When it came to initially consider a recipient for the 2017 USBWA Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, there was a sense of wanting to do something exceptional in the aftermath of the Hall of Fame Tennessee women's coach's passing last June after a nearly five-year battle against Alzheimer's disease.
By coincidence in announcing dual honorees for the first time since Summitt's name was placed on the women's award that she won in 2012, a way was found to present the plaques in both Summitt's spirit and now also her memory.
When it comes to spirit, Appalachian State coach Angel Elderkin has continued to guide the Mountaineers from their Boone, N.C., campus, since being diagnosed with Stage III Endometrial (ovarian) cancer last summer.
And when it comes to doing something memorable, ESPN sportscaster Holly Rowe has been very public in battling desmoplastic melanoma while continuing to stay on air doing the job she loves.Rowe is the first USBWA women's most courageous recipient who is neither an athlete, coach, official or team public relations person. And she is one of a very few winners who did not have a direct connection to a university.
"Holly's battle with cancer represents one of many examples of her unwavering courage and relentless approach to tackling life's difficulties," said LaChina Robinson, an ESPN on-air colleague. "Throughout her illustrious career, Holly has acted as a role model and inspiration to so many.
"She always asks the hard-hitting questions that we the fans need to know, and her firm commitment to treating every person with the same respect and professionalism is something I try and emulate. Her career and life accomplishments are a constant source of encouragement for our youth."
Elderkin's Appalachian State family offered an impressive nomination package from women's basketball sports information director Chase Colliton.In one opening passage, the letter noted, "… Since the season started, she hasn't missed one game. Coach Elderkin coaches every day as she is at her strongest, even if she is feeling her weakest. Often, the players or staff have to corral her back so she doesn't overdo it. This game and her players have been her greatest medicine.
"Coach Elderkin's will to fight, her courage and her bravery resonate with everyone from the staff to the rest of the athletic department and to other coaches across the country."
Said North Carolina women's coach Sylvia Hatchell, who has had her own battles with cancer: "She's a fighter and an example to everyone on how to fight and journey through this hard time. If she wins I know she will use her experience to help others go through difficult times."
Several players also commented in support of Elderkin.
"If coach Angel wins this award, I would be so proud to be able to be part of this moment," said senior forward Ashley Bassett-Smith. "I'm so blessed to have her as my head coach and inspiring me every day to push harder and get better no matter what I'm dealing with in my life off the court."
Both Elderkin and Rowe will receive their awards at the USBWA Awards news conference in the tournament interview room at the NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas.