And the winners are…

Youth Athlete of the Year Joshua Braun, Phoenix Regional Sports Commission President Jon Schmieder, Youth Contributor of the Year Hugh Smith, Youth Contributor of the Year Erik Widmark, Youth Coach of the Year Melissa Belote Ripley.

The Phoenix Regional Sports Commission announced the winners of the Youth Sports of the Year Awards at a Sept. 24 banquet. The awards recognize exceptional youth athletes, coaches and youth sports contributors for their dedication to positive leadership and outstanding character. The 2011 Youth Sports of the Year Award recipients include:

Youth Athlete of the Year, Joshua Braun

Braun is a senior at Boulder Creek High School, where he is a part of the National Honor Society and is academically ranked 12th in his class of 608 students. Braun currently plays on his varsity basketball team and the AAU basketball team for the Arizona Aces. He has been selected for the Duel in the Desert All-Tournament Team.

Braun was awarded Deer Valley School District Male Athlete of the Year in 2009, has been an All-State honorable mention athlete and was also named the All-Region Most Valuable Player. He helped coordinate various youth basketball camps, actively volunteered his time as a referee and has coached volleyball and basketball teams at his local community center. Braun also dedicates his time to numerous Anthem area events including Emma’s Run and a roadside cleanup effort with military veterans.

Youth Coach of the Year, Melissa Belote Ripley

Ripley spent more than 30 years volunteering as a swim coach. She is currently working with the Rio Salado Swim Club and has been the coach at McClintock High School for the last several years.

Her passion and commitment to the sport of swimming began at a young age and carried her through to the Olympics, where she brought home three gold medals. For the better part of three decades, Ripley has been committed to helping individual swimmers reach their full potential.

Youth Sports Contributor of the Year, Erik Widmark

Known as “Wid” by the community, Widmark has been the driving force behind the Grand Canyon State Games, which is the country’s largest amateur sports festival. Going on its 19th year, the Games offer spirited competition and positively impact more than 400,000 youth participants.

Youth Sports Contributor of the Year, Hugh Smith

Smith has been with The First Tee of Phoenix since 2006 and has been an integral part in growing the game of golf for youth athletes throughout Maricopa County. Through his dedication, the First Tee Life Skills Program has grown to five sites throughout Maricopa County, with 14 staff members and 3,500 full-time students enrolled. The program imparts lessons about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, how to make decisions by thinking about the possible consequences and how to define and set goals — from the golf course to everyday life.

Hugh has introduced golf into physical education programs in more than 130 schools, which now include over 50,000 students participating in golf-related curriculums.

The winners were honored at the Youth Sports Awards Banquet at the Grand Canyon University Arena. Thirty-four honorees in three categories were recognized and acknowledged.

The Phoenix Regional Sports Commission is a a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation created in 1988 to “Enrich Our Community Through Sports” by bringing national and international sporting events to the state, promoting existing events and teams and supporting youth sports programs. phoenixsports.org.

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