De Anza’s Athletics Award Gala celebrates individual achievement and togetherness

Athletic prowess, academic excellence, and leadership by example are all qualities De Anza expects from his student-athletes. Those same qualities were the criteria for winning awards at the De Anza Sports Awards Gala held on June 16, including the coveted Mountain Lion of the Year award.

The awards ceremony was held at the Euphrates Museum and there was a red carpet for all student-athletes to show off their outfits and take photos to commemorate the occasion.

One of those responsible for organizing this event was Eric Mendoza, Dean of Physical Education and Athletics, who said the aim of the event is to give student-athletes an opportunity to recognize the hard work they have put in throughout the year .

“The goal was to host our version of the ESPY Awards, complete with a red carpet pre-show and presenter rotation,” Mendoza said. “Our student-athletes work hard year-round, and a special evening of celebration with family, friends, coaches and staff who are all contributing to their journey is a fitting way to end the academic year.”

Nominees were submitted by all Head Coaches across campus. From there, the awards committee narrowed down the selection to find the individual they felt served the award the most based on their criteria.

De Anza honored his 15-0 state championship badminton team with the 2022 Team of the Year and Coaching Staff of the Year awards. In his acceptance speech, head coach Mark Landefeld talked about how far his team had come.

“It’s amazing where we are now after having to deal with all the COVID restrictions. All of our returning players remember what it was like,” Landefeld said. “A year ago we played air badminton at Memorial Park as practice.”

He also spoke about the support he felt from De Anza’s staff.

“At the end of the year we had our traditional badminton barbecue and our athletic director Ron Hannon and our president Lloyd Holmes were there,” said Landefeld. “That was a real treat compared to other sports programs that don’t actually happen.”

The event showed the unity and friendship shared by many of the De Anza student athletes. Throughout the night, there were loud cheers as spectators’ teammates took the stage, occasional group chants, and people in the crowd asking about the results of Game 6 of the NBA Finals between awards shows.

Serena Geis accepts the Most Inspirational Student Athlete Award.

The Most Inspirational Athlete award went to the two student-athletes who most inspired and motivated their coaches and peers throughout the season. Cross-country skier and track and field athlete Serena Geis was one of the two athletes to receive the award.

During a speech Geis wrote — read aloud by teammate and host Tammy Dinh — Geis detailed her struggles with mental shutdowns when she was younger and placed in special education classes. Now she is inspired to plan her future career as a care assistant for the elderly by taking classes at De Anza while still performing at a high level in cross country and track and field.

Soccer player Iretunde Akinsola, 20 and a computer science student, was the other athlete to receive the Most Inspirational Athlete award.

One challenge Akinsola faced was living alone and the eviction he faced when he was 17 years old. Before attending De Anza, he took classes at Chabot College and paid for the tuition by working as a security guard himself.

During De Anza’s football season, he entertained a 3.68 grade point averageand he’s received offers from Ivy League schools — a rare feat by someone at a community college.

“What’s kept me going is passion for the game,” said Akinsola. “I think that applies to all areas of life. As long as you have a passion, it’s always there to lift you up.”

There were many moving parts to planning and running the event and Mendoza was very grateful for that.

“We had our hands on deck wherever it was needed,” Mendoza said. “Our SAAC leadership team, led by President Tammy Dinh, went through the scripts and took care of every detail. With a large production, we appreciate everyone’s efforts to bring the event to life.”

The Special Recognition Award was added to the list of awards to recognize someone outside of the student athletes and coaching staff. This award was presented to district worker Phil Weiss.

Weiss is a security technician who mainly does repairs around De Anza’s sports facilities. He also volunteered as the official bus driver for the volleyball team, donated out-of-pocket money for t-shirts for the beach and court volleyball teams, and helped work on the scoring tables during games.

The De Anza women’s basketball team poses for a photo on the red carpet before the awards ceremony.

Weiss was unaware that he was about to receive an award, so he began to get emotional on stage and eventually shed tears when his daughter and volleyball team member, Bailey Weiss, joined him on stage.

During his speech, he explained how love fueled his desire to contribute to the teams.

“I’m doing this because I love you all,” Weiss said. “[The volleyball team]felt like my adopted daughters because they are such amazing kids, they make me feel welcome.”

On a projection screen, De Anza listed more than 230 student-athletes who were able to achieve a GPA of 3.0 or higher during their respective athletic season. De Anza wanted to honor students for maintaining good grades during their busiest time of the year.

In the same vein, De Anza also recognized 50 student-athletes who transferred to four-year colleges.

During the night of acceptance speeches, many of them shared a sense that the student-athletes were grateful that De Anza had given them the opportunity to return to their sport. Whether it was Rookie of the Year winner Adriana Williams saying she thought she’d never play volleyball again during COVID-19, or SAAC Leadership Award winner Tammy Dinh saying she’d never get back into athletics compete, the athletes were grateful for their time at De Anza.

This night was not only a celebration of individual and team success, but also a victory lap for the return to sport after the COVID lockdown.

This will be the last time our collective group is together again,” Mendoza said. “It was great to share these moments that many will remember for a lifetime.”

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