Each spring, the annual Frank Deford and Aaron Pinsky ’06 Awards honor students who exhibit excellence as Sports Information contributors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the recipients of the 31st Deford and 11th Pinsky Awards will receive their awards in the mail, rather than in a formal ceremony.
The recipients of the 2020 Deford Award are Jared Boothe ’20, Grace Byers ’20, Daniel Jin ’20, Alex Okinaka ’20 and Bryan Woolley ’21. Ben Lebowitz ’20 received the Pinsky Award for broadcasting, and Ryan Rilinger ’20 was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award.
Director of Sports Information Dick Quinn established the annual awards ceremony in 1990 to recognize the efforts of the department’s student workers, naming the award after legendary Sports Illustrated journalist Frank Deford. Decades later, the Pinsky Award for broadcasting was established in remembrance of Pinsky, a member of the Class of 2006 and former Sports Information commentator who passed away from cancer in 2010.
Byers, one Deford Award recipient, worked as a Sports Information photographer for three years. She shot photographs weekly at varsity competitions, often taking up to 500 frames at a given event.
“My favorite part of working for Sports Info has been being able to share and celebrate some of the most exciting moments of Williams’ varsity sports,” Byers said. “I love being able to capture the highs (and sometimes lows) that athletes, many of whom are my close friends, have worked so hard to achieve throughout their careers.”
The job has also had some major perks for Woolley, who records and puts in the live statistics for a number of Eph teams. “I get to work with great people and watch sports while I do it,” he said. “Plus, how many people can say that they got paid to watch Williams beat Amherst in the 2017 homecoming overtime thriller?”
Boothe, another statistics inputter, also said that his role at Sports Information has allowed him to meet students who would otherwise be strangers on campus.
These interpersonal connections have also been the highlight of Okinaka’s career covering baseball and wrestling for Sports Information. Over the years, he has built a close relationship with the wrestling team and with head coach Scott Honecker. “Coach Honecker is really passionate about not only his team’s success, but also the coverage of the events,” he said.
According to Quinn, the esteem Okinaka has for Honecker is fully reciprocated. “A few weeks after assigning Alex to cover wrestling, head coach Scott Honecker called to tell me how impressed he was with Alex and how he wanted to keep Alex with his team through Alex’s graduation,” Quinn said. “That impressed me because we do not often hear from coaches that soon about their writer.”
Jin, a Deford Award recipient who wrote game recaps for women’s soccer and ran the team’s Twitter, praised that the relationship he and his fellow winners have built with Quinn. “He places great trust in his students, and it brings out the best in us,” Jin said. “I’m grateful for the opportunities he’s given me, and I’m constantly in awe of his unmatched passion for Williams sports.”
Lebowitz, this year’s Pinsky Award winner, provided color commentary on men’s and women’s basketball games throughout his years at the College. Following a chance meeting with Quinn at 6:15 a.m. one morning during his freshman fall, Lebowitz began working alongside play-by-play announcers from the Northeast Sports Network (NSN) to provide insight on Eph games. Soon, Lebowitz was hooked.
“My first ever game was a [women’s basketball] buzzer beater from Lauren McCall [’17] and from that point on I was all in,” he said.
When Quinn began to ask his colleagues from NSN which student commentators had displayed excellence, many pointed to Lebowitz. “It was unanimous among those who had worked with Ben on men’s and women’s basketball webcasts for just over two years that he stood out,” Quinn said.
Rilinger, one of last year’s Deford Award recipients, is only the third student in history to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award. Rilinger has worked as a statistics inputter for field hockey since his freshman fall. In the years since, he has also worked for the football, basketball, softball and tennis teams.
Rilinger, a member of the men’s lacrosse team, enjoyed the chance to look at Eph athletics in a different way. “I would be there early enough to watch warmups, pre-game rituals; I would be sitting close enough to hear players talk to each other on the sideline and hear the coach at work,” he said. “I loved having a view into each team’s unique culture and style of play that way.”
While Rilinger has spent many hours calculating statistics for the Ephs over the years, he is sad to see his time working for Sports Information come to an end. “One of the hardest parts of the semester ending early, for me, was knowing all our incredibly talented spring teams wouldn’t be competing when I’d been preparing to help handle stats for two very promising seasons from [men’s lacrosse] and from softball,” he said. “But receiving this award helped me feel appreciated even though I couldn’t give one more semester to the department.”