Since 2007, SI Kids has featured an annual SportsKid of the Year. This year's five finalists excel in competition, exude confidence, and embody what it means to be a good sport. Check back on December 1 to find out who will be the 2017 SportsKid of the Year!
Football, Wrestling, Track and Field
Carlstadt, New Jersey
He’s a three-sport athlete now, but when Benjamin Shue began playing soccer at five years old, he was timid. “I would be scared to get into the action,” he recalls.
He came into his own, but in different sports. He was on the offensive line in football, and he loved it. (He’s played in three All-America games.) He began wrestling, and soon he was placing at out-of-state tournaments. He first went to nationals in the shot put when he was seven. One year ago, he took up discus, and in July he won the 11–12-year-old event at the USATF Junior Olympics (33.27 meters). His parents, William and Aileen, both threw in college, and they coach their 12-year-old son in his field events. “He’s driven,” William says. “A lot of it just comes naturally from within. He’s going to figure out a way.”
Football, Track and Field
Los Angeles, California
Bunchie, a 10-year-old at Kipp Scholar Academy in L.A., scored 30 times in 2016 and 31 times through October of this year. He's also a track star: His 2016 time in the 100-meter dash was 12.45, the top AAU time in his age group, and he runs the 200 in 26.14. That top-flight speed has already caught the interest of college recruiters. The University of Illinois offered Bunchie a scholarship to play football once he graduates high school. (Illinois doesn’t comment on potential recruits, but its offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee, retweeted a post sharing the news in May.)
When the scholarship was reported, Bunchie received a lot of attention. “It was a lot of pressure and a lot of hatred,” he says. Some kids were jealous. If he had a bad game, people would criticize him. “But I don’t worry about that,” he says. “I just go out and have a good game the next time.”
Cary, North Carolina
It was the middle of the night six years ago when Claire Curzan had an allergic reaction so severe that she had to be taken to the hospital. She now carries an EpiPen (a shot that helps fight the reaction) with her wherever she goes, and she and her grandmother created the “episock,” a long sock with a pocket on the side for an EpiPen.
Severe allergies (to gelatin, pork, shellfish, and nuts) might have slowed Claire momentarily, but they don’t define her. The 13-year-old eighth-grader, who trains as a swimmer five or six days a week, holds national age-group records in the 11–12-year-old 50- and 100-yard butterfly and in the 50-meter butterfly. Her winning time in the 13–14 100-meter butterfly (1:01.09) at the 2017 North Carolina Swimming Long-Course Age Group Championships in July would have qualified her for the 2016 Olympic Trials.
“She knows she’s talented, but she doesn’t carry herself in a way superior to her teammates,” says Brent St. Pierre, Claire’s coach at the Raleigh Swimming Association. “[What’s] made her successful is her personality. That love of life is what I think has made it easy for her.”
Track and Field
Tamari Davis says she’s “still in shock” about what happened when she crossed the finish line of the high school 200 meters at the 2017 Prefontaine Classic last May. The eighth-grader had won in 23.21 seconds, breaking the world record for 14-year-olds she had set less than one month earlier. Now a freshman at Gainesville High, Tamari has come a long way from that six-year-old who used to play in the dirt with bugs at her older brother Desmond’s track events. At seven, she raced against eight-year-olds at the AAU Junior Olympics. She finished third in the 100, and she didn’t even use starting blocks.
“Right then, I knew this girl could be special,” recalls her coach, Gary Evans. She has won the 100 and 200 in her age group at the AAU Junior Olympics every summer but one since. And that’s because she didn’t enter that year!
The first dunk came on a Thursday. Trashaun Willis grabbed the ball, outraced a defender, and slammed it home during an eighth-grade game for the Washington Demons. The next came two days later, after he dribbled behind his back on a fast break.
A dunk is impressive for any 14-year-old. For Trashaun, now in ninth grade at Washington High, it was even more jaw-dropping. Trashaun was born without part of his left arm; it stops just above the elbow. The dunks went viral, and he was interviewed on NBC. But even with all the attention, nothing has changed. “I’m just the same old Trashaun,” he says.
And he isn’t just a two-dunk wonder. Trashaun averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds last season, and he played quarterback for the ninth-grade squad. In the spring, he plans to try out for track and soccer. Whatever sport he plays, Trashaun will follow his mantra: “Don’t worry about what other people say. Just be yourself.”
Photographs by Michael J. Le Brecht II (Benjamin); John W. McDonough (Bunchie); Bob Leverone (Claire); Jeffrey A. Salter (Tamari); David E. Klutho (Trashaun)