The third annual All-Highlands Parade of Athletes Banquet is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Highlands Today Center. The event is hosted by Highlands Today and Sebring Firemen Inc. with numerous sponsors from the community stepping up to help make it a special night. The banquet will celebrate local high school athletes’ achievements, with each athlete receiving a certificate after a dinner provided by the Sebring Firemen Inc. “We’re really excited to sponsor this event, which is all about recognizing our high school athletes in Highlands County,” Highlands Today Publisher Tina Gottus said. “It’s great to have the additional resources of a great organization like the Sebring Firemen to help make this event so special.
“The Firemen were very successful at procuring sponsors to help make this event a success and we’re looking forward to a great evening of fun, food and celebrating our student athletes.” Each athlete that was selected to an All-Highlands team is invited to attend at no charge, as are the head coaches for each varsity sport. More than 200 athletes will be brought up on stage during the evening to be recognized, while the Athlete of the Year for each sport will receive a plaque. The highlight of the event will be the selection of a Male and Female Athlete of the Year by Highlands Today at the end of the evening. Each will receive a $750 scholarship from the Sebring Firemen Inc. and Highlands Today to help with college expenses. “We wanted to do something special to honor the achievements of our high school athletes,” said Jim Fortner, who is a Sebring Firemen member and the event chairman. “Instead of a fundraiser where we just give money, we actually wanted to create an event that the athletes and coaches would look forward to every year. “This gives them a chance to socialize and it gives the community a chance to celebrate their accomplishments.” The All-Highlands teams encompass 26 sports, boys and girls, as well as cheerleading, and all of the teams are selected by the coaches. The keynote speaker for the banquet will be Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer. Zwayer was a 1999 graduate of Sebring High School and was a standout basketball player who led the Blue Streaks to the state finals before earning a basketball scholarship to Richmond University. The All-Highlands athletes and varsity head coaches get in free, but there is a $12 cost for anyone else attending the festivities. The cost includes dinner, dessert and an evening packed with talented athletes and speakers. Sebring Firemen Inc. member and Sebring Mayor John Shoop and Highlands Today Sports Editor Mark Pinson will be the emcees. “The response from the community has been overwhelming,” Fortner said. “The word is getting out, this event continues to grow each year and it’s the usual people in the county that support athletics that are helping to make this event happen.” This year $6,000 will be given away in scholarships, donations, and raffle prizes. Two more scholarships will be awarded, in addition to the scholarships given to the Male and Female Athletes of the Year. A Character Athlete Award will be given to four senior All-Highlands athletes, one from each of the public high schools, Avon Park, Lake Placid, and Sebring, as well as Walker Memorial Academy. This $500 scholarship is being awarded for outstanding character and the recipients were selected by each school’s principal and athletic director. An Academic Athlete Award will be given to three senior All-Highlands athletes, one from each of the three public high schools: Avon Park, Lake Placid and Sebring. This $500 scholarship is being awarded for achieving the highest GPA. The Highlands County School Board provided the names of the All-Highlands senior athlete from each school who earned the highest GPA. The Sebring Firemen will also be making a $500 donation to the Ridge Area ARC Special STARS program, which gives handicapped individuals a chance to participate in a number of activities. “We’re looking forward to a special night where we get the chance to celebrate our local athletes,” Fortner said. Ticket sales will be cut off at 5 p.m. today so the Firemen can get an idea of how many people will be attending the festivities. The public is welcome to attend. Tickets will be sold at the door and payment must be made with cash or by check. firstname.lastname@example.org 863-386-5837