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Reeths-Puffer junior Sophia Hekkema (23) dribbles the ball down the court during the fourth quarter of a Division 1 girls basketball district semifinals game between Reeths-Puffer and Kenowa Hills at Reeths-Puffer High School in Muskegon on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. The Reeths-Puffer Rockets beating the Kenowa Hills Knights 56-37. (Daniel Shular | MLive.com)
MUSKEGON – The best leaders and role models are the ones who put in the extra work behind the scenes when there is no fanfare or special attention put on them.
The ones who stay after practice for extra reps, show up early to class to get some extra studying in, or devote hours of their own time to give back to the community around them.
Each year, the Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame attempts to find a male and female student-athlete from the local community who exemplifies those characteristics and the 2023 edition of the Scholar-Athlete Award will be going to a pair of well-balanced leaders who take just as much pride in their work in the classroom as they do their athletic achievements in the field of competition.
Sophia Hekkema of Reeths-Puffer and Matt Danicek of Oakridge were ultimately chosen as the 2023 Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award winners due to their outstanding athletic careers, superb work in the classroom and extraordinary volunteer efforts in their local communities.
The two senior standouts will be recognized during a Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday, June 10 at the VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center in Muskegon. Tickets cost $50 for the general public and can be purchased online by clicking here.
The Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors puts together a subcommittee each spring after receiving one male and one female candidate from each school in the Muskegon area for the annual Scholar-Athlete Award. Each candidate is required to be a senior at their school with a proven track record in the field of competition and within the classroom.
The subcommittee then selects five male and female finalists from the pool of candidates and ultimately selects a winner for each side of the award.
This year’s Gary Ostrom Male Scholar-Athlete Award finalists also included Shane Cook of Whitehall, Jordan Briggs of Muskegon, Hunter Hogan of Ravenna, and Sam Kartes of Muskegon Catholic Central.
The additional finalists for the Dick Hedges Female Scholar-Athlete Award included Natalie Pannucci of North Muskegon, Lexie Bowers of Kent City, Emma Gillard of Ravenna, and Emma Peterson of Montague.
For Sophia Hekkema, the special acknowledgment serves as a rewarding reminder that hard work and dedication doesn’t go unnoticed in most walks of life.
“I feel like a lot of people do recognize me as a hard worker, especially in my school, but it’s kind of refreshing to know that other people even outside my direct community recognize that too,” she told MLive after learning of her first-place finish for the award. “I do work so hard as both a student and an athlete, so it’s always a good feeling when you get rewarded for the work you put in.”
Hekkema holds a 3.861 GPA in the classroom, received a gold graduation cord, is a two-time National Honor Society member, was academic all-state in basketball twice (2022-23) and was academic all-state in volleyball in 2022.
The standout athlete for the Rockets earned 13 varsity letters including volleyball (4), basketball (4), soccer (4) and track (1). As a volleyball standout, Hekkema was a two-time all-conference selection and a two-time all-area selection.
She used her rare combination of size, speed and agility to her advantage on the basketball court, where she was a two-time All-State selection, a four-time all-conference selection, a four-time member of the MLive Muskegon Dream Team and helped the Rockets to three conference championships and a district championship in 2020.
Hekkema was voted a team captain three times during her high school career and was named team MVP for three seasons as well. She closed out her high school basketball career with more than 1,000 career points scored, which places her second all-time in school history.
Soccer has proven to be Hekkema’s top sport, however, as her ability to play with both physicality and finesse during periods of a match has helped her become one of the most prolific goal scorers in the West Michigan area throughout her prep career.
The senior phenom has already broken the school record for goals scored in a single season with 22 goals in each of the previous two springs. She was named team MVP twice (2021, 2022), won the Golden Boot Award (most goals scored) twice and won the Winger Award (most assists) twice. She is a two-time all-conference selection, a two-time all-district selection, a two-time all-region selection, a two-time MHSSCA all-state selection and was a first-team selection in the 2022 MLive Muskegon Dream Team.
Despite a busy workload, Hekkema believes her regimented lifestyle as an athlete has helped her excel in both aspects of her life.
“People think that I’m so busy all the time and I don’t have time outside of school and sports, but sports have really helped me maintain a schedule and be goal-oriented,” she added. “I can look at my day and think about my classes, then practice, and then when I get home from practice, I have this set amount of time to do homework. I’ve always found that having a schedule is super helpful and has allowed me to stay on all my tasks.”
Hekkema takes pride in her work as a student-athlete so giving 100 percent effort is nothing new to her.
“It was difficult, especially this year being my senior year and there’s the whole senioritis thing too,” she said of the challenges of being a good student and athlete. “I can be a procrastinator at times, but I’ve always kind of prided myself in doing my work and trying to get it done to the best of my abilities. I never feel good about myself when I don’t commit to something that I’m involved in, so I always make sure to take pride in everything that I do whether that’s how hard I play when I’m playing a sport or how I perform in the classroom and the grades that I earn.
“I’m going to leave it all on the field when I’m playing soccer, and I want to leave it all in the classroom too when I’m at school.”
As a leader in her community, Hekkema has spent three years on the IMPACT Club at Reeths-Puffer, which is a student leadership group that helps identify and implement opportunities for engagement and improvement at their school.
She has also been a Student Council Trustee twice (2021, 2022), a two-time peer tutor and is on the Reeths-Puffer student leadership board this year. She helped organize, raise funds and lead a team of students to honor local veterans during a boys and girls varsity basketball game this past winter.
Hekkema also participated in a community outreach program that connected with a local defense business and presented the need for service dogs for a veteran’s organization, which resulted in a $3,000 sponsorship for the school’s veterans’ night event. The event raised over $5,000 in donations to present to the Jaeger Foundation.
She has also been involved as a volunteer for the Feeding America Food Truck program for the past seven years and has helped assist in the setup, organization and handing out of food to those in need.
The future Michigan State University student has also spent time volunteering as a youth basketball and soccer coach at Reeths-Puffer youth camps.
“Before I even got into high school and the National Honor Society, where you have to volunteer to be involved in it, I would help out with my church’s food trucks,” said Hekkema. “I don’t know why exactly but it just has always felt super rewarding, especially when I was younger, to be able to help other people. I got to do some volunteer work with my grandparents too, which was a great way for us to connect when I was younger and I think it’s important to give back to your community however you can.”
Oakridge’s Matt Danicek (3) runs at Muskegon Catholic Central on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. Oakridge won 20-14. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)
For Matt Danicek, the opportunity to be named the top senior student-athlete in his community is a big deal.
“I just feel proud – it’s a good accomplishment to get,” he said. “It’s always good to get your work done in the classroom because you never know what your future’s going to be and that’s always a plus having that on the side.”
As an athlete, Danicek has excelled in football (4 years), basketball (4 years) and baseball (4 years). He was named all-regional, all-district and all-conference in football this past season, including All-State honors as a defensive back from the MHSFCA and was an honorable mention selection at quarterback in the MLive Muskegon Dream Team offense. He also received honorable mention all-conference honors in basketball and was named academic all-conference after maintaining a 3.683 GPA throughout his high school career.
The senior leader was one of the key playmakers for the Oakridge football team at quarterback, as he helped power the Eagles to a 10-2 season. Danicek finished with 446 yards rushing and seven touchdowns and was 104-for-157 passing for 1,401 yards and 13 touchdowns on offense. As a defensive back, Danicek had a team-high three interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along with 18 tackles.
“(Football) is just way different,” he said of his love for the game. “Basketball and baseball have a much different feel and not everybody is involved. In football, we’re all going to war together and we’re just battling for each other. It’s way different.”
The versatile student-athlete is also a Magna Cord recipient, a National Honor Society member, and an honor roll recipient. He also volunteers his time at youth basketball camps around Oakridge, gymnastics meets, 5k races and recycling events.
Danicek plans to attend Muskegon Community College next fall where he plans to get his associate’s degree and potentially pursue a business career.
The 2023 Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame induction class includes long-time Fruitport volleyball coach Dan Potts, former Newaygo football standout Joe Berger, the 2009-2012 Mona Shores girls golf team and the 1953 Muskegon St. Joseph boys basketball team. Frank Coletta, a longtime volunteer and supporter of youth and high school sports in Ravenna, will join the class as the 2023 Gene Young Distinguished Service Award winner.
For more information on the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame and its upcoming events, check out the committee’s Facebook page.
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