Students from across Texoma were recognized for their success both on and off the field Thursday night at the All-Texomaland Banquet presented by the Herald Democrat and Texoma Medical Center and sponsored by Bonham Chrysler. The event recognized the achievements of more than 300 students in football, baseball, volleyball and other athletic programs.

Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee served as the speaker for Thursday’s event. Lee said the awards ceremony made him think back to when he was a young athlete growing up in Pittsburgh, admiring players like Jerome Bettis. In high school, Lee said he played both basketball and football, with plans originally to pursue basketball on the next level.

“When I was their age, if someone told me I would play in the NFL, I would have said, ‘No way,’” Lee said prior to the event.

Herald Democrat Executive Editor Jonathan Cannon said the event gave the opportunity to celebrate all of the students successes, including those off the field. Through their efforts and diligence, Cannon said the students were learning skills that would translate into their future lives.

“It isn’t just about celebrating stats or scores but about celebrating the lessons that are learned beyond throwing a football or shooting a basket,” he said.

Texoma Marketing and Media Group Senior Group Publisher Nate Rodriguez said just being included in the event represents a sign of success for these young athletes. The athletes being recognized represent six counties from 31 schools and play in 11 sports.

“Just being invited to this room tonight represents countless hours of work and for that we congratulate you,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez took the opportunity to thank the sponsors who made the event possible, singling out Bonham Chrysler and Texoma Medical Center for their contributions.

This year’s awards ceremony comes during a year of firsts and broken records in local athletics, Herald Democrat Sports Editor Bill Spinks said Wednesday. The past year has seen three state championships come home to Texoma.

“It has been a record year in our area and as such we are having a record breaking year in our recognitions,” Spinks said in reference to the number of athletes recognized Thursday.

The event featured awards and recognition for the student athletes that have been named as part of the All-Texomaland team for their efforts in athletics, in addition to those receiving individual recognitions. The team is meant to recognize the skill of each athlete in their particular position.

In addition to the team recognitions, the banquet also served as an opportunity to individually recognize individual student athletes with awards based on each sport. The event was topped off by the four major awards for Male and Female Athletes of the Year, Coach of the Year and the new Deckard-Woodlee-Pelton Courage Award.

The courage award is named after North Central Texas College softball players Brooke Deckard, 20, of Blue Ridge; Jaiden Pelton, 20, of Telephone; and Katelynn Woodlee, 18, of Windom; all of whom were killed in a bus crash while traveling back from a game in Oklahoma on Sept. 26, 2014. Meagan Richardson, 19, of Wylie was also killed in the crash.

Deckard and Pelton helped their high schools reach the state softball tournament and all three earned all-state honors during their athletic careers. Deckard was recognized in the All-Texomaland first-team selection at Blue Ridge three times, with Woodlee and Pelton named as second-team picks.

The first-year award was presented to Gunter High School athlete Tyler Buysse, who has been recognized for his achievements in wheelchair basketball and track and field in the University Interscholastic League’s wheelchair division.

At age six Buysse was riding in a car with his mother and brother when they were involved in a head-on collision on State Highway 289. The wreck broke Buysse’s mother’s neck and left him paralyzed. After months of therapy and multiple surgeries, Buysse recovered to the point he could compete in athletics at age 9 and discovered wheelchair basketball.

During his high school career, Buysse won gold medals in the 100- and 400-meter races and shot put at the state track meet. This year, Buysse won the state title in the 100-meter and 400-meter races when he broke his own record with a time of 15.41 seconds and 53.77 seconds, respectively.

Buysse said he got his start in track about two years ago as a way to condition himself for basketball. Since then, he said it has become as much of a focus for him as basketball, if not more.

“I like the challenge of doing something that nobody else does, and that just got me into track,” he said.

He added that Thursday’s ceremony gave him the opportunity to be recognized — something that many paraplegic athletes often miss.

“People with my disability usually don’t get recognized at events like this, but Texoma is a great place to live,” Buysse said.

The Coach of the Year award was given to Gunter Football Coach Jake Fieszel for his role in the Tigers winning the Class 3A Division II championship in late 2016. The victory topped off a perfect season in which Gunter went 16-0 and also set a record for the widest margin of victory in a title game since it was created in 1998. Fieszel attributed the success to a team effort by the students, coaches, parents and community.

“I’ve been able to hire great assistant coaches, we have a great administration and we have great parents,” he said. “It all blends together into what we have tonight.”

Moving forward with the next season, Fieszel said the team has some holes to fill with graduations, but if he is able to foster some leadership in the team, it will be successful again.

In addition to Buysse and Fieszel, Myles Mitchusson of Pottsboro was recognized with the Male Athlete of the Year award for his accomplishments in football, track and baseball. He played centerfield for the co-district champions and was also part of the state-championship winning mile relay team.

The Female Athlete of the Year award was presented to Zada Swoopes of Whitewright for her accomplishments and records set in basketball, softball and track. Among these achievements was Swoopes’ .432 batting average in softball and an average of 21 points per game in basketball. Swoopes also won state championships in shot put and discus, setting conference records in the process.