First Baptist Academy's Malaya Melancon was presented with the Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete award on Friday, May 22, 2020. Naples Daily News
Malaya Melancon has left quite a legacy at First Baptist Academy.
She topped it off by becoming the North Naples school's first Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete award winner Friday.
"Incredibly honored," Melancon said. "I've never felt this honored. I've actually been going to FBA for so long, and this award has been a huge deal there. I've thought to myself 'Maybe I could get that' and I can't believe it's really happening right now."
The banquet, which was scheduled Thursday night, for the 31st annual award ceremony was canceled last month due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Winged Foot selection committee met virtually Wednesday night and chose the winner.
Those who have won the Winged Foot have described it as kind of surreal, and the circumstances created by the pandemic certainly reflected that Friday.
Winged Foot chairman Bud Hornbeck, board member Mike Walker, and his son, Michael, the 2015 winner and now a wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars did a makeshift presentation to Melancon in the parking lot of the Quarles & Brady building, where Gallagher Lutgert Insurance is located. Hornbeck is an area chairman for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
Hornbeck presented Melancon with the original award trophy, but Melancon will get her own, and all of the finalists will receive a plaque as happens every year.
"It was a strange process," Hornbeck said, alluding to the times during the pandemic. "I just feel so bad for all of the 2020 graduates, throughout the whole country, not just here, for missing their spring sports, for missing the proms, graduations, all of those good things that we kind of take for granted.
"The Winged Foot banquet, the first time in 31 years we haven't held a banquet. That's something special for these kids. They've earned it. They've earned the recognition and the honor."
The younger Walker, who is in town training while awaiting word on when offseason team workouts can begin, won the award as a Naples High senior. He went on to play football at Boston College, then signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jaguars last year, making it all the way from the practice squad to the regular roster by the middle of the season.
"You wish the banquet would happen because it's such a prestigious award," Walker said. "You want it to be memorable for the winner, for Malaya. It's crazy that we're in a parking lot right now, but that's why I showed up. I wanted to make it as big of an event as it should be and support it."
First Baptist Academy athletic director Billy Sparacio, who is the school's football coach and also helps out in track and field, was thrilled for Melancon.
"I'm super excited for her and for her family and for our school," Sparacio said. "Well-deserved. She's done it all. She's great on the field, she's great in the classroom, and she's a great kid."
Sparacio also was excited to add a Winged Foot winner to the school's history.
"It's very, very special," he said. "We haven't had a Winged Foot winner. We've had some great kids over the years. I'm just thrilled for Malaya and for her family, and I speak for all of the teachers, faculty, (soccer) coach (Jackyson) Bazile and (track and field) coach (Ryan) Mitchell.
"... It's a really prestigious award."
Melancon, who has signed to play soccer at FGCU, is a Player of the Year finalist in the sport this season, and was Player of the Year and the Daily News Female Athlete of the Year as a junior. She also was first-team all-area in track as a junior. Her senior track season was wiped out due to the pandemic.
"It means a lot to me," Melancon said of being the first Winged Foot winner for her school. "I've been the first for a lot of things at FBA. It feels awesome. I'm sad that it's ending, and that it had to be like this, but I'm so incredibly grateful and blessed to have this opportunity and all of the opportunities I've had in the past, too."
Melancon graduated second in her class, but was first in something else — a first chair violinist in addition to being first-team all-state in soccer five times and receiving seven varsity letters in that sport. She finished her career with 192 goals.
"She is just as comfortable leading her soccer team on the field as a four-year captain and a member of First-Team All-State as she is tackling an AP class with determination or volunteering her free time with Little Angels Worldwide," said Nancy Powers, First Baptist's advanced placement literature and composition teacher, in a recommendation letter with Melancon's application. "Malaya is an accomplished musician, scholar, and athlete, earning state recognition as first chair violinist."
The Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Foundation will give $5,000 to each of its finalists. Melancon receives a $10,000 scholarship – $2,500 a year for four years; the other finalists receive one-time stipends.
Graduating seniors from Collier County high schools are eligible for the award, which was first given in 1990 by the Collier Athletic Club.
This year's Winged Foot other finalists, in alphabetical order, were:
Araceli Anzualda, Immokalee
Jay Beshears, Community School of Naples
Lauren Faremouth, Marco Island Academy
Christian Garcia, Palmetto Ridge
Isabella Garcia, Seacrest Country Day
Brady Gibson, Naples
Samantha Hussey, St. John Neumann
Andy Martinez, Golden Gate
Justin Mattia, Gulf Coast
Victoria Novotny, Lely
Drew Powell, Barron Collier
"Very, very difficult choice this year as it always is," Hornbeck said. "We've got some very, very accomplished young men and women."
ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the banquet, but did send along a note via text to Hornbeck, who said Bilas has agreed to speak at the 2021 banquet.
"Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020, with special recognition to the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation finalists," Bilas said. "This honor is reflective of your great character, leadership, and accomplishment, in athletics and academics. As excited as we are to celebrate your success, we are even more excited and inspired to celebrate all that you will accomplish in your very bright futures."
Each candidate was required to complete an extensive application process in order to be considered by their respective schools. Each school then determined its representative.
Jensen Jones of St. John Neumann High School won the honor last year.
The major sponsors are Barron Collier Jr. Foundation, Lutgert Company, Gallagher Lutgert Insurance, Premier Sotheby's International, Grant, Fridkin, Pearson PA, IBERIABANK, and Dr. Charles Karpas.
Hornbeck said the sponsors as well as many of the banquet's table sponsors, agreed to let the foundation keep the money for this year.
"We all owe them a great deal of appreciation," Hornbeck said.
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/