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Burke Standout Raven Saunders Named 2014 Gatorade National Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year
7/2/2014 8:27:00 PM

Raven Saunders was awarded the 2014 Gatorade National Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year at a surprise press conference last Wednesday at Burke High School. Photo: Gatorade/Susan Goldman
By Tolbert Smalls, Jr.

Burke High School senior Raven Saunders has added another accolade to an already decorated athletic career. At a surprise ceremony last Wednesday, she was named the 2013-2014 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year becoming just the third South Carolina prep athlete to earn the distinction in any sport.

Despite the many accomplishments earned during a stellar senior season, Saunders explained her reaction to the news as shocked, surprising and confused. "I wasn't sure what was going on. I knew that I won the award for the state, but I thought the national award was still two weeks away," she said. "Once they started the ceremony and presented me with the trophy, it started to feel real."

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.

"Receiving this award has really motivated me to work harder at the next level. I feel like I have a lot left in the tank to offer and I'm determined to reach my goals and live out my dream," Saunders said.

Raven's Coach, Herbert Johnson, has been there since day one helping her along the way in her journey. "There is a strong sense of gratification and accomplishment when I know what she has been through to get to this point in her career. She was committed going through all the training and the hard work has paid off. Raven trusted me and went from an average shot-putter to being recognized nationally at a school not known for track & field. This award is a testament of her desire to be the best," Johnson said.

It's no surprise that Saunders has been recognized as the best in her craft. Upon conducting this interview, the 5 foot 5 senior mentioned that they had just finished working out. "The training doesn't stop. Most people don't know or see the hard work you put in at practice and behind closed doors. It got me to where I am today and I don't see a reason to stop now," said Saunders.

Saunders' hard work and dedication helped her set national records in the shot put this year with a throw of 56 feet, 8 1/4 inches in April. She continued her dominance winning the national title at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships with a throw of 56-7 1/2. In May, she set a state record in the shot put with an effort of 55-8 1/4 and also won the state discus title with a throw of 148-5 at the state track and field championships.

Aside from athletic superiority, the award also acknowledges impeccable character off the field and academic achievement in the classroom. Saunders maintained a B average in her studies and exemplified leadership as the President of Burkes' Student Government Association and senior class. She was also active in the schools' DECA chapter for emerging business leaders and devoted time to SkillsUSA, a national student-empowerment organization.

"I still can't believe this is happening to me right now," Saunders said. "I owe my success to everyone that helped me in my journey. I want to thank my parents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors and my church family at Centenary United Methodist for being there with me since day one."

The future is bright for the Burke High School standout athlete who will continue her career at Southern Illinois University this fall. She hopes to compete in the USA Junior Championships and become an NCAA champion. "I want to be the best at the next level and hope to win a gold medal at the Olympics some day. If I keep working hard and stay focused, my dream may become a reality."


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