The 2016 Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards ceremony honored the top high school athletes in the country for their accomplishments. The prestigious event was held at the LA Hotel in Downtown.

Hosted by ESPN’s talented anchor Sage Steele, the star-studded affair featured prominent pro stars like NFL MVP Cam Newton, NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, NFL Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley, Matt Stafford and Jenny Finch.

Earlier in the day, Gatorade hosted a panel emceed by Sage Steele to promote their new endeavor, PlayItForward, which focuses on the decline of youth sports and seeks to provide young athletes access to achieve their athletic dreams by enlisting support from current pro athletes.

The panel featured Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, US Beach Volleyball star April Ross, Gatorade marketing director Jeff Kearney, Director of Marketing & Fan Engagement for the Atlanta United FC and founder of Catalyst author Kevin Carroll.

The primary focus of PlayItForward is to empower athletes to give back and reverse the decline in youth sports participation. The Male and Female athlete of the year winners receive 1,000 grant to bestow on a local or national youth sports organization of their choice.

Male nominees for the 2016 award were Jacob Eason for Football, Jayson Tatum for Basketball, Drew Hunter for Cross Country, Michael Norman for Track & Field, Lucas Mendes for Soccer and Kyle Muller for Baseball.

Future Duke baller Jayson Tatum of Chaminade College Preparatory School (St. Louis, MO) took home the prestigious honor after leading his squad to a state championship.

The 2016 Female Athlete of the Year award was presented to Rio-bound 16-year old Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin from Union Catholic in New Jersey. McLaughlin qualified for the 400m hurdles by breaking her own national high school record.

Other female nominees included USC bound Khalia Lanier for Volleyball, Erin Boley for Basketball, Katie Rainsberger for Cross Country, Ella Stevens for Soccer and Madilyn Nickles for Softball.

After the ceremony, we had the opportunity to speak with some of the pros in attendance. Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton offered his thoughts on 7v7 football and his belief that athletes should specialize in one sport.

Detroit Lions QB Matt Stafford spoke about the retirement of Calvin Johnson and who will step up to make the new transition as smooth as possible.

We got to catch up with Karl-Anthony Towns and USA softball legend Jenny Finch as well. Special thanks to Gatorade for organizing such a fabulous event.

The Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards exudes excellence and champions the value of sports in society. Salute to the all the nominees for their hard work and continued success in the future.

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