPY Awards (June 21), former tennis champion and social activist Billie Jean King announced this year’s Youth Leadership Award winners where Howard University’s rising junior Niah Woods (Cincinnati) took home the prestigious award.

The Cincinnati native was one of seven winners acknowledged for their dedication in their respective communities.

Along with the other award winners, Woods will receive either a one-time $10,000 college scholarship or direct a grant to an eligible nonprofit aligned with their work. Among the other recipients is American University’s Elijah Murphy, the son of HU Hall of Famer Deborah Murphy from the women’s track & field program.

“I am extremely blessed and highly favored to receive this award,” said Woods. “Being recognized by someone who has had such a great impact in the world of sports is unbelievable.”

The Grassroot Project (TPG) capitalizes on the excitement, relatability, and popularity of sports to provide much-needed health literacy and social empowerment programs to D.C. teens. The program invests in leadership training, cultural competency, and professional skills.

“The Grassroot Project has impacted my life for the better,” Woods continued. “To be surrounded by a group of people who want to make an impact on people’s lives is truly incredible. This organization has helped shape what I desire to be in my future, it has also given me another reason to smile every day.”

Woods joins her Bison family and other student-athletes and teens in the D.C. area to make The District a healthier city. After one semester, she was named head volunteer.

“We are so proud of Niah,” said Howard Director of Athletics Kery Davis. “She exemplifies what it means to be a student-athlete in competition and academically while giving back to the community. She has a bright future ahead of her.”

Woods is a two-sport student-athlete at The Mecca, serving as a member of the women’s basketball team and women’s track & field team. The psychology major with a double minor in chemistry and sociology chose HU because of its HBCU culture. After graduation, she plans to be a psychiatrist and have her own practice firm.

Recently, Woods was named to the 2020 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner’s All-Academic Team.

“I am learning every day like the kids that I am teaching,” Woods concluded. “The work is truly outstanding, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Sports Humanitarian Awards, normally separate from the ESPY Awards, were combined as part of one virtual celebration on the night.

The show was broadcasted on television nationwide throughout the U.S., hosted by WNBA Champion and Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, Olympic Gold Medalist and OL Reign wing Megan Rapinoe and Super Bowl Champion and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

About the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award

The highly competitive nomination process for the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award selects and rewards young people for their leadership and commitment to improve their communities through sport. The selected nominees must: demonstrate how they are using the power of sport as a catalyst for change within their local school or community; be passionate and committed to empowering the community in which he/she/they live; deliver social impact showcasing how his/her/their community has been positively impacted; embody confidence and enthusiasm as a leader and have strong moral character; and personify exemplary leadership qualities on and off the field/court.

About the Grassroot Project

The Grassroot Project (TGP) is a 501(3)(c) non-profit organization that uses the power of sport to advance health equity for DC youth and their communities through NCAA athlete-driven health programs. These programs focus on topics surrounding sexual health, nutrition, and mental health in a three-year pipeline for middle school students facilitated by volunteers from American University, Georgetown University, Howard University, and George Washington University.

MoCo and PG County athletes win MPSSAA scholarship awards

By Harry Lichtman and Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse

GREENBELT — The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) has announced the winners of the 2020 Minds in Motion Scholar-Athlete scholarships, with a male and female recipient being selected from each of MPSSAA’s nine districts.

Back in March, the MPSSAA state semifinals had to be postponed and eventually canceled, along with the spring sports season, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic student-athletes were awarded nonetheless.

Two Montgomery County Class of 2020 winning athletes were Reece Petrolle of Damascus High School and Joanne Liu of Thomas S. Wootton High School.

Petrolle was a member of the boys’ lacrosse team at Damascus, as his senior season was unfortunately taken away from him due to the pandemic.

“It’s such a great honor for Reece to win the award,” said Swarmin’ Hornets Athletic Director Cliff Elgin. “He is a true student-leader and a great voice for our student body and supporter of all our athletic teams.”

While Petrolle mainly played boys lacrosse for Damascus, he was also on the football team until injuries prevented him from playing football any further.

Liu is also a multi-skilled athlete, competing as a swimmer and running track and field for Wootton, as she became the school’s first recipient of the award.

“We are all very excited,” said Patriots athletic director Alton Lightsey. “I was also able to teach her last year in Advanced Placement Language and Composition, where she impressed me with her analytical thinking and writing.”

Parkdale, Eleanor Roosevelt student-athletes honored with ‘Minds In Motion’ scholarships

David Onwonga of Parkdale High School and Jourdan Page of Eleanor Roosevelt High School have demonstrated outstanding initiative in the classroom and in their respective sports, prompting the MPSSAA to award them the ‘Minds in Motion’ student-athlete scholarships.

Of the 650 applicants throughout the state, only 18 were recognized, which speaks volumes as to how distinguished the honorees were. 

Each winner was awarded $1,000 apiece. According to the MPSSAA, applicants had to be seniors with a minimum 3.25 weighted GPA and “have participated in interscholastic athletic activities sponsored by MPSSAA.”

The Allstate Foundation has sponsored this thirteenth annual program since its inception in 2008. A total of $152,000 in scholarship funds has contributed towards empowering and supporting the education of tomorrow’s future leaders. 

Onwonga was beyond qualified for the Minds in Motion scholarship with a 4.1 weighted GPA and having excelled in outdoor and indoor track & field, basketball, and cross country between his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Parkdale Athletic Director Brian Moore said he encouraged Onwonga to apply for the scholarship in early spring. Onwonga took a stab at it, and a few months later, MPSSAA sent an email notifying him that he was a scholarship winner.

“I knew he was certainly qualified for it,” Moore said.

“This goes to show, once again, whatever stereotype you have about Parkdale or Prince George’s County athletics, he (Onwonga) comes to dispel any of those myths…What he’s done with this particular award is put Parkdale High School on the map and in the conversation with other schools around the state that we produce stellar student-athletes.”

Of the 18 award winners, Onwonga may have one of the unique stories. He went from battling asthma to becoming one of the best long-distance runners in PG County. 

He endured a good deal of injuries and setbacks, but let none of the adversity hinder his success as a student-athlete.

As a sophomore, Onwonga tried out for the basketball team and was cut initially due to lack of stamina, he said, which of course, was a result of having asthma. However, the coach allowed him to participate on the team anyway and gave him a piece of sound advice at the end of the season that would change his high school athletic career.

“When the (basketball) season ended, he directed me toward track conditioning to get my endurance levels up,” Onwonga said.

“I trained for like two months… and I ended up winning county’s at the novice level.”

His sophomore season, Onwonga competed in the 800-meter run for Parkdale’s track & field program and won the county championships at the novice level. 

David Onwonga pictured above. Courtesy Photo.

As a junior, Onwonga ran cross country but unfortunately suffered a hip flexor tendonitis injury halfway the indoor track season, sidelining him for about four months, which means he missed the county championships, regionals, states and majority of the outdoor track season.

After recovering from the injury, Onwonga returned for the final three weeks of the outdoor season and set a personal record in the 800 with a time of 2:07.

“What drives me is not winning, but seeing my time improve,” Onwonga said. “When I see that I improve from a certain time, it makes me want to work harder.”

The summer before his senior year, Onwonga got hurt again: this time, a hamstring injury took a month to heal. Nonetheless, he was able to bounce back in the fall and place third in the county championship and at regionals. 

Onwonga went on to win the county title in the 800-meter run (time of 2:02) as a senior. 

Then arose another obstacle that unfortunately sidelined Onwonga for the regional and state meets: a plantar fasciitis injury.

Jourdan Page, an outside hitter for Roosevelt’s volleyball team, was a starter for three seasons after being bumped up from junior varsity as a freshman. Throughout her career with the Raiders, she has led her team to a regional championship, a county championship, and a 4A state semifinal appearance.

“It’s awesome to see someone recognize her for not only her athletic accomplishments but also the other parts of her Roosevelt achievements,” said Head Coach Scott Fifield.

As a junior and a senior, Page led Roosevelt in kills (170 this past season) and was second in digs.

Page, also a captain on the team, also recorded 52 aces, 34 blocks and 44 digs as part of a stellar senior campaign. Additionally, Page boasts a 3.8 weighted GPA. She applied for the scholarship in April, she said.

“I was honestly just looking for scholarships that I would qualify for, so I just saw this one, and I was like ‘Why not?’ It’s better that I apply for it and just see what happens than not go for it at all,” Page said.

“I was just very honored to receive (the award). Not just for the money, but the recognition is nice because it shows how much – being an athlete – you have to work on the court as well as off the court to be balanced.”

Page will head several miles north to compete for one of the better volleyball programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) at Morgan State University.

Page added to her athletic and academic accolades as a board member with the Student Government Association, the Black Student Union, and a volunteer with the Emerging Youth Leaders program and All America’s Youth Growth & Development program. 

According to Page, the fact that two PG County athletes were selected for the scholarship disproves any negative stigma attached to local athletics and academics. 

“I feel like people tend to look down on PG County sometimes, so it shows, you know, we have talent that needs recognition too,” she said.

PGCPS celebrates student-athletes on College Signing Day

By Demetrius Dillard and José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributors

BALTIMORE – Student-athletes across Maryland comprised of the class of 2020 have experienced a year unlike any other graduating classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, as part of Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) celebration of College Signing Day, this year’s seniors made it a point to celebrate and announce where they plan to begin the next phase of their lives. Here are some of the key commitments announced:

4A schools announce historic signings

Kaniyah Harris (1) puts up a shot during a MPSSAA Girls Basketball 4A State Quarterfinal game at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, MD. Photo by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse.

Charles H. Flowers guard Kaniyah Harris reaffirmed her commitment to Howard University at the school’s virtual signing day while also announcing that she received more than $2 million in scholarship money. She led Flowers to its second consecutive county championship and a state semifinal berth while also being named the 2020 Prince George’s County 4A Player of the Year. 

“What more can I say about Kaniyah Harris,” Head Coach Roderick Hairston said after her 25-point performance in the state quarterfinals on March 26. “This was her senior year and she plays like the best senior in state.”

In Upper Marlboro, signing day attention at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School, generally reserved for its football team in February, was shifted over to its basketball programs. First, boys basketball senior Kejuan Frager announced his decision to head to Texas, where he would attend Paris Junior College. The 5-foot-8 senior help lead the Pumas to its first state semifinal appearance since 2017.

Meanwhile, Lady Pumas point guard Mesa Floyd announced her commitment to Caldwell University after leading the team in points per game (17.3). Floyd’s 11-point performance on March 2 allowed Wise to earn its first state playoff win over rivals Eleanor Roosevelt.

Following a 19-win season, the Eleanor Roosevelt High School boys basketball team will say goodbye to multiple players, including All-County First Team star Quinton Mincey, who will attend Mount St. Mary’s in the fall. Raiders officials also confirmed that guard Olumide Lewis would head to St. Mary’s College of Maryland after graduation.

Meanwhile, at Laurel High School, girls lacrosse star Clara Larios-Soto became the first Lady Spartan to commit to playing the sport at the collegiate level, signing with Mount Aloysius College. The senior recalled meeting with the coaching staff last season and visiting their campus in Cresson, Pennsylvania.

While she was unable to play during her senior year, Larios-Soto said she plans to continue training at home and continue working on her stick work, to ease in the transition to the college game. Together with her announcement, Laurel confirmed that free safety Markus Smith would play football for Chowan University this fall.

“I never thought I would be making history as the first lacrosse player to be recruited from Laurel; it makes me happy that I did,” Larios-Soto said. “I would like to thank everybody who supported me throughout my journey, including my parents, coaches, teachers and teammates.”

After capturing a 4A/3A regional title, Bowie High School’s 126-pound wrestler Dainon Kappes announced on his Instagram account that he would be attending the University of Maryland as part Head Coach Alex Clemsen’s first recruiting class. Kappes finished his senior year with a 31-2 record and a 3.8 GPA. He joins cornerback Devan Parrish (Frostburg State University) as Bulldogs athletes announcing their college designations.

Several student-athletes elected to stay close to home and continue their athletic endeavors with Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). Joining the Owls’ men’s basketball team are Central High School’s 6-foot-5 center Michael Calloway, Northwestern High School guard Marquise Delahaye and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Jahari Simon.

Bladensburg High School boys soccer captain José Argueta will take his talents to PGCC as well, becoming the Owls first signing for the 2020 season. The midfielder scored seven goals and completed five assists as the Mustangs won their second consecutive regional title.

3A/2A/1A student-athletes stay local

After leading the Oxon Hill High School boys basketball to a 21-4 season, senior Ronald Polite decided to sign with George Mason. The 6-foot-2 guard emerged as one of the premier athletes in the area as he averaged 22.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. George Mason Head Coach Dave Paulsen spoke highly of Polite’s leadership qualities and sees a bright future for the youngster.

Oxon Hill’s Ronald Polite (1) drives to the basket during a Prince George’s County boy’s basketball game at Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, MD. Photo by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse.

“He has excellent vision, is very unselfish and knows where the ball should go. He has a knack for finishing in the lane and is becoming an excellent long-range shooter,” Paulsen said. “He competes on both ends of the floor and improves every time I see him. He’s going to be a big college guard with outstanding versatility.” 

Largo High School’s Vanessa Schwarzmann capped off a remarkable career as a 2019 All-County 3A/2A/1A First Team selection after averaging 19 points per game. Next season, she will play collegiate ball with the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex (CCBC-Essex). Fellow teammate Taylor Lewis, who earned All-County Honorable Mention recognition, announced her commitment to Coffeyville Community College.

Schwarzmann blossomed into a marksman from long range and discovered her role as a team captain by her junior year. While CCBC-Essex showed interest multiple times throughout the season, only one other school, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, attempted to recruit her during the season.

Because CCBC’s style of play welcomes 3-point shooting, signing with the program was virtually a no-brainer, the Lady Lions guard said.

“Really I feel like they were my only option and they were the most interested in me at the time,” Schwarzmann said. “I feel like they play the style that I play. I like to shoot 3s and that’s like what they do, so I feel like I can fit in.”

Largo’s track and field team, featuring members from last year’s state championship squad, announced their school commitments as well. They include Sade Panton (LIU-Brooklyn), Sanaya Ross and Alysha Pullium-Robinson (Chicago State University), Jaylen Jackson (NCCU) and Renaldi Falwell (Johnson and Wales).

Another local track athlete, Frederick Douglass High School’s Miles Gray, announced that he accepted a full athletic scholarship at Indiana Tech. On Feb. 1, Grey captured the 2A West Region Championship in the 300-meter race and finished second in the same event at the Indoor State Championships.

Gwynn Park High School Principal Melissa McGuire highlighted several scholar-athletes on their way to careers in collegiate sports, including girls basketball player Jenae Dublin. The 6-foot-2 guard will be playing for Iona College (N.Y.) after capping off her Yellow Jackets career by being named the 2020 PG County 3A/2A/1A Co-Player of the Year.

Potomac High School had several football players announce their college commitments early, including wide receiver Corey Dyches to Maryland and quarterback Dominique Anthony signing with Old Dominion.

However, several players from its 2A state runners-up squad made their commitments known on the special signing day, according to Coach Ronnie Crump. They include linebacker Anthony James (Marshall University); safety Xavier Dozier (Virginia Union University); defensive tackle Zion Pitman (West Virginia State); defensive tackle Donnell Watson (Chowan University); receiver Marquise Richardson (West Liberty University); tackle Maurice Hicks (Cisco Community College-Texas); receiver/safety Ortez Marshman (Bridgewater University); fullback Kwamai Phifer (Salisbury University); running back Dmarcus Holmes (Bluefield College); receiver Amir Anderson (Monterey Peninsula Community College); guard Kwane Booker (Anna Maria College) and guard David Moore (Bowie State).

Bison among first to stampede in the historic Penn Relays

Howard Track & Field among the first HBCUs to compete at the historic Penn Relays

By Ashleigh Fields/Howard University Freshman Journalism Major

WASHINGTON – Every student-athlete who has entered the Howard University track and field office in the basement of Cook Hall has had the chance to admire the four circular plaques mounted on the wall. Engraved in gold are the words, “University of Pennsylvania Relay Carnival.”

Although many schools are now given a chance to compete at the prestigious meet, Howard was among the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to be granted admission to compete in 1920.

April would have been the 100-year celebration of HBCUs competing at the historic Penn Relays; however, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), this year’s festivities were canceled.

“We must make sure everyone is safe during these unprecedented times,” said Howard Director of Track & Field David Oliver. “When the time comes, we’ll be ready for the event.”

In 1942, Xavier (La.) became the first HBCU relay squad to win at the illustrious event, setting the standard in the men’s 440-yard relays. The team had Pittsburgh native Herb Douglas as its leadoff man, a three-time state champion (100-yard, 220-yard, & long jump) in high school. He received numerous offers, including his hometown University (Pittsburgh), but the Pitt Panthers refused to offer him financial aid; instead he accepted a scholarship from Xavier’s coach Ralph Metcalfe.

“The first year we were eligible, we came back up in 1942 and beat Pitt in the 440 relay,” Douglas said. “To win a championship at the Penn Relays, we could say was the equivalent of winning an Olympic medal.”

Douglas, 97, has remained a Penn Relays official long enough to celebrate the 100th year of HBCU participation in 2020.

In Howard’s history, the relay events have been a cornerstone throughout generations of Bison with a plethora of All-Americans, including the 4×400 relay squad of Richard LouisKenny WilsonDavid Charlton and Oliver Bridges that won the 1983 Penn Relays Championship of America.

“It was a great experience,” said Bridges, who was the anchor on that championship relay team. “When you win the Championship of America at the Penn Relays, it’s an awesome accomplishment. It took a superb team effort.”

William “Bill” Ritchie, a 1971 HU graduate, holds the distinction of being the first known NCAA All-American in school history, competed in the Penn Relays where he was a member of the 1967 squad that took home the gold in the freshmen consolation mile. Ritchie’s team included Ron LassiterTyrone Malloy and Paul Mathis.

The 1967 HU Track Relay Team (L to R – Bill Ritchie, Paul Mathis, Tyrone Malloy & Ron Lassiter). Courtesy Photo/Howard University Athletics.

“It was my honor to represent Howard University [at the Penn Relays],” Ritchie recalls. “The event was like no other in the track and field world, except for the Olympics. The Penn Relays created memories that will live with me forever.”

From 1967 through 1970, Ritchie participated at the Penn Relays where he also earned a pair of medals in the men’s 100-yard dash (1969 and 1970).

Howard has its list of Bison in the history books, with names like Theresa AllenZachary JonesBrenda Bailey, and former Olympic and Howard coach Bill Moultrie, just to name a few.

Oliver, a former Olympian and Penn Relay champion in the 110 hurdles, was eager to see what this year held for all the team in the storied event.

“This was destined to be a huge edition of the Penn Relays from a HBCU perspective,” Oliver commented. “I think all of us were looking forward to this special edition. The cancelation of this year’s event, while unfortunate, is not a denial of an opportunity for the HBCUs; it is just a dream deferred for another year.”

Oliver (2000-04) knows how special it is to run at the Penn Relays. During his senior campaign under coach the late Coach Michael Merritt, he was a member of the 4×400 relay team that was victorious in their section. Later, he also competed professionally in the shuttle hurdles where the squad set a world-best performance.

In 2018, Oliver returned to his alma mater, where he saw long jumper Dominique Cleggett take first-place at The Relays, becoming the first HU female student-athlete to win an individual event since 1985.

“It was a cool experience competing against some of the top student-athletes in the country,” said Cleggett. “It was awesome. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be there.”

There is no denying Howard amongst other HBCUs brought a powerful presence to Penn Relays during each year of participation. And when things return to normal, it hopes to continue to do the same.

The University of Pennsylvania conducted a digital version of the renowned event Friday (April 24) from noon to 5 p.m.

About the Penn Relays

The Penn Relays (also Penn Relays Carnival) is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States, hosted annually since April 21, 1895, by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.