Three Lincoln residents were among five Athlete of the Year honorees selected from the more than 10,000 participants in the annual Cornhusker State Games.
Joseph Mather, a 6 year-old world champion BMX rider from Omaha, was named the 2017 Cornhusker State Games (CSG) Youth Male Athlete of the Year. He was joined by chess player/swimmer Jacey Tran, 12, of Lincoln; taekwondo athlete Carl Steffens, 35, of Lincoln; powerlifter Grace Bogner, 24, of Lincoln and badminton player Kaiguo Chang, 56, of Gretna. They were named Athlete of the Year honorees in five categories for the 33rd annual Games held in July.
The five were chosen from among 10,119 total participants and will be honored at the Nebraska Sports Council (NSC) awards banquet Oct. 26.
“Our 2017 Athletes of the Year represent the best of Nebraska in every way,” NSC Executive Director Dave Mlnarik said. “It’s a diverse group of people and sports, which reflects the beauty of the Cornhusker State Games. But we are most proud that fierce competitiveness and good sportsmanship are common traits in the 2017 winners. They are living examples of winning with class.”
Tran, at age 12, won her CSG chess gold medal against adult players in the Reserve division. Chess players are divided, not by age or gender, but by rating, which causes better players to face tougher opponents the more they win, and Tran has won a lot, including the last five girls' state championships. She also picked up two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in the 2017 CSG swim meet the week before.
Steffens has earned 21 CSG taekwondo medals, including 10 gold medals, over eight years of competing in the Games. He is also a highly-respected volunteer official for the Games.
Chang was selected partly by his volunteer work promoting and facilitating badminton for the Top Fight Badminton Club and the Cornhusker State Games. His CSG playing record touts seven medals earned the past three years, including gold medals this year in senior men’s singles and adult mixed doubles.
Mather, who began BMX racing as a three year-old, won the 6-and-under world title representing Team USA at the World BMX Championships in Rock Hill, South Carolina in mid-July. He returned to Omaha from the World competition just in time to take the gold medal at the CSG BMX event July 28.
Bogner earned three CSG gold medals in powerlifting and broke AAU state records for deadlift and overall. Her nomination touted her attitude, work ethic and charitable work, including two mission trips to Haiti and one to the Philippines in recent years.
Nebraska’s Athletes of the Year have been nominated for National Congress of State Games Athlete of the Year honors, which will be awarded at the Teams Conference Awards Banquet on Oct. 31 in Orlando, Florida.
NSC Officials reported that 85 counties were represented in 2017, with Lancaster—4,446, Douglas—1,648, Sarpy—692, Buffalo—201 and Saunders—192, making up the top five counties. The youngest participant was Council Bluffs armwrestler Ethan Hall, 2; the oldest was track and field athlete Dorothy Ekblad, 90, of Lincoln. Top five sports in participation were basketball—819, soccer—812, softball—719, volleyball—622 and track and field—612.
The 34th annual Cornhusker State Games will be held July 20-29, 2018.
The Nebraska Sports Council, which conducts the Cornhusker State Games, the Mud Run and the Pumpkin Run, is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization with platinum partners including Farmers Mutual of Nebraska, Nebraska Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine and LinPepCo. Learn more at NebraskaSportsCouncil.com.