St. Louis Sports Commission Announces Recipients of the 2021 Musial Awards

ST. LOUIS – Oct. 21, 2021 – Zaila Avant-garde, winner of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, will receive the 2021 Stan Musial Award for Extraordinary Character. She will be honored at the Musial Awards in St. Louis on Nov. 20 for the poise and grace she showed through the pressure of competition and the accolades that followed.

Avant-garde, 15, will join Wayne and Janet Gretzky as recipients of the two special honors bestowed at the event. As announced last month, the Gretzkys are being awarded the 2021 Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.

The Musial Awards presented by Maryville University celebrate the year’s greatest moments of sportsmanship and those in sports who embody class and character. The national event is named for St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial, a beloved baseball superstar and civic icon who was the ultimate good sport. This year’s show returns to Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis and will be packaged into a one-hour special that airs throughout the country on CBS on Christmas Day at 5 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. CT.

The Stan Musial Award for Extraordinary Character annually recognizes an individual who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship. Recipients include NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, St. Louis Blues superfan Laila Anderson, Loyola University Basketball Chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings, Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis, and now Avant-garde.

In July, Avant-garde outlasted 208 other national qualifiers to be crowned champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She is the first Black American to win the Bee. Making history and handling the spotlight with graciousness and humility, she is a champion in every sense. Avant-garde has expressed hope that her success inspires other Black American and Hispanic girls to take up competitive spelling. She is a once-in-a-lifetime young talent – and not just for her spelling prowess. She also holds three basketball-related marks in the Guinness Book of World Records, including the most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs and the most basketball bounces in 30 seconds with four basketballs. She tied the record for most basketballs dribbled at once.

At the Musial Awards, Avant-garde will be honored alongside good sports from around the globe who are being celebrated for their extraordinary sportsmanship.

Wayne & Janet Gretzky:  Embodying class and generosity, Wayne and Janet Gretzky are receiving the highest award for sportsmanship: the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award. Wayne is undeniably one of the greatest hockey players of all time. His stats earned him the nickname as “The Great One.”  But so did his integrity, grace and genuineness, which have been hallmarks of his life and career. There’s even a sportsmanship stat that attests to his greatness: He is a five-time winner of the Lady-Byng Memorial Trophy – awarded annually to the NHL player who exhibits the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. No other living NHL player has won the award as many times. Janet, who grew up in St. Louis and married Wayne in 1988, enjoyed a successful acting and dancing career. But while known for her work on screen, behind the scenes she has made an impact in raising awareness and funds for several charities. Having lost two sisters to breast cancer, she is especially active in efforts to fund research and support those battling the disease.

Mutaz Barshim & Gianmarco Tamberi:  The Olympic high jumpers were responsible for one of the most memorable – and entertaining – moments of sportsmanship at the Tokyo Games. In the men’s high jump final, Qatar’s Barshim and Italy’s Tamberi were tied atop the standings. That left the competition to be decided by a jump-off. But when an official approached them to explain the situation, Barshim asked, “Can we have two golds?” The official nodded, setting off a wild celebration and embrace by the two athletes who decided it was far more meaningful to share the title of Olympic champion.

Buffalo Bills Fans (represented by William Burke and Dan Konopski):  Late in the third quarter of the Baltimore-Buffalo AFC playoff game in January, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was knocked to the ground and forced to leave the game. Although advantageous for Buffalo, Jackson’s exit didn’t sit well with a pair of Bills fans. Out of respect for their opponent and feeling bad about his injury, William Burke and Dan Konopski – two Bills fans who didn’t know each other – took to social media to encourage the team’s fan base to donate $8 (Jackson’s uniform number) to Blessings in a Backpack, a Louisville-based charity Jackson is associated with. The charity helps feed elementary school students across the nation. A few days later, 18,450 individual donations in Jackson’s honor had been made and more than $550,000 raised.

Lavel Dumont:  The University of Toledo offensive lineman is being recognized for the special friendship he initiated with a Toledo teen and the impact he has made. When driving from his apartment to campus, Dumont would often notice Wyntr Knisely throwing a football by himself in his yard. One day, Dumont decided to pull over, introduce himself and invite Knisely to a Toledo football game. From there, a heartwarming bond developed between Dumont and the then 15-year-old football fan. Unbeknownst to Dumont when they met, Knisely has experienced several life challenges. He has a heart condition that required numerous surgeries, resulting in some developmental delays. He also moved to Toledo just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. So meeting and making new friends was not easy. All of that made Dumont’s spontaneous decision to say hello and befriend a kid he didn’t know even more meaningful.

Bryce Harper:  In a late-April series vs. the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Phillies star outfielder was hit in the face by a 97-mph fastball from Génesis Cabrera. Although a scary moment for all watching, Harper fortunately was okay despite having to leave the game. The next day, after receiving a text from then-Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, Harper reached back out to check on Cabrera. Instead of being angry and upset, Harper was concerned for the opposing pitcher’s well-being and wanted Cabrera to be assured that he knew the pitch was unintentional. It was a tremendous show of empathy and sportsmanship, and diffused what could have been a volatile situation between the two teams. Shildt told reporters, “Whoever’s a fan of Bryce Harper, whoever has children that are fans of Bryce Harper, support that guy.  Because what he sent over in a message today was completely a class act.”

Rebel Hays:  A fifth grader from West Fork, Ark., Hays serves as a guide runner for Paul Scott, a visually-impaired 10th grader who is a member of the West Fork High School cross country team. On top of competing in his own age group, Hays selflessly volunteers to run with and help Scott in high school races. The duo uses a rope and Hays’ directions to navigate the cross-country courses. When running with Scott, Hays can’t win any awards and his name doesn’t appear in any results. Yet he eagerly devotes his time and energy to give Scott the chance to compete and excel.

Mario Hoefer:  In an Iowa high school football game in early September, Hoefer, a senior at Charles City High School, noticed an opposing player down on the ground after a play. Carter Steinlage, a junior at New Hampton High School, was suffering a leg cramp. With no one immediately coming to aid Steinlage, Hoefer went over to help his opponent and stretch his leg out. Even though some of his team was calling him to come back to the sideline, Hoefer didn’t want to leave Steinlage unattended. A parent took a photo of Hoefer’s act of sportsmanship, and the image went viral.

LSU Gymnastics:  In April, for the first time since 2006, the UCLA Bruins did not advance to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships as a team. That left freshman gymnast Chae Campbell, who qualified as an individual, without most of her team at the event in Fort Worth. She was assigned to rotate with Louisiana State. In a great show of class, respect and sportsmanship, the Tigers went above and beyond, welcoming and embracing Campbell as if she was a member of their team. They rallied around the Bruin, cheering her on and even learning her floor routine so they could dance along.

Tickets for the 2021 Musial Awards, ranging from $10 to $38 are on sale through Ticketmaster. More information and a link to purchase tickets is available at The Musial Awards also offers a special Honoree Circle ticket, which includes prime seating, access to the Musial Awards After Party and reserved parking for $100. Honoree Circle tickets can be purchased at or by calling 314-345-5111.

Groups of 10 or more can take advantage of special group pricing by calling 314-345-5121.

With the health and safety of guests a priority, the Musial Awards will require all ticketed guests to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result: either a PCR test taken within 72 hours or an antigen test taken within 24 hours of arrival at the event.

Show time for the 2021 Musial Awards is 7 p.m.

The Musial Awards presented by Maryville University takes place annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the historic 3,000-seat Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis. The show is produced by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation, a charitable nonprofit organization. In addition to keeping Stan The Man’s legacy alive, the mission of the Musial Awards is to encourage kindness, selflessness, integrity and civility in sports and society – and to inspire people across the nation to be good sports. The event has occurred in St. Louis since 2005.

National sponsors of the 2021 Musial Awards include Maryville University, Edward Jones, Enterprise, Lexus, and World Wide Technology. Since 2011, Maryville University has served as the event’s presenting sponsor. The school’s involvement, leadership and generosity have helped make the Musial Awards the most inspiring night in sports®.