In conjunction with its 40th Anniversary celebration, the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame proudly announces the creation of its new Excellence in Sports award, which will hereafter be presented annually to a Polish-American athlete or sports personality for achieving the highest level of accomplishment in their field.
Since 1973, the NPASHF has been honoring Polish-American athletes based upon their complete body of work, measured over an entire career. Now, with the addition of the Excellence in Sports award, the organization will also each year honor a selected Polish-American athlete, coach, sports executive or other sports personality for an outstanding individual athletic accomplishment during the preceding year.
NPASHF Board member Paul Paruk, a strong proponent of the award, began pitching the idea to his fellow board members a couple years ago. “The mission of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame is to recognize and honor outstanding career achievements of Polish-American athletes,” Paruk reasoned. “Along with Hall of Fame enshrinement, we can further fulfill this mission by honoring Polish-Americans for outstanding yearly athletic performances. We should tell our Polish story to the public as often as we can!”
The Board agreed, and the process began – which included naming the award, selecting an appropriate trophy, and of course, choosing the inaugural award recipient.
Step one – Naming the award.
At the suggestion of board member David Jansen, the board utilized the services of the Ann Arbor based Optimization Group, which conducted an “online brainstorming study” to create a list of potential award names and evaluate them. A total of 198 “ideas” were evaluated by a team of “creative thinkers” who rated the suggested names to determine which names were the best “fit,” based upon criteria previously submitted by the board. Based upon the results of the study, a total of four potential award names were recommended to the NPASHF Board of Directors. The “Excellence in Sports” award was the overwhelming choice of the board.
Step two – Find a fitting trophy.
No one on the Board of Directors had any pre-conceived ideas regarding the type of trophy to be selected. We knew only that it needed to be unique, elegant and timeless – an award that each yearly recipient would be proud to receive. To find such an award, the board called upon the talents of Joan McNish, proprietor of Honors, Inc, the Royal Oak, MI firm that has been supplying the NPASHF with awards, plaques, and medallions for the past 15 years, or so. “A couple of us stopped by to see Joan at her store, and told her essentially what we were looking for,” said board member Wally Czechowski. “She mentioned the crystal eagle concept at our very first meeting with her, and we thought it sounded like a good idea. We left the design details up to her, and asked her to present a rendering to us.”
The optic crystal “Excellence in Sports” award being presented for the first time tonight is the product of Joan’s vision. “The majestic Amber Eagle at the top compliments the precious stone of amber that Poland is known for,” she states. “I find the eagle majestic, strong, intelligent, efficient and dignified…no better way to be remembered.”
Step three – Choosing the inaugural recipient.
In one sense, this was the toughest part of the process. In another sense, it was a “no brainer.” One need only look back over the past year to see the many worthy Polish-American sports personalities who might have qualified for the award. Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, New England Patriot all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Olympic Gold Medal winning pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski Suhr are just a few of the names that were given serious consideration.
But then, there was Brad! Brad Keselowski, who won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in only his third full season, seemed to be the perfect choice for the award. Young, hugely popular, and a champion at the conclusion of the grueling 36-race Sprint Cup season, the board agreed that there could be no recipient more deserving of this award. “With the creation of this award, we hope to raise the level of awareness of Polish-American athletes in the minds of current, contemporary sports fans,” noted board member Jerry Dettloff. “Who better than Brad Keselowski to help achieve that goal?”
Driving the Number 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing (they have since switched to Ford), Keselowski won five times and had eight additional top five finishes during the 2012 Sprint Cup season. He is the first Polish-American driver to capture the season championship in NASCAR’s highest division since the late Alan Kulwicki took home the honors in 1992. Kulwicki was posthumously inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Keselowski grew up in a racing family. The son of successful and popular ARCA RE/MAX and Craftsman Truck Series driver Bob Keselowski, Brad’s Uncle Ron and brother Brian are also racers. Not surprisingly, Brad began racing at local area short tracks at a very young age. In 2004, at 20 years of age, he moved up to NASCAR racing as the driver of the family owned K-Automotive Motorsports Ford F-150 in the Craftsman Truck Series. In 2007, Brad graduated to the NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series, and in 2008 captured Nationwide Series victories at Nashville Superspeedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Finally, in 2008, Keselowski made his Sprint Cup debut driving for Hendrick Motorsports in the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
Brad’s first career Sprint Cup victory came in 2009 Talladega Superspeedway. In a finish that NASCAR fans talk about to this day, Keselowski tangled with Carl Edwards in the final lap, sending Edwards and Ryan Newman airborne and spinning into the catch fence, while Keselowski cruised to victory, leading only the final lap – which at that point was the only Sprint Cup lap he had ever led!
Brad joined Penske Racing in 2010, driving in both the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series. His success in the Nationwide Series was enormous, as he drove the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge to six victories and 26 top five finishes, on the way to his first ever Nationwide Series Championship. However, Sprint Cup was another story, as Keselowski finished 25th in the season point standings, with no wins, no top 5’s, and only 2 top 10’s
Keselowski’s 2011 Sprint Cup season with Penske Racing started slowly, and it appeared as though a repeat of 2010 might occur. A painful broken ankle suffered while testing at Road Atlanta forced Brad to race much of the season while injured, but he nevertheless managed to earn one of two “Wild Card” spots available in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. In the end, Brad finished his second full Sprint Cup season fifth in points overall, a mere 84 points behind Season Champion Tony Stewart.
In 2012, it was Brad Keselowski they called Champion, and it is Brad Keselowski whom we now honor with our first-ever Excellence in Sports Award. The significance of being the first ever is not lost in the minds of our Board of Directors. As Director Mike Mandell points out, “We’ll never forget that Stan Musial was our first inductee, and we’ll never forget that Brad Keselowski was our first Excellence in Sports award winner.”