I had a nice time at the Arena Bowl scholarship dinner tonight at Hodel's, an event with a lot of good people connected with Friday's annual indoor high school football all-star game.
The players were there, of course, and the coaches and referees and sponsors, but so were some special guests who helped deliver one of the things that makes the Arena Bowl such a worthwhile endeavor: The scholarship money that's handed out to deserving players is something that's increased each year under game director Paul Press' direction.
This year, the Arena Bowl handed out six scholarships. None were for huge monetary value, but they all carry meaning beyond dollars and cents.
Ray Permenter Scholarship: Presented by Foothill coaching legend Ned Permenter to honor a cousin killed in World War II, this scholarship is presented to a student who has excelled academically and athletically and has a connection to military. Micah Mitchell, West, who carries a 3.6 grade-point average, is a two-sport athlete and has an active-duty military father
Nathan Garcia Memorial Scholarship: Presented by USC quarterback Cody Kessler, this is a first-year award given in memory of Nathan Garcia, a local youth football player who died from brain cancer in December at age 13. Nathan loved football, particularly USC football, and when the Kessler family heard about it, they had their son Cody visit Nathan while he was back in Bakersfield over Thanksgiving. Cody and Nathan became fast friends, as did the rest of the family, and this scholarship will help raise awareness for the Nathan Garcia Fund, which will help other children with cancer — just as Nathan, in his final weeks, thought of other children, asking not for a personal wish to be granted but for a toy drive for sick children to be started instead of a gift for himself. Jerseys signed by members of both Arena Bowl teams will be auctioned off during Friday night's game, with the proceeds going to the Nathan Garcia Fund.
Winner: Corbin Jountii, Liberty, who overcame several life hardships to become an All-Area running back for the Patriots
Justin Verrell Giving Back Scholarship: This one has a cool story, too. Justin Verrell was a Garces player who participated in last year's Arena Bowl and, with connections he made through the all-star game, landed the starting long-snapping spot on Bakersfield College's state-championship team. He approached Paul Press and asked if he could sponsor a scholarship to help another deserving player.
Winner: Preston Hodges, Independence, one of the area's most exciting players who's also a good student active in community service
Arena Bowl Hard Work Scholarship: These last three were presented by William Edwards and are the original Arena Bowl scholarships.
Winner: Jordan Wood, Arvin, a three-sport athlete who has demonstrated an exceptional work ethic (along with an awesome blonde mop-top)
Arena Bowl Community Service Scholarship
Winner: Devin Stevenson, Liberty, who among many community service projects plays piano for residents in a nursing home
Arena Bowl Academics Scholarship
Winner: Ryan Flick, Tehachapi, a three-sport athlete who carries a 4.35 grade-point average
Over the past four years, the Arena Bowl has awarded more than $10,000 in scholarship money. This year's game is at 7 p.m. Friday at Rabobank Arena. Tickets are $12 and are available at the arena box office.