The Minneapolis Athena Awards, now in its half-century year, first came about in 1972 after the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce proposed recognizing local female high school athletes. The first awards luncheon was held in February 1973. When the Chamber dropped its support in 1990, the Athena Awards Committee became a 501(c)(3) organization and kept up its mission.
Its 50th annual Minneapolis Athena Awards ceremony was held May 6 at Brooklyn Center’s Earle Brown Heritage Center and honored 55 female athletes. We were there thanks to an email from Annique London pointing out that “Many of the City winners are African American females.” She suggested that the event might make a good story.
Of the 55 winners, seven this year are Black females.
“A lot of times we get overlooked for these types of things, and I was glad to see that a good amount of us are here,” said Hopkins senior Amaya Battle.
Added Anya London (Minneapolis Southwest), “It’s pretty amazing being here…all the big stars that are around—very, very talented people and athletes here. I just feel so honored that coaches and the athletic director nominated me for this, and I’m here and it’s just really surreal.”
“It’s like a really big honor at my school,” noted Eden Prairie’s Nia Holloway. “It’s just such a great honor…and it’s really cool that women of color continue to succeed.”
Shean’ Areial Miller (Edison), Alexandria McNeill (North), Laubenra Ben (Park Center), and I’Tianna Salaam (DeLaSalle) are the other Black winners. Adriana Cardoso Hilguera (Columbia Heights) and Joana Enriquez Lopez round out the nine women POC Athena Award recipients.
It’s not certain if this is a record, but it’s still very noteworthy.
“It’s interesting as they were coming in,” observed Faith Johnson-Patterson, a 1980 Athena winner, now HOF girls’ basketball coach. “It was the first thought on my mind—wow! I can’t believe all the African American females that were selected for this award. I was beyond proud.”
Lisa Lissmore, who recently retired as Minnesota State High School League associate director, added, “When you start looking at all these beautiful women, particularly the women of color here, it is phenomenal and I’m so happy to be in this space.”
By contrast, seven POC females were among the 48 St. Paul Athena winners honored April 20 at Vadnais Heights Commons.
“I can recall when Kathy Eiland  was the very first African American woman to receive this award,” said Lissimore. “That’s when I became aware of this award.”
To be named your school’s top female athlete is indeed special: “I was kind of shocked… I just didn’t believe it,” said Battle. “Then after some time it kinda settled in and I was like, yeah, I won the award.”
Many Athena winners have their college selected for this fall. Battle, Holloway, Salaam and Ben are slated for Minnesota. Miller’s off to Texas Women’s University and it’s Iowa Lakes for McNeill. “I’m very, very excited,” said London, who will attend Marquette this fall.
London’s mom, Annique, said, “These young ladies deserve the attention and celebration.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.