Athletics announces MLK Award

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

MACOMB, Ill. – Back on Jan. 16, the Western Illinois University Athletics Department unveiled the new MLK Award. The award was introduced at the men’s basketball game against Oral Roberts a little more than two weeks ago.

The annual honor will be given to one student-athlete and one non-student-athlete who, “embody and exemplify characteristics promoted by Dr. King – a vision of peace, persistence in purpose and inspirational action as well as sportsmanship either within and outside the WIU community,” Assistant Athletic Director Diane Cassimire said.

This is Cassimire’s second year at Western. She was previously at New York University and she says that’s where she got the idea of the award in the first place.

“My previous institution was New York University and we had a similar award there. So, I had gotten together with Monyae Williamson (Assistant Athletic Director) and Rocio Ayard Ochoa (Director of the Multicultural Center), and we were kind of talking about different ways that we could highlight our students here on campus, and I had brought up that we had this initiative at NYU and we thought it would be something great to bring here,” Cassimire said.

With Western trying to be more diverse and inclusive, this award couldn’t have been announced at a better time, right in time for Black History Month as well.

A committee will be formed to vote on the winners of the award, but it is up to students and faculty to nominate their fellow peers for the award. The committee would then take a vote based on all of the students that were nominated.

Regardless of who wins the award, it still has a huge impact on the university.

“Yeah, I think it will have a positive impact on the campus, community and the student athletes. I think it’s always important to recognize the things that students do well, whether it’s positive encouragement, leadership; just everything that Dr. King stood for,” men’s basketball head coach Billy Wright said.

He mentioned what it would mean for him if one of his players were to win the award and about his team’s “All In” mentality.

“Well, for the most part I think it’s a byproduct of the culture of our program that we emphasize be the best person you can be, be the best student you can be, be the best basketball player you can be. And on the court, play hard, play smart, play together, all for one, one for all. That’s kind of the byproduct that we’re all in philosophy, and for one of my players specifically to be honored with this award, it would mean a lot to not only myself and my staff, but for the players who are here, the former players and the alumni, because it’s a prestigious award, and it’s one of those awards where you put others before yourself,” Wright said.

He finally added how important it is for students to get involved on campus and in the community.

“I think it’s always good for students to get involved in anything that acknowledges their achievement, acknowledges positive impact on society and acknowledges positive impact on the community, school, athletics team, whatever the case may be,” Wright said.

President of the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) MaKenzie Yearby added that the award helps Western’s image and continues Dr. King’s legacy.

“I think this award is great because it just continues his legacy, like I said, and just picking students within the community, just highlighting them and what they’re doing on campus, and I think just giving that name, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, it helps us with our image because it shows that, hey, we do care about diversity and students who are continuing to live out his legacy,” Yearby said.

Students and faculty will be able to begin nominating their peers from Dec. 1 until the start of Finals Week. The selection committee will be named later this year as well.

The winners of the MLK Award will be recognized at a Western basketball game closest to MLK Day (the third Monday in the month of January).