On Sunday November 9th members of the disability sport community from across the state of Georgia gathered at the Atlanta History Center for the 2nd Annual Georgia Disability Sport Awards, presented by Primerica. This year, celebrated in memory of Jon McCullough and in honor of Joey Reiman. In addition to the awards themselves, highlights of the event included a captivating keynote speech from Aimee Copeland who exuded the spirit and positivity that she is now renowned for. Aimee shared her story and also talked about her love of the outdoors and her intentions of setting up a fully accessible wilderness therapy park. Next up, Full Radius Dance performed. The group includes both able bodied dancers and dancers with disabilities. Their unique performance was a display of terrific strength and creativity.
For the main part of the event, MC Jason Joines, father of wheelchair basketball player Joshua Joines, introduced the nominees and winners in each category. The range of sports represented was impressive with athletes, coaches and volunteers from athletics, archery, climbing, fencing, swimming and wheelchair basketball to name a few. As the winners were announced, the audience were given a snapshot of their achievements, which included everything from local and regional titles to national championships and Paralympic medals – the talent in the room was impressive to say the least. The details for each winner are included below under the list of award categories and nominees.
We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the sponsors of the event. Thanks also to the volunteers for their time and energy in putting the event together and especially thank you to the people that continue to put their time, passion and commitment towards disability sport in Georgia.
Presenting Sponsor: Primerica
Corporate Sponsors: 101 Mobility, At Home Medical, Clipper Petroleum Foundation, Coloplast, Eagle Sportschairs, Edward Jones, Mersereau, Lazenby and Rockas, Mobility Works, NuMotion and Sands Cares
In-Kind Sponsors: Designs by Nisha, Georgia Beverage Association, Ferbbank Museum, Leff and Associates, Michael Morris, Red 5 Multimedia, Ryche Rych Media, Timeless Productions
The Junior Male Athlete of the Year presented by At Home Medical
- Collin Lancaster from the Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks
- Logan Caudle from Gordan Central High School Track and Field
- JaQue Billingsley from the Houston County Sharks
- Nicholas Pecora from Atlanta Phoenix Squirt Major hockey team
- Chance Boyd from the Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks
- Josh Joines from Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks
Award Winner: JaQue Billingsley
JaQue is a multisport student athlete who had a very successful year in all 5 of his sports. In the 2013-2014 season, he won 3 state championships with the Houston County Sharks handball, football and basketball teams, set a new record in powerlifting at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Junior Games and was named the 2014 Paralympic High School Field Athlete of the Year.
Junior Female Athlete of the Year presented by Edward Jones
- Harper Scott from the Nautical Milers Swim Team
- Ali Lawson from Georgia Blind Sports Association goalball team
- McClain Hermes from the Georgia Blazers Swim Team
- Samantha Fraser from Catalyst Sports Climbing
- Savannah Shanton from Catalyst Sports Climbing
Award Winner: Harper Scott
Harper started 2014 with a new commitment to training for the Paralympics. She has proven to be a strong competitor nationally and internationally. She won 4 medals, including 2 golds, at the Guayaquil Para-Swimming Open in Ecuador with her S14 4×100 freestyle and medley relay teams who are also ranked #1 in the world by the IPC. Harper holds 5 US Paralympic American records in the women’s S14 II classs.
Adult Male Athlete of the Year presented by 101 Mobility
- Matt Simpson from Atlanta Force and US Men’s Goalball team
- Sean Concepcion from the Nautical Milers
- Bryan Powell from the Georgia Blazers Track Team
- Isaiah Wilcox from the Georgia Blind Sports Association Beep Baseball team
- Curtis Lovejoy from the Shepherd Swords and Team USA
Award Winner: Curtis Lovejoy
Not many people can say that they held a world record for 13 years – even less people can say that they broke their own record they made 13 years ago. Curtis Lovejoy did just that in April at the International German Championships in the men’s SB1 100-meter breaststroke, improving his world record time by 6 seconds. He also won 3 golds at the CanAms in the 200m freestyle, 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke. When Curtis isn’t swimming, he is fencing for the Shepherd Swords.
Adult Female Athlete of the Year presented by Mersereau, Lazenby and Rockas
- Curran Brown from the Georgia Blazers Track Team
- Amanda Dennis from the US Women’s Goalball Team
- Lee Ford Faherty from the US Paralympic Archery Team
Award Winner: Amanda Dennis
Amanda Dennis has been playing goal ball since she was 9 years old. At the age of fifteen, she began attending USA women’s goalball training camps and by the age of seventeen, she was competing internationally as part of Team USA. Shortly after her international debut, she made the 2012 USA Women’s National Goalball Team and traveled to compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Now 20, she is described as one of the fiercest competitors in the game with many more years left to play. In 2014, she helped bring home the gold for the US women’s team at the IBSA Goalball World Championships.
Military Athlete of the Year presented by Clipper Petroleum Foundation
- Jacques Swafford from BlazeSports
- James Johnson from BlazeSports
- Buddy Mays from BlazeSports
Award Winner: Jacques Swafford
Jacques is a United States Army veteran and a multisport athlete for BlazeSports. This past year, he has fully dedicated his time and energy to improving in his field events. His hard work has paid off as he not only took silver at the US Paralympic Track & Field Championships, but he broke VA standards at the National Veteran Wheelchair Games.
Junior Team of the Year presented by Eagle Sportschairs
- Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks Prep Team
- Nautical Milers Swim Team
- Georgia Blazers Swim Team
Award Winner: Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks Prep Team
In their second year as the Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks, the prep team wanted to keep the momentum of last year’s success going into 2014. They succeeded by going undefeated once again during regular season play. Seeded number 2 going into Nationals, the Hawks were eager to defend their title. Allowing only one loss during the tournament, the Hawks played hard to win their third straight National Championship.
High School Team of the Year presented by Primerica
- Houston County Sharks
- Gordon High School Track and Field
- Jackson Jets Flag Football Team
Award Winner: Houston County Sharks
The Houston County Sharks isn’t just one team, but a whole high school program. Part of the GHSA and AAASP the Houston County Sharks have proven to be strong competitors by remaining undefeated and repeating as State Champions in handball, basketball and football two years in a row.
Adult Team of the Year presented by Georgia Beverage Association
- The Pease Brothers
- Nautical Milers Swim Team
- Shepherd Track and Field Team
Award Winners: The Nautical Milers Swim Team
The athletes of the Nautical Milers are members of the US Paralympic team, GA Master swimmers, open water swimmers, Athlete without Limits and Special Olympics of GA. This team has seen great success in 2014 by setting 6 Georgia Masters Swimming Relay State Records, 13 S14 US Paralympic American Records and winning 9 medals at the Guayaquil Para-Swimming Open in Ecuador. They currently hold the IPC World #1 ranking for the S14 Women 4×100 Medley relay and the S14 Women 4×100 Free relay and the #3 ranking for the S14 Men 4×100 Medley relay and S14 Men 4×100 Free relay.
Volunteer of the Year presented by Coloplast and NuMotion
- Julia Herring from the Georgia Blazers Swim Team
- Kim Wages from Walton County Special Olympics
- Abby Lefkove from Catalyst
Award Winners: Julia Herring and Abby Lefkove
Julia is the daughter of last years Coach of the Year recipient Fred Lamback. Julia volunteers with the Georgia Blazers swim team all year round travelling 3 hours to and from practice twice a month. Similar to her father, she works with each swimmer’s ability and figures out the technique to maximize their performance. Julia dedicates most of her time to the newer and younger swimmers. She has helped many of them who used to be afraid of putting their face in the water now swim strokes independently.
As a mainstay of the volunteering team for Catalyst Sports Abby has given countless hours of her time towards helping children and adults with a variety of physical disabilities learn to climb. Her caring but confident approach allows new climbers to feel safe under her supervision. Abby is extremely passionate about the benefits of sport and outdoor education and she brings a sense of fun and adventure to everything she does.
Coach of the Year presented by Mobility Works
- Jeff Jones from the Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks
- Fred Lamback from the Georgia Blazers Swim Team
- Pat Thoreson from the Nautical Milers
- Hal Simpson from the Atlanta Force
- John Rainwater from the Gordon Central High School Track and Field Team
- Harlon Mathews from the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association
- Sam Zapatka from the Georgia Blazers Track Team
- Eric Gray from Catalyst Sports
- Tom McPike from Johnson Park
Award Winner: Hal Simpson
Hal is a man of many jobs. Not only is he the head coach of the Atlanta Force’s men’s goal ball team, he is also the founder and executive director of the Georgia Blind Sport Association. Hal’s mission with the GBSA is to create more sport opportunities for individuals who are visually impaired across the state of Georgia.
In 2014, Hal led the Atlanta Force to a successful season, bringing home silver at the USABA Goal ball National Championships.
Phoenix Award presented by BlazeSports America
The Phoenix Award is meant to recognize an organization that has significantly contributed to the advancement of disability sports and empowering individuals with disabilities.
The Coan Park Recreation Center is a part of the city of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation. They provide therapeutic recreation programs and adaptive sports opportunities for those who have difficulty accessing and participating in recreation opportunities offered to the general public in Atlanta.
They provide an environment that is safe, fun, inclusive and educational all year long through their after school programs and summer camps.
Coan has shown great dedication through their own programs as well as contributing their staff time and facility to other adaptive sports organizations in the area.
The Triumph of the Human Spirit Award – goes to our honoree Mr. Joey Reiman. Mr. Reiman is the CEO and Founder of Brighthouse. Joey was the creator of the 1996 Paralympic Games’ – famous and popular No Excuses Campaign. With the 20th anniversary of the 96 Games and BlazeSports, and the impact of the No Excuses campaign, we thought it fitting for Joey to be the first recipient of the Triumph of the Human Spirit Awards as we use this award to remember the dedication and commitment Jon McCullough had for the Paralympic movement.