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Washington State's Sorenson awarded 2016 Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award

May 9, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has voted to award WASHINGTON STATE football student-athlete Riley Sorenson with the Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award for 2015-16. Sorenson received the award for the strength of character and dedication to his team that he displayed throughout the 2015 season even while he and his family faced extreme personal challenges.

On Nov. 14, 2015, while on a road trip at UCLA, Sorenson received some heartbreaking news from his offensive line coach, Clay McGuire. Coach McGuire told Sorenson that his mother had been diagnosed with late stage cancer throughout her body. When Sorenson arrived at the hospital, his mother was unconscious, and the doctors were not hopeful. The experts had suggested a trial treatment that had been released only three weeks prior. Fortunately, four days into this treatment, Sorenson’s mother became responsive, and could stand on her own. Her improvement continued rapidly, and she was soon released, but continued to undergo treatments. Sorenson returned to Pullman Nov. 18 to continue working with his team on the field.

As time passed, Sorenson’s mother continued to grow stronger, but when the time came for the Cougars’ bowl game, it was decided that it was best for her health that she stay home. So Sorenson’s father flew over from California to El Paso, Texas to watch his son play in the Sun Bowl, while his mother was at home with his younger sister and brother. 

Just as the Cougars were about to take the field against Miami in the Sun Bowl, Sorenson’s coach again pulled him aside. Coach McGuire told him that his father had suffered a heart attack, and that he needed to go to the hospital. Sorenson rushed to get out of his pads in the locker room and was taken to the hospital with a police escort. After arriving at the hospital, the doctors informed Sorenson that his father’s heart had stopped for 20 minutes, and after the extensive surgery, his father would be unconscious for a couple of days. Sorenson decided that with this news, he would return to the football field where he would stand by his teammates during the fourth quarter and participate in the Sun Bowl trophy ceremony. Regardless of the hardship Sorenson was facing, he knew his teammates needed him on the field. 

Days following the win, everyone on the team had headed home besides Sorenson, who had stayed at the El Paso hospital with his father. The doctors told Sorenson that 70 percent of his father’s brain was dead, and that it would be best for him to call his mother and siblings and tell them to fly to Texas. On Jan. 5, 2016, Bart Sorenson passed away at the age of 49 due to complications from his condition and the entire Sorenson family was devastated.

Riley Sorenson faced hardship throughout the 2015 football season, but never gave up on his team. He says that both parents, regardless of their conditions, would have wanted him to stand by his team, who in turn helped him tremendously as he struggled with his parents’ health. 

"This is a tremendous honor for Riley and more so due to the fact that he was nominated and later selected by his peers throughout the conference,” said Washington State head coach Mike Leach. “Riley has faced unimaginable adversity this past year, handled it with great courage, and remained focused on being a student-athlete. To have others recognize what Riley has fought through and for him to remain a leader on this team is a testament to his character and selflessness.”

Through it all, Sorenson brought a positive attitude to the field and made a lasting impression on the Cougar football team with his strength, courage, and ability to put others’ needs ahead of his own. He not only impacted the lives of his teammates, but also impacted the lives of coaches, other students, and fans throughout Cougar nation.

"I would first like to thank my friends, family, teammates, and countless other individuals that reached out to me during this time; I could not have done it without that unrelenting support,” Sorenson said. “Obviously this past fall was a very emotionally tough time for me in my personal life, but all of the support that I received from everyone involved made it possible for me to go about my life as my family would want me to. I would like to thank the Pac-12 Conference and the entire Pac-12 SAAC for the recognition that comes with receiving the Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award. It is truly an honor to be deemed worthy to receive this award above all of the other athletes in the Pac-12, and for that I'm very grateful."

The Sportsmanship Award is selected by members of the Pac-12 SAAC and is based on good sportsmanship and ethical behavior in participation of intercollegiate athletics, as well as a demonstration of good citizenship outside of the sports-competition setting. Nominees must have demonstrated the values of respect and integrity through a specific action, ideally directed toward an opponent. The student-athlete must have consistently demonstrated the values of respect and integrity in his or her daily participation in intercollegiate athletics. Conference award winners are then nominated for the NCAA Division I Sportsmanship Award. ARIZONA football student-athlete Casey Skowron and the CALIFORNIA women’s lacrosse team were also nominated for this year’s Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award.

Previous Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award winners:
2004    Grayling Love, Arizona State
2005    Channing Frye, Arizona; Cara Chlebicki, California
2006    Eric Nygard, Washington State; Anna Key, California
2007    Mitch Canham, Oregon State; Jennifer Tangtiphaiboontana, Stanford
2008    Michael Capbarat, California; Arianna Lambie, Stanford
2009    Stenn Parton, USC; Lindsey Kelley, Arizona
2010    Ben Ashmore, Arizona State; Stanford women’s rowing team
2011    Jeff Gudaitis, Washington; Katie Matusik, Arizona
2012    Bryson Beirne, Arizona; Brittany Hart, Oregon
2013    Kylie Sharp, Washington
2014    University of Colorado Student-Athletes
2015    UCLA women’s gymnastics team
2016    Riley Sorenson, Washington State