The awards, presented as part of the 12:30 p.m. ceremony, recognizes excellence in a sport, as well as the seven characteristics of a “positive athlete” including optimistic attitude, teammate encouragement, servant leadership, heart for others, admitting imperfections, giving 100 percent all the time and realizing the team is more important than the individual.
Scott Pederson, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Celebrate Positive, co-founded the Positive Athlete group with Hines Ward, the retired Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and former Georgia star, as a potential movement to promote positivity in youth sports. As many as 200 nominations representing 15 different Cobb County high schools were submitted from coaches, principals, athletic directors, teachers and parents.
“Hines won an award as the most positive professional athlete in the world by the United Nations, and he loved the idea of spreading that message down to the high school level,” Pederson said. “He wanted to change the culture in high school and not just give awards based on being an athlete, but by giving back to your community or overcoming adversity.”
After four years in Pittsburgh, Positive Athlete branched out for the first time, bringing its message to Georgia. Pederson, whose children attended Pope High School, met with Cobb County athletic director Steve Jones and former Pope AD Steven Craft, now the director of athletics for Fulton County schools, in January to help get the word out to local athletic directors.
From there, interest spread throughout the metro-Atlanta area and other counties.
Nominations were accepted through May 1, with the winners announced Wednesday.
“We hoped to get 20 to 25 schools to participate,” Pederson said, “but because of the number of quality nominations we received, we extended the deadline.”
Positive Athlete Georgia received over 600 nominations from 65 metro-area high schools in its inaugural year. Hines and Pederson made the final selections, but future selections will involve multiple people.
“We did not put out a search for the best athletes in Georgia,” Hines said in a release. “We put out a search for kids with positive attitudes whose efforts don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheets. These kids are also positive role models in their schools who get involved in charitable causes, have already learned the meaning of giving back at an early age, and many have overcome difficult circumstances and remained positive.”
The Cobb County awards precede the state awards ceremony, which will be held June 14 at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. Ward, Brian Jordan, former Georgia Tech athletic director Homer Rice and several current and former professional athletes with ties to the Atlanta area will host the event.
Kennesaw Mountain softball player Madi Lewis, Pope wrestler Tyler Haskin, Walton gymnast Natalie Bauer and South Cobb golfer Nick Arnold will be honored as the state’s “Most Positive Athletes” in their sport at the Georgia Tech ceremony.
“Our intent is to make this statewide, but also have county honors,” Pederson said. “We try to find inspiring stories that inspire other people.”