Burke High School's Raven Saunders continues to reap the rewards from her record-setting season Wednesday, as she was named the Gatorade national girls track and field athlete of the year.
The prestigious award, presented to Saunders on Burke's campus Wednesday morning, has been won in the past by star athletes such as NFL greats Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith and the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter in their respective sports. As one of 12 Gatorade national players of the year, Saunders will walk the red carpet at ESPN's ESPY awards show in July.
"This is mind-blowing," Saunders said after a ceremony attended by friends and family, teachers and coaches and several hundred youth day campers. "When I started in this sport I wanted to be one of the best, but I never thought I could reach the level that I am now. I've really committed myself to being the best and I guess it feels nice to see the hard work pay off."
Burke principal Maurice Cannon said Raven sets an important example for those young kids, and her classmates at Burke High School.
"She's a huge inspiration for the school and the students," Cannon said. "She embodies the student who doesn't give up. It wasn't always easy for her academically, and through her struggles she just had that Bulldog tenacity to keep going and achieve her dreams."
Saunders, The Post and Courier's girls track athlete of the year, set national records in the shot put this year, including an outdoor mark of 56 feet, 8 1/4 inches in April. Earlier this month, she won a national title at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships with a throw of 56-7 1/2. And at the state track and field championships in May, she set a state record in the shot put with an effort of 55-8 1/4 and also won the state discus title with a throw of 148-5.
Saunders will attend college this fall at Southern Illinois University.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one national player of the year in each sport. In addition to athletic excellence, the award recognizes academic achievement and exemplary character on and off the field.