Sussex Central’s Blades honored with DSBA’s Unsung Hero award

NEW CASTLE — Tyler Blades knows he only had himself to blame.

He was so overweight because he ate too much.

“I drank probably eight sodas a day,” said Blades. “My breakfast was even outrageous — like four bowls of cereal in the morning.”

As a seventh-grader at Selbyville Middle School, Blades stood a robust 5-foot-5, 267 pounds.

So he wasn’t surprised when a doctor told hem he needed to lose weight.

But the youngster will never forget what she said next.

“To sum it all up, she said, you’ve got thickness in the left side of your heart,” Blades remembered. “‘Your heart’s working way too hard to pump blood throughout your body. If you keep going like this, most likely you won’t be around next year.

“That scared me to death.”

Blades got the message. He started running and, three years and over 100 lost pounds later, he hasn’t stopped since.

Now a sophomore Sussex Central High cross country runner who stands 6-foot, 160 pounds, Blades received the Buddy Hurlock Unsung Hero Award on Monday afternoon.

The downstate runner was one of several award winners honored at the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association 70th annual banquet.

Wilmington’s Donte DiVincenzo, the former Salesianum basketball star who netted 31 points for Villanova in the national championship game, won the John J. Brady Award as the state’s Athlete of the Year.

Other award winners were American Legion Post I baseball (Team of the Year); Padua track/cross country’s Marnie Giunta (Tubby Raymond Award/Coach of the Year) and Duffy Samuels (Herm Reitzes Award for community service).

Blades’ sudden passion for running landed him on the Sussex Central boys’ cross country team.

His first attempt at running a mile lasted 25 minutes. But the 16-year-old from Bethany Beach gradually got his time down to under six minutes.

His goal as a freshman, in 2017, was just to be one of the Golden Knights’ top seven runners and thus be able to run in the DIAA Division I state meet. Blades said he felt “joy” when he accomplished the feat.

It hardly mattered that he finished only 107th out of the 119 runners in the state meet.

“I knew there were a lot of kids that were going to run faster than me,” said Blades. “I looked around and I’m like, ‘I can’t beat any of these kids.’ When we took off, I was like, ‘Yeah, I was right.’ These kids take off and they’re just moving, they’re hauling.

“But, that day, I didn’t care. I didn’t care what place I got, I just wanted to run my heart out and do the best I could,”

And while Blades still has some bigger goals he’d like to accomplish before his high school career is over, his weight loss and good health are their own rewards. The cardiologist’s warning about his dire condition have stayed with him.

“I’m generally a better person — more happy, more open to people,” said Blades. “Honestly, I feel so much better with all that weight off.”

DiVincenzo was already a well-known name around Delaware after he led the Sals to back-to-back boys’ basketball state titles in high school. But he really burst onto the national scene with his performance in Villanova’s 79-62 national-championship game win over Michigan.

The Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year. DiVincenzo went 10-of-15 from the floor, including 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range. It was the most points scored by a reserve in the national finals, earned the junior guard the Final Four MVP award and put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Undoubtedly, that performance also had a lot to do with the Milwaukee Bucks taking DiVincenzo with the 17th pick of the NBA draft.

“It was like a fairy tale, unbelievable,” said John DiVincenzo, Donte’s father, who attended Monday’s luncheon with his wife Kathy. “Just being around this young man my whole life, I saw this smile early in the game. I said to one of the parents next to me, ‘Oh my, look out.’ He just preceded to use that talent and that smile just to amaze me and his mom.

“It’s so surreal. He’s just a wonderful young man. And there’s more to come, I believe.”

The Post 1 baseball squad was the first Delaware squad to win the American Legion national title. The New Castle County-based team lost just four games all season and capped off its run with a memorable 1-0 win over Las Vegas in the nationally-televised championship game.

Post 1 had 13 college players on its roster, including six NCAA Division I players.

“On the first day of practice, to a man, we thought we had a chance to go to the World Series,” Post I manager Bent Treml said on Monday. “We were unbelievably talented. … It’s a group that will be remembered forever.”

The Coach of the Year, Giunta has led Padua to six straight Division I girls’ cross country state crowns and eight since 2007. The University of Delaware grad has also guided the Pandas to the last five state titles in Division I girls’ outdoor and field.

Samuels is a former Glasgow High and Old Dominion basketball player who founded Duffy’s Hope, a non-profit organization that works with at-risk youth in Wilmington.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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