Prep sports stars descend on Tinseltown for Gatorade awards

Gatorade XC honorees Futsum Zienaselassie and Molly Seidel, and track honorees Shelbi Vaughan and Abraham Hall. Kirby Lee and Susan Goldman

Texas RB, N.Y. hoopster take honors | Player of the Year Home

Gatorade Videos by Rich Gonzalez and Moses Galindo: Shelbi Vaughan | Abraham Hall | Futsum Zienaselassie | Molly Seidel

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- One of the honorees couldn't wait to get out of town. Another wanted to downright leave the country. A third passed much of the time asleep in his room.

But don't misunderstand. The four track and field and cross-country athletes gathered near the Hollywood Walk of Fame were having the time of their lives on Tuesday evening.

Assembled as part of a lineup of esteemed prep stars gathered for the annual Gatorade Athlete of the Year festivities, Wisconsin's Molly Seidel, Indiana's Futsum Zienaselassie and Texas' duo of Shelbi Vaughan and Abraham Hall were honored to represent the sports of cross-country and track and field as overall winners of the prestigious awards program were announced.

Famed ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott emceed the event while global sports stars Robert Griffin III ("RGIII"), Lisa Leslie, Brandi Chastain and Landon Donovan were among the featured presenters.

Once the votes were tallied and the winner's envelopes were unsealed, it was Texas footballer Johnathan Gray and New York hoopster Breanna Stewart who came away with national Athlete of the Year accolades, joining a Who's Who list of eventual Olympic medalists, Hall of Fame inductees and professional athletes galore.

Gray was the expected winner of the national balloting process where top high school experts across a variety of sports check in with their opinions on the best of the best. Gray amassed a national record 205 touchdowns in football and ranked near the top of the all-time national lists in additional categories in a state renowned for excellence in the sport.

Stewart arrived here as the odds-on-favorite as well after wowing scouts, collegiate coaches and basketball junkies alike with her rare blend of sports skills and sheer athleticism on the court. She will attend NCAA powerhouse Connecticut in the fall.

The winners were recognized in a formal-attire affair held at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, which towers over the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame, where top stars of the entertainment world are celebrated.

The twelve all-sports honorees (six boys and six girls) flew out to Los Angeles and spent much of the opening day in fun mixer activities, including a night of bowling and a group workout session at the state-of-the-art Velocity Sports Performance center in West Los Angeles.

"It's all been really fun," said Seidel, who was especially looking forward to Wednesday night's ESPYs show, where top sports professionals will gather and be recognized in the popular annual awards show on ESPN. Each of the 12 Gatorade Athlete of the Year honorees will be extended the red-carpet treatment in attending the ESPYs as VIP guests.

Seidel, who admitted her surprise to being named the national cross-country honoree while hailing from a smaller state, was a combined 12-time Wisconsin state champion in the sports of cross-country and track and field and won the FootLocker Cross-Country Championships in San Diego last December.

But as much fun as she was having in "tinseltown," Seidel was already looking forward to Thursday, when she and her family northward to San Francisco to visit extended family and celebrate her 18th birthday.

As we later learned from her mom (Anne), the Notre Dame-bound Seidel also was excited because part of that trip would include a stop to run on the famed Dipsea Race course, a breathtakingly scenic 7.4-mile climb which plays host to the nation's oldest trail run, with 102 editions of the annual race.

"I can't wait to do the Dipsea," she said of the layout made famous by treacherous climbs and endless flights of challenging stairs. "It sounds really unique."

Vaughan won't be around to see Seidel off on Thursday. She'll be departing a day early -- even before the ESPYs -- to hop on an international flight for Spain, where she'll compete in the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

Although the meet started at midnight Monday night on California time, Vaughan doesn't compete in the qualifying round of the discus throw until Friday morning. She'll arrive into Barcelona the day before her event, jet-lagged and weary, but excited nonetheless.

She'll be aiming to continue a mind-boggling breakthrough season which saw her destroy the national high school record in the discus on three occasions, eventually recording the top five marks in prep annals. She capped her season by competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where she shocked everyone by placing fourth.

"I'm not sure what to expect (in Spain), but I'm just looking to throw as well as I can," said Vaughan, whose collegiate athletic scholarship to Texas A&M is actually in the sport of volleyball. Her recent meteoric rise in the ring has made track and field her better sport, but Vaughan admits to still loving to play volleyball and will continue to do both in college.

Zienaselassie freely admits to being a low-maintenance type personality on such trips, spending much of his free time in the Hollywood district either relaxing or sleeping in his hotel room. But the Indiana-based distance running phenom earlier in the evening was quick to point out his appreciation for making the trip, rattling off the many fun functions the group had undertaken.

Bound for Northern Arizona University on the fall, Zienaselassie (who recently legally changed his name from Zeinasellasie after a series of misspellings on various legal documents caused confusion for some) nearly pulled a rare national cross-country individual championship double after winning the Nike Cross Nationals title, then came up less than a second short of the winner the following weekend at the FootLocker meet.

Hall admitted to being surprised at winning the male state track and field athlete of the year award, let alone the national one. With the state of Texas loaded with sprint talent this year, the U.S. Military Academy appointee said he felt humbled at being presented his sport's national award, whose criteria includes athletic, academic and community achievement.

Hall dazzled in late season in the dashes, recording some of the fastest sprint times in U.S history across both the 100 and 200 meters.