The boxes of trading cards, hats and bobbleheads were stacked up at the end of a long table, not far from the long red carpet that greeted the high-profile guests arriving at Benaroya Hall for the 79th MTR Western Sports Star of the Year.
Justin Blackburn, a Seattle sports fan, made the trip from his Cle Elum home to see the show Wednesday night, bringing with him an overflowing grocery bag of gear. He waited at the end of the long table, hoping for as many autographs as possible. He’s done this four or five times, and he’s never regretted it.
“I used to be a Sonics season-ticket holder, so I’d make the trip over the mountain 35 times a year,” Blackburn said. “This is great.”
Blackburn felt like a winner when former Washington running back Bishop Sankey, strolling by in a new gray suit as he prepares for May’s NFL draft, signed the fan’s UW cap.
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The winner — winners — drawing the one of the loudest ovations Wednesday night were the Eastlake Little Leaguers from Sammamish, who built a strong Puget Sound following in August when they advanced to the Little League World Series. Their biggest upset might’ve been winning the Story of the Year award over the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks. (Fan voting for the award ran through Jan. 15.)
“Wow. This is amazing,” Eastlake manager Rob Chandler told the crowd, as the tuxedo-wearing young players gathered on stage. “These kids are absolutely unbelievable.”
It was no surprise that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was named the Male Sports Star of Year. Wilson was not on hand to accept the award — “For Russell, it is time to sleep,” host Kenny Mayne of ESPN said — but Wilson did tape a message thanking the Seattle Sports Commission, which organizes the event.
UW volleyball player Krista Vansant won the Female Sports Star of the Year award after leading the Huskies to the NCAA Final Four in Seattle last month. Vansant was the first Husky to be named the national volleyball player of the year and she carries a 3.9 grade-point average.
“It means so much,” she said in an interview backstage. “I really didn’t think I was going to win after seeing all the wonderful women nominated. But it means so much to be part of Seattle and to help bring volleyball here.”
Zack Lystedt was awarded the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Inspirational Award, getting a standing ovation. Lystedt was 13 when he suffered a life-changing concussion while playing football in 2006, and he and his family helped create the Lystedt Law to protect young athletes who are suspected of having a concussion. Lystedt, with his parents by his side, told the crowd his new sport is re-learning how to walk every day, then joked: “Before the injury, all I thought about was sports and girls. Since the injury, nothing at all has changed.”