By RICK PETERSON
Shawnee Heights product Aidan Hicks was honored as TopSports.news' Topeka Shawnee County Most Inspirational Athlete of the Year Wednesday after bouncing back from major heart surgery early last fall to end his high school career as a state medalist in track and field.
"In September, Aidan found out he had major leakage in two of his four heart valves,'' Shawnee Heights football coach Jason Swift said. "He had major heart surgery and was told his football career was over, but with tremendous rehab he might be able to throw in track in the spring.
"Aidan took care of his body, worked hard on recovery and rebuilding the 20 pounds he lost and had a great senior year in track.''
Hicks capped his senior season with a fourth-place state finish in the Class 5A boys javelin throw and plans to compete in track and field at Emporia State.
Other Most Inspirational Male nominees:
DAWSON ADAMS | Hayden
PARENTS: Ryan and Melissa Adams
SPORT: Cross country and track and field | GPA: 3.46
A two-time All-City pick in cross country, Adams was a Class 4A state placer in both cross country and track and field. "Without Dawson we don't accomplish what we did as a boys team this season,'' Hayden cross country and track coach DeJuan Gardenhire said. "Dawson would be the first one to practice and the last to leave. Dawson would always be there for everybody to cheer them on and made sure everybody had a positive mindset no matter if it was practice or a meet. Many of our newcomers would look up to Dawson and would ask him about race strategy, motivation or anything related.'' Adams plans to run in college at the University of Saint Mary's.
KAIDEN BROWN | Rossville
PARENTS: Christopher and Michelle Brown
SPORT: Football | GPA: 3.3
Brown was an All-Class 2A linebacker for the state-champion Bulldawgs and a two-time state-champion powerlifter while also establishing himself as a leader in his school. "As a new administration took over at Rossville High School, students were sought for their leadership ability to establish a positive culture within our building,'' Brown's nomination form stated. "As a freshman, Kaiden was identified as a student who not only could lead, but would accept the responsibility to lead by example. With Kaiden you get the student who will stand up for what's right even when it isn't popular among his peers.''
JACK HUTCHINSON | Washburn Rural
PARENTS: Doug and Lori Hutchinson
SPORT: Soccer and basketball | GPA: 3.93
Hutchinson earned multiple postseason honors in both soccer and basketball for the Junior Blues. "Jack was able to make a transition in his last two years of high school and make the most of the opportunities he was given,'' Washburn Rural basketball coach Kevin Muff said. "He is a hard worker and always strives to be his best.'' Hutchinson was also a Kansas State Scholar and a member of the National Tech Honor Society. Hutchinson earned All-City and All-Centennial League honors and was a second-team All-State pick in soccer and was a second-team All-Shawnee County and all-league selection in basketball while earning All-Class 6A honorable mention.
NAZIM PHILLIPS | Topeka High
PARENT: Nicole Purce
SPORT: Basketball | GPA: 3.89
Phillips was a key player for the Trojans, averaging 6 points, 3 assists and 2 steals per game as a senior. "Naz was a great leader for the boys basketball program for four years,'' former Topeka High coach Eric King said of Phillips, a two-year varsity letterman. "Naz always displayed great sportsmanship, character and worked hard during every practice and game.'' Phillips was also a member of Topeka High's news department and a member of the school's Link Crew. Phillips plans to attend Washburn University.
NATHAN ZEFERJAHN | Seaman
PARENTS: Darin Zeferjahn and Latisha Zeferjahn
SPORT: Football | GPA: NA
Zeferjahn turned in an outstanding senior football season for the Vikings, earning All-City, All-Centennial League and All-Class 5A recognition and being named the city defensive player of the year. "Nathan matured into a leader for the Seaman team with his physical play and also his inspirational voice,'' former Seaman coach Glenn O'Neil said. "Nathan was not one to say a lot, but when he did his teammates listened and rallied to his message. Nathan played through a rash of injuries that slowed him down during the practice week, but would not keep him off the field. His inspiration and passion will be remembered by all who were touched by his presence.''