PREP SPORTS: Cristian Esquinca and Ella Miller earn John Dickson Sportsmanship Awards

Nov. 19—FITHIAN — Oakwood senior football player Cristian Esquinca didn't even know that the John Dickson Sportsmanship Award existed for Vermilion County athletes until he was named the winning recipient.

"Once I found out about, I was kind of surprised because it's a really big honor to be named the winner for the whole county," he said.

So, it's probably fair to say that it didn't change the way he played the game?

"No, not at all," he said. "Actually, I feel like I'm getting recognized for doing the good things on the field that really should always be done."

That's a very refreshing comment considering that sportsmanship seems being a difficult thing to find sometimes in athletics.

But, it's exactly the thing his coach, Cameron Lee, saw from his senior all season.

"Cristian exemplifies sportsmanship, responsibility and integrity in everything that he does both on and off the field," Lee wrote in his nomination letter. "When tempers flare (as they often do) in football, Cristian is the one always making sure that things don't cross the line ... He was the official de-escalator on our team.

"More important, if there was ever a call that did not go his way he never complained or showed up an official. He simply made his way back to the huddle and lined up for the next play."

One of the words that Lee used to describe Esquinca was responsibility.

And that became very evident this fall when Cristian attended the parent-teacher conferences for his younger brother, Kevin.

"Since both of my parents are Hispanic, they have a little trouble speaking and understanding English, so I go to the meetings to translate for them. I've been doing it since I was a little kid," Esquinca said.

And being the older brother, Cristian considers it his responsibility to not only set a good example for his brother, Kevin, but also to lead him on the right path.

So, when he heard that Kevin was having some issues in school, it really hit him hard.

"Knowing that he was having a little trouble during the first quarter meant that I needed to help him more to improve his grades," said Cristian, an honor-roll student at Oakwood. "I expect a lot from him. Knowing that he was behind, it put me in a position to get him better."

According to Oakwood coaches and administrators, that story sums up Esquinca, who admits that he has matured quicker because of his responsibilities within the family.

"But, it's normal for me," he said. "I'm used to it."

So how did Esquinca get involved with football.

"Well, I was born in Chicago and my family moved to Oakwood when I was like 10," he said. "One of my friends, Jose Nunez, played youth football and his dad was the coach. They got me on the team and I've been playing ever since."

And while this season wasn't the best record-wise (3-6) Esquinca said he really enjoyed it.

"With a new coach in Cameron Lee, we were hoping for really good things," he said. "We didn't win as many games as we wanted, but I still think we had a good season and we have a bunch of really good memories."

Winning the individual honor in volleyball was Westville sophomore Ella Miller.

According to her coach, Mariah Rolinitis, Miller deserved this honor for many reasons.

"Ella Miller is the most selfless, humble and kind-hearted player I have on my team and in my classroom," Rolinitis wrote in her nomination. "Her raw athleticism and positive energy is contagious as she roots for every person she encounters. She values her relationships, promotes inclusiveness and inspires excellence in everyone around her including the opposing teams."

Additionally Rolinitis added, "you will never hear Ella promoting or celebration her personal success to others. She never wants to out-do anyone on her team, but to be a part of something special to celebrate with her team and her people."

This past fall, Miller helped the Westville Tigers win their first Vermilion County since 1989.

Winning the team awards were the Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman Buffaloes in football and the Oakwood Comets in volleyball.

Both individual winners and both team winners will be recognized during the Vermilion County Basketball Tournament at the Mary Miller Gymnasium on the campus of Danville Area Community College in January.

Miller and the Oakwood volleyball team will recognized during the girls championship night on Jan. 20, while Esquinca and the Gerogetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman football team will be recognized during the boys championship night on Jan. 21.