Star athletes, past and present, and local high school teams were the highlights of the athletic banquet entitled “Life Beyond the Playing Field” at the Hilton on Thursday, which was a part of the 41st Annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition Conference.
Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles, ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe were among those honored for their outstanding feats on and off the court.
Sports agent Allen Ellison, Chicago Cubs President Tom Ricketts, television’s Judge Mathis and Harlem Globetrotter legend Meadowlark Lemon were also in attendance.
ABC 7’s sports reporter Jim Rose hosted the event, which also honored local high school teams, including Simeon and Leo’s athletic departments. Tia Norfleet, NASCAR’s first African-American female who is licensed to drive, was also honored at the program.
“It’s an honor and I’m kind of shocked because I’m amongst the best with Reverend Jackson and the youth doing positive things,” Norfleet said about being recognized at the athletic banquet. “It’s just a blessing and an honor and I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart.”
Norfleet, who expressed that her ultimate goal is to race in the Daytona 500, said that she was inspired by the event and it gave her motivation moving forward.
Boxer Alex Martin Jr. was also inspired by being surrounded by the many different athletes and notable figures in attendance who have gone above and beyond expectations in sports and their respective fields.
“It was a definitely a privilege, Martin Jr. said. “I saw a lot of guys I’ve heard about but had never seen before. My dad used to always talk about Earl Monroe to me when I was younger. It definitely was a privilege to also meet Jesse Jackson and Judge Mathis, who I watch all the time on TV.”
Martin won the Chicago Golden Gloves Championship and the National PAL Championship in 2009, being recognized as a nationally ranked boxer with more than 100 wins and considered one of the best boxers to come out of the Harvey Boxing Club and the entire city. Martin is also a member of the USA National team as a runner-up.
“It makes me want to train harder because I know I can be at the same level that all of these guys,” Martin said about the event. “I look up to everybody who was honored and it makes me want to make that pathway to success.”
To the younger student athletes in attendance, Judge Mathis offered words of wisdom that he learned after his battles with drugs and criminal behavior before becoming involved in law and a nationally known figure.
“Don’t get caught up in the trap,” Mathis stated. “Stay strong, keep the faith and fight back.”
Jalen Rose, White Sox GM Kenny Williams and NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins weren’t able to attend to accept their awards but sent representatives to in their place.