By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Despite the scare caused by the COVID-19 epidemic that forced the cancellation of sports events around the country, the 29th edition of the National Alliance of African-American Athletes Watkins Awards went off as planned. Most of the alumni who comprise the fraternity of student-athletes that make the yearly pilgrimage to renew acquaintances chose to exercise the option of social distancing because of the current health crisis.
However, the fears of the virus were offset by the moment where Kourt Williams II from St. John Bosco High Schools in Harbor City, California was named as the 2020 Watkins Award standard bearer. Williams, who has committed to play college football at Ohio State, took his place amongst the group of previous winners, who have become major contributors to programs in Power 5 conferences around the country and made an impact on pro football.
“This honor is definitely at the top of the list,” Williams said. “One day I will be able to show this award to my kids and I will always hold it close to my heart.”
Prior to the Center for Disease Control’s announcement that advised all public gatherings should be reduced to no more than 50 people, an audience of approximately 175 friends, families and supporters were on hand, despite NFL all-pro defensive lineman Gerald McCoy being forced to cancel his appearance as the keynote speaker. Organizers say McCoy, the free agent and six time pro bowl all-star who was a previous Watkins nominee in 2006, cancelled because his five children have immune deficiencies, which could have put them at risk. He also re-committed to speak during the 30th anniversary celebration next year.
Handshakes and hugs were replaced by fist bumps and elbow knocks by the families of supporters and friends who gathered at the sparsely occupied Marriott Gateway Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia. The event was understated, but remained enthusiastic, while the audience left whatever apprehension about their personal interactions in the building’s lobby.
“Our resilience has been tested to the core,” said Everette Pearsall, executive director of the Alliance. “But there was never any doubt from the honorees or their parents about attending because they understand the significance of being here.”
Williams was the Long Beach (CA) Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the Press-Telegram’s Dream Team. He was also a Butkus Award nominee and was named first-team all-state while maintaining a 3.8 grade-point average. As an active member of his community, Williams volunteered at the St. John Bosco Sports Camp, as a Los Angeles Unified Literacy Coach, with the Los Angeles Community Service Project and with the Faithful Central Bible Church.
“Not only is Kourt a great football player, but he excelled in the classroom and was very giving of himself in the community,” said Pearsall. “As this year’s Watkins Award standard bearer, we know that Kourt will continue to lead by example.”
Williams, who has already graduated and is enrolled at Ohio State, understands that winning the Watkins Award and playing at a high profile college program offers him a big stage to become a role model in his community.
“Just showing them if I can do it they can do it too,” Williams said. “Leading by example and keep doing what I do so they can see it will work out for all of them.”
Williams and the other five student-athletes also participated in a truncated list of activities over the weekend featuring a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture before it was locked down for COVID-19 precautions.