Keller, Polk, Vandersloot win Seattle Sports Star of Year awards
Sounders goalie Kasey Keller capped a fun night at Benaroya Hall by earning the Professional Sports Star of the Year award at the 77th Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At one of Seattle's oldest sports traditions, it was a member of one of the city's newest teams taking home top honors.
Sounders FC goalie Kasey Keller capped a fun night of ceremony at Benaroya Hall by earning the Professional Sports Star of the Year award at the 77th Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet Wednesday night.
Also honored were University of Washington tailback Chris Polk as Male Athlete of the Year, Gonzaga basketball player Courtney Vandersloot as Female Athlete of the Year, and the Eastern Washington football team that won the 2010 FCS championship as Sports Story of the Year. Each was selected in an online vote of the public.
The 41-year-old Keller, who retired after last season when he helped lead the Sounders to their third straight U.S. Open Cup, recalled in his speech that he spent his first 17 years in pro soccer in Europe. "Thanks for letting me come home and be part of something so cool," Keller said. "It's just been a great way to come home."
Polk, who tied a school record with his third straight 1,000-yard season in 2011, was not in attendance (he's playing in the Senior Bowl this week) but in a brief recorded speech thanked fans for "being with us through the ups and downs. That goes a long ways."
Huskies quarterback Keith Price, Polk's teammate and roommate at UW, accepted the trophy on Polk's behalf.
Vandersloot, a Kentwood High grad who helped lead Gonzaga to the Elite 8 last season, was also not in attendance (she's playing professionally in Turkey), but she gave a recorded speech thanking her family and coaches.
EWU coach Beau Baldwin accepted on behalf of the Eagles, who rallied from a 19-0 third-quarter deficit to beat Delaware 20-19 for the FCS title.
Some of the more memorable moments of the night came in some of the earlier specialty awards that had been previously announced and were selected by the Seattle Sports Commission.
Particularly touching was the speech of 11-year-old Jake Finkbonner of Ferndale, who was given the Seattle Children's Inspirational Youth Award.
Finkbonner, who has had 29 surgeries as a result of a flesh-eating bacteria in his face that nearly killed him when he was 5, was introduced by former Husky quarterback Jake Locker — also a Ferndale native — and Finkbonner noted that his family and Locker's have been friends for years.
During a speech that concluded with a standing ovation, he joked that he has been watching Locker play football "ever since I was young."
Locker, now with the Tennessee Titans, said backstage that Finkbonner "hit it out of the park" with his speech.
A few minutes later, 79-year-old Bob Houbregs, one of just two UW basketball players to have his number retired, was given the Royal Brougham Legend Award. After noting how moved he was by Finkbonner's speech, he then introduced his wife, Ardis, and pointed out they would soon celebrate their 58th anniversary. After the applause died down, he said "thank you. That's all she's going to get as a gift."
Also honored was former UW basketball star and later a member of the Sonics Detlef Schrempf, given the Paul Allen Award for community service. His foundation has raised more than $11 million for charities since 1996. Schrempf joked that when the Seattle Sports Commission called, he was hoping it was to reverse the 1985 Sports Star of the Year Award, which went instead to Seahawks star Steve Largent.
And given the Keith Jackson Award for media was longtime broadcaster Bob Robertson, known primarily for his years broadcasting WSU games. Robertson gave a well-received speech in which he noted he'd broadcast 508 Cougar games. He also talked of having done one of the first games in the Kingdome. "Little did I know I'd outlive the building," he joked.
Longtime Seahawks and Sounders executive Gary Wright was honored as the Sports Executive of the Year.
Keller put a fitting capper to the proceedings when he wrapped up his speech relaying an oft-told story of when he was booed at a Portland Trail Blazers game last year.
"Someone please bring back the Sonics so I don't have to go down to Portland again," he said.