MARQUETTE - A moment that touched the Northern Michigan University community last autumn has been recognized nationally by the NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct.
Wildcats cross country runner Jaylee Brown has been selected as one of three recipients nationally of an NCAA Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award.
Brown, now a junior at NMU who is from downstate Onekama, was honored for helping a competing runner finish her race after she had fallen at the Roy Griak Invitational cross country meet hosted by the University of Minnesota on Sept. 28, 2013.
Northern Michigan University’s Jaylee Brown, right, helps Dordt College’s Lillie Koerner to the finish line during the Roy Griak Invitational cross country meet hosted by the University of Minnesota last September. Brown earned one of three national NCAA?sportsmanship awards for her gesture that endeared her with the NMU community when it soon became known last fall. (Photo courtesy NMU)
"I am ecstatic and grateful to have received such a phenomenal award," Brown said in an NMU news release. "I hope that hearing about this award will raise awareness about the importance of sportsmanship, and how it comes into play in athletics and everyday life.
"An athlete's hard work and dedication to their sport is crucial, but at the end of the day, helping others is much more rewarding."
Brown is joined by Utah State University's Chari Hawkins and the Harding football team in receiving this sportsmanship award from among 444,000 NCAA student-athletes.
I?would hate for that to happen to me. I?know I?would want someone to help me.
- Jaylee Brown, NMU?cross country runner, on her motivation for helping a downed competitor
Hawkins had a similar story to Brown's, slowing down during the 800-meter segment of the women's heptathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on June 13, according to the NCAA website, www.ncaa.org. She saw a fellow competitor trip and fall, offering assistance, encouragement and helping her up. That competitor, Kendall Williams of Georgia, went on to win the heptathlon.
The Harding team of Searcy, Arkansas, watched an opponent, Robert Jordan of Henderson State, break his leg in two places while catching a touchdown pass. In the aftermath, Harding players joined Henderson's in forming a semicircle around the fallen player, praying for his health and safety and later a number of Harding players visiting him in the hospital.
NMU officials were understandably proud of one of their athletes being honored with the NCAA national award.
"Jaylee embodies everything this award stands for," Northern athletic director Forrest Karr said. "Her actions speak volumes about her character and serve as an example of the virtues that administrators and coaches everywhere hope to foster in their student-athletes.
"Jaylee's selfless devotion to others is an inspiration to us all."
Her cross country coach, Jenny Ryan, was also excited about the NCAA award.
"Jaylee is well deserving of this award as she exemplifies what sportsmanship is every day as a student-athlete here at NMU," she said. "She is a role model to her teammates and has a positive influence on everyone around her. I am so proud of her."
On that September day nearly a year ago, Brown reached the top of the final hill in the race when she noticed a runner sitting on the course.
It was Lillie Koerner of Dordt College, who had fallen and appeared dazed. Numerous competitors ran past the athlete from the school in Sioux Center, Iowa, on their way to the finish, but Brown stopped.
"It looked like she was in a lot of pain," Brown said. "I kept looking at her and looking at the finish. As I got closer, (Koerner) looked like she was reaching out.
"I grabbed her and I put her arm around my shoulder. I told her, 'Let's go. We're going to finish this.'"
After they crossed the finish line, Brown escorted Koerner to the athletic training tent so she could receive medical treatment.
"It was the right thing to do," Brown said. "For her to come all that way and not be able to finish really would have broken my heart because I know how hard it is.
"I felt like it was my job to help her. I would hate for that to happen to me. I know I would want someone to help me."
Brown said at the time that she was nervous that Ryan would be upset her time was slower after coming to a dead stop in the final stretch.
"That was probably stupid of me to think," Brown said, giggling at the time, "but it was one of the things that went through my head."
After the race, members of the NMU cross country team told Ryan what had happened, then Ryan shared the story with the greater NMU community.
Ryan said she was proud of what Brown did, although she was not surprised.
"I told her sometimes there are more important things than what your time is," Ryan said. "If in your head and in your heart, you felt that was the right thing to do, then that was the right thing to do."
After the race when the team returned to their hotel, there was already an influx of supportive messages from spectators and other teams at the meet.
After witnessing the act of sportsmanship, one fan who was there to watch her daughter in another race, Karn Westermeier, said in an email, "What we witnessed is a testament to the character of Jaylee, Coach Ryan and Northern Michigan University. Thank you all for a memory that we will carry with us."
Brown gave credit to others in her life.
"I wouldn't have received this award without the help and guidance of many influential people," she said. "A few of those people are my parents, Bonnie and Jerry Brown; my high school cross country coach, Eric Ross; and my current cross country coach, Jenny Ryan.
"These people have made a great impact on my life and on many others through contributions in their communities. I would like to thank the NCAA for recognizing me with such an incredible honor."
The NCAA says one of its founding principles is sportsmanship, and these awards honor efforts of student-athletes and administrators who work to protect the integrity of sports and create an even and welcoming playing field for all athletes and fans.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.