BLUES SUPERFAN AMONG THOSE FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY WHO WILL BE HONORED IN ST. LOUIS ON NOV. 23 AT NATIONALLY-TELEVISED EVENT CELEBRATING SPORTSMANSHIP IN AMERICA
ST. LOUIS – Oct. 23, 2019 – She’s fighting a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease. And she inspired a team to the Stanley Cup while uplifting a city and people around the nation. That’s extraordinary character if we’ve ever seen it. And so, it’s only fitting that 11-year-old Laila Anderson is the recipient of this year’s Musial Award for Extraordinary Character. She will be honored at the Musial Awards in St. Louis on Saturday, Nov. 23. The show will also be seen nationally as a one-hour special on CBS on Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. EST.
The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University – celebrate the year’s greatest moments of sportsmanship and those in sports who embody class and character. The national event and its awards are named for St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial, a beloved baseball superstar and civic icon who personified sportsmanship. Produced by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation, the awards show takes place annually at Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis.
The Musial Award for Extraordinary Character is one of two special honors bestowed at the event. It recognizes an individual who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship.
In September 2018, Anderson was diagnosed with HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis), a condition in which immune cells grow out of control and attack the body, causing organ damage. In Anderson’s case, the immune system was attacking her brain. She went through 10 weeks of chemotherapy to prepare her for a bone marrow transplant, which occurred in January.
Throughout the journey, she had the Blues organization behind her, particularly players Colton Parayko and Alexander Steen, with whom she developed friendships. Anderson had grown up a Blues fan, and the visits and encouragement from the team helped her through the most difficult of days. She in turn provided an inspirational boost to the organization. As Anderson’s outlook improved, so did the trajectory of the Blues’ season, going from the worst record in the NHL on Jan. 3 to Stanley Cup champions on June 12.
It was in the playoffs that Anderson captured the hearts of St. Louis. Her doctors had cleared her to attend the conference finals, and the video of her mom surprising her with the news went viral. She rallied “her boys” to victory in that series and was in Boston to raise the Cup. She rode in the Stanley Cup parade and was presented a championship ring. She happily accommodated interview and autograph requests, and she is using her platform to raise awareness for Be The Match, a bone marrow donor registry. Throughout the good days and bad, she maintained an incredibly positive attitude, showing amazing courage, poise and exuberance. She embodied character and what it means to be a good sport.
At the Musial Awards, Anderson will be recognized alongside individuals from around the country who are connected to inspiring displays of sportsmanship that represent the best in sports and humanity. Here are the recipients of the 2019 Musial Awards:
Bart Conner & Nadia Comaneci: The “first couple” of gymnastics will receive the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award – the highest award for sportsmanship. The award is presented to iconic sports figures who exemplify sportsmanship and the qualities for which Stan The Man was known. Winners of a combined seven Olympic Gymnastics gold medals, Conner and Comaneci have led their lives inspiring others and contributing to the greater good. They are involved in several international charities, including Special Olympics, and remain visible ambassadors of the sport of gymnastics. At the 1976 Olympic Games, Comaneci became the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10. Conner is the only American male gymnast to win gold medals at every level of national and international competition.
Jerod Aker & Jeff Shillington: In the spring, Aker and Shillington, rival high school baseball coaches from the Phoenix area, worked together to set the stage for Julian Erives-Beltran, a student with Down Syndrome, to appear in a game between their teams. And it wasn’t just any game. It was a region final with Aker’s Apollo High School team and Shillington’s Sunnyslope High School squad battling for playoff seeding. In the bottom of the first, the teams put aside all that was on the line to give Erives-Beltran an at bat. He put the ball in play and the Sunnyslope players proceeded to intentionally throw the ball around the field, allowing Erives-Beltran to circle the bases for a home run.
Marek Bush: In a high school wrestling match in New York in January, Bush, a 2018 state champion, was trailing a rival wrestler 7-0 when his opponent was injured with less than a minute left. The opponent chose to finish the match rather than forfeit. Bush could have easily pinned his opponent at that point, turning a sure loss into an easy win. Instead, he made no moves and allowed his rival to ride out the win. The crowd in attendance gave Bush a standing ovation, and the referee called his actions “the pinnacle of class.”
The Forest Lake Christian School Girls Volleyball Team: In the midst of last fall’s devastating Camp Fire in Northern California, Forest Lake Christian (Auburn, Calif.) was set to play Paradise Adventist Academy (Paradise, Calif.) in the girls volleyball state semifinals. The team from Paradise was directly impacted by the fire. Their uniforms and equipment had been destroyed; their lives were turned upside down. Who came to their aid? Their opponent. As the Paradise players arrived at Forest Lake Christian for their game, they were presented brand-new jerseys, food, other essentials, and thousands of dollars in donations, all from the Forest Lake Christian community.
Henry Frasca: As he prepared to watch his beloved Boston Red Sox host the Baltimore Orioles in April, Henry Frasca had a letter prepared for a member of the opposition. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was in the midst of a record 0-for-54 hitless streak. Leave it to a nine-year-old Sox fan to pick Davis up. Frasca wrote a heartwarming letter of encouragement to Davis that said, “The way you play baseball has nothing to do with how good a person you are. Also, you are incredible. You played in the MLB for a long time, and everyone goes through a slump. Don’t give up. We’re rooting for you.” The letter found its way to Davis before the game. He read it and proceeded to break out of the slump with a two-run single in the first inning.
Chris Kerber: The radio play-by-play voice of the St. Louis Blues selflessly gave up his spot in the broadcast booth in the second period of each game of the Blues-Bruins Stanley Cup series so that John Kelly would have a chance to call a Stanley Cup final. As the Blues TV voice, Kelly has followed in the footsteps of his father, Dan Kelly, a broadcasting legend and beloved Blues announcer. But unlike his dad, who called 16 Stanley Cup finals, John never had that chance. Due to the NHL’s national TV rights deal, the local TV announcers don’t get to call games after the first round of the playoffs. But when the Blues won the Western Conference finals, Kerber pulled Kelly aside and told him they’d be working the Stanley Cup series together.
Darius Kruah: A fifth grader from North Augusta, S.C., Kruah was leading an elementary school running club race in May. Victory seemed inevitable in the 100-meter run. Until one of the competitors stumbled and fell. Despite holding the lead and just steps from victory, Kruah stopped and turned back to check on his opponent. “He wasn’t going to be able to win the race, and that wouldn’t be fair,” Kruah said. “So I thought that I would just lose the race with him just to help him and see if he was OK.”
Laura Mazur and Jessica Robertson: Complete strangers, Mazur and Robertson found each other struggling at the back of the pack of this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon. They persevered, encouraging one another to keep going, which they did, and they crossed the finish line hand-in-hand. They provided a heartwarming example of competitive camaraderie.
Tickets for the 2019 Musial Awards, ranging from $10 to $35, are on sale through Ticketmaster. More information can be found at MusialAwards.com/tickets. Groups of 10 or more can take advantage of special group pricing by calling 314-345-5121. Showtime for the 2019 Musial Awards is 6:15 p.m. CST.
The 2019 Musial Awards will be seen throughout the country on CBS. The network will air the Musial Awards as a one-hour special on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. EST. Additionally, the telecast will run twice on cable’s CBS Sports Network. The Musial Awards broadcast is being produced by Al Roker Entertainment, the production arm of iconic NBC TODAY Show anchor and weatherman Al Roker.
The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University – takes place annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the historic 3,000-seat Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis. The show is produced by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. In addition to keeping alive the legacy of Stan The Man, the mission of the Musial Awards is to encourage kindness, selflessness, integrity and civility in sports and society – and to inspire people across the nation to be good sports.
This marks the 14th year the Musial Awards has taken place in St. Louis. Over time, the event has honored the most remarkable acts of sportsmanship and some of the most respected people in sports. Honorees have included the late golf legend Arnold Palmer; Baseball Hall of Famers Joe Torre, Cal Ripken Jr., and Jim Thome; Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee; women’s basketball star Tamika Catchings; NASCAR driver Carl Edwards; Little League World Series sensation Mo’ne Davis; sportscaster Ernie Johnson; and Loyola University Basketball Chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
National sponsors of the 2019 Musial Awards include Maryville University, Edward Jones, Enterprise, World Wide Technology, and the Centene Charitable Foundation. Since 2011, Maryville University has served as the event’s presenting sponsor. The school’s involvement, leadership and generosity have helped make the show one of the great nights in sports.