Oakland athletics wraps up season with Black and Gold Awards

By Kristen Davis

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Laughter was shared and tears were shed at the Black and Gold Awards (BGA) on Monday, April 20. This was an end of the year event held by the Oakland University athletic department at the Fox Theater.

The BGA’s celebrate the athletic, academic and community service achievements of student-athletes at Oakland over the last year. Athletes, their families, friends, fans and alumni were in attendance.

Fifteen awards were earned by 21 student-athletes and six teams. All deserving athletes and teams were recognized with nominations for their accomplishments.

Success beyond the playing field

Host Neal Ruhl spoke about the success of OU athletics this year, from the highest average GPA, 3.21, posted by student-athletes, to national spotlight the university received after unveiling the new black top court.

Four teams won Horizon League championships this year, and the softball team is competing to increase that number to five.

“It’s a great time to be a Golden Grizzly,” Ruhl told the crowd. “We have many things to be proud of at Oakland University.”

The academic achievements across all athletic programs were profound as well.

Oakland led the league in honor roll student-athletes, and six student-athletes ended the fall semester with a 4.0 GPA. 12 teams had an average GPA of 3.0 or above, and over 50 percent of the senior student-athletes will attend graduate school.

Oakland athletics also had a strong presence in the community.

Teams volunteered with several organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, The Salvation Army, OUCARES and the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. They held clinics on campus and completed the annual Mitten Toss to donate gloves to the Baldwin Center in Pontiac.

A new approach

The awards were held in a new format than previous years, with a strong use of video and incorporation of multiple categories.

First-time award presenters included best-selling author Kurt Davis, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment Tom Wilson, Fathead’s director of athletic solutions Towbey Kassa and OU president George Hynd.

The off-campus venue and open invitation extended not only to athletes and their families, but also to athlete’s friends and fans of Oakland athletics. This was done for the first time.

This open approach is part of the on-going effort by the athletic and marketing departments to promote fan engagement and involvement in athletics.

“We believe we can build off of the successful year and make the next BGA’s even bigger in terms of production and attendance,” athletic director Jeff Konya said.

Event highlights

There weren’t many dry eyes in the theater when senior Grace Waller ─ swimmer, cancer survivor and four-time league champion ─ won the Most Inspirational Award for her battle with cancer when she was in high school.

The women’s soccer team won the Top Academic Team Award after finishing with a team average GPA of 3.51 in the fall and 3.50 in the winter semester.

The Metro Series Cup was presented to head softball coach Connie Miner. The series was clinched by the softball team after they swept University of Detroit Mercy 3-0 on April 10-11.

Sophomore point guard Kahlil Felder won Male Athlete of the Year after leading the Horizon League in assists and steals and receiving first team all-league and mid-major All-American honors.

Sophomore diver Tricia Grant won Female Athlete of the Year after posting seven individual Horizon League victories and qualifying for the NCAA championships, becoming the first diver at Oakland to qualify.

Volleyball and men’s soccer were co-winners for Team of the Year after both won the Horizon League and advanced to the NCAA tournament.

“From our perspective and the feedback we have received, the event was a smashing success,” Konya said. “It was perceived as first class, special, enjoyable and entertaining to name of few of the comments that were shared.”

The athletic department hopes to build off this successful year and make next year’s event even bigger.

“We hope it will become a signature event, as there are so many wonderful student-athlete stories to share,” Konya said.

List of award winners

  • Community service award: Women’s dance, men’s swimming and diving
  • Top academic team award: Women’s soccer
  • Most inspirational award: Grace Waller, women’s swimming and diving
  • Social media post of the year: Izzy Evans, cheer team
  • Photo of the year: Gavin Hoy, men’s soccer
  • Most improved athlete: Dante Williams, men’s basketball
  • Best film: Women’s tennis
  • Black and gold spirit award: Jenna Taylor, women’s soccer
  • Future leader award: Marianna Stepp, women’s golf
  • Top individual academic award: Julianne Boyle, women’s soccer; Spencer Marentette, baseball
  • Athlete of the year: Kahlil Felder, men’s basketball
  • Gold program: Jullian Carps, women’s swimming and diving; Tricia Grant, women’s swimming and diving; Taylor Humm, volleyball; Jenna Taylor, women’s soccer; Grace Waller, women’s swimming and diving; Kathleen Zintsmaster, women’s swimming and diving; Colby Haan, men’s swimming and diving; Mario Rusnak, men’s swimming and diving
  • Hollie L. Lepley award: Taylor Humm, volleyball; Corey Petros, men’s basketball
  • President’s award: Sarah Hartley, softball; David Koponen, men’s track and field
  • Team of the year: Volleyball; men’s soccer