“Sports’ Greatest Citizens:” Dick Vitale and Illinois’ Joe Spencer and others honored at the 13th Annual Wooden Cup Awards

2017 Wooden Cup Awards
From Left: Vince Dooley, Dick Vitale, Joe Spencer, Melissa Berkay, Tori Doss, Oren Burks, Fred Northup

ATLANTA (April 12, 2017) – Hall of Fame sportscaster Dick Vitale and Joe Spencer of the University of Illinois each received the 13th Annual Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup at Atlanta’s Cobb Galleria Centre on Wednesday night. Special recognition was also given to Chris Singleton of Charleston Southern, plus Erin Houchins and Ian Saum each received the first high school division awards. The Cup, in the words of Athletes for a Better World’s founder, Fred Northup, is “not for the best athlete, or the best student, but for the best person in the world of sports.” Previous recipients, including Jack Nicklaus, Mia Hamm, Cal Ripken, Peyton Manning, Pat Summitt and others, have made the Cup one of the most prestigious awards in sports, given its emphasis on character and its openness to athletes in all sports.

John Wooden, who won ten national championships during the years 1964 -1975 as basketball coach at UCLA, is commonly regarded as the greatest college coach of any sport who ever lived. Universally regarded as one of the finest human beings to ever grace the world of sports, his character, conduct and selfless gifts stand at the highest level by any standard. When Coach Wooden learned about Athletes for a Better World, he gave authorization to attach his name to this annual award, and he attended and addressed the inaugural event in Los Angeles in 2005. In his honor, the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup is presented to one professional or Olympic level person, one collegiate, and two high school athletes for their character and leadership both on and off the field, and for their contributions to sport and society.

The Spirit of ABW Award was begun in 2012 to be awarded only on occasion to those individuals who are deemed so exceptional and laudatory that they are worthy of special recognition and praise. The second recipient is Chris Singleton, a member of the Buccaneer baseball team at Charleston Southern University. Singleton lost his mother in the Charleston Emanuel AME Church massacre. The incident left Singleton with no parents and to care for his two younger siblings, but the strength of his character and leadership on and off the field has been featured within ESPN E:60, Sports Illustrated, the NBC Today Show, and was recognized during Hope Week by the New York Yankees.

Dick Vitale is well known as college basketball’s top analyst and ambassador. More importantly to the Wooden Cup committee, Vitale is a tireless philanthropist. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of The V Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer and founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano who died of the disease that year. Since its beginning, the V Foundation has awarded over $170 million in grants for research. Vitale’s primary interest is in children’s cancer and he has been unrelenting in his efforts. He co-chairs the annual V Foundation Golf Classic and is preparing to host the 12th Annual Dick Vitale – V Foundation Gala in Sarasota, which raised nearly $3 million last year alone.

Joe Spencer was the football Captain and center on the University of Illinois football team. A three time All Big Ten Academic Honoree, he graduated in three years in finance and is currently working on his MBA. Joe served as the President of Student Athletic Advisory Committee for three years, an almost unheard of accomplishment. Joe is also the President of the Illini chapter Uplifting Athletes, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and funds for rare diseases. Under his leadership the past three years over $45,000 has been raised. He has also worked on behalf of numerous other causes including Hometown Heroes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Special Olympics. Through additional fundraising efforts, such as the annual Jock Jams, over $10,000 has been raised for these charities.

The other finalists for the Collegiate Wooden Cup were:

  • Melissa Berkay, Mills College, Swimming
  • Oren Burks, Vanderbilt University, Football
  • Tori Doss, Xavier University, Soccer

In the inaugural year of the high school division of the Wooden Cup, in a partnership with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, Cups were awarded to Erin Houchins of Bowling Green, Kentucky and Ian Saum of Casselton, North Dakota.

Bob Ryan, the famed sportswriter for the Boston Globe and analyst for ESPN, served as the Master of Ceremonies.

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