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February 4, 2011 > Newark Memorial honors locals with Ambassador Awards

Newark Memorial honors locals with Ambassador Awards

By Nick Zambrano
Photo by Mike Heightchew

A lot goes in to making an athletic program successful. On the surface, the players and the coaches get the vast majority of kudos and applause. No one looks beyond what is in the frame and thinks how did the team get those cool uniforms? Or how did they get that new set of equipment?

In reality, the team is deeper than just those who don the uniform and play on the court. The other part of the team is behind the scenes and because of this, they hardly get the recognition that they deserve. Darryl Reina, the head coach of the Newark Memorial Lady Cougars basketball team, realized this and knew recognition had to be given.

So in doing so, Reina created the first ever "Ambassador Awards" to pay homage to those who have contributed to the Lady Cougars off the court.

"I just felt that we should formalize the program and recognize those people and organizations that really go beyond the norm," said Reina, who is in his eighth year as Newark's head coach.

The awards were handed out to five members of the Newark community. The recipients have all had their moments with the team, but more importantly, they left a mark on Lady Cougar basketball. Those honored included Newark Memorial Athletic Director Rich Swift, former girls head coach Wendell Jones, parent volunteers Joel and Janet Mullin and the Newark Optimist Club, which was represented by president Richard Hammock.

"Well, I'm not so sure I'm deserving. I get paid to come down here and be around great kids and good people and I get to be around the cream of the crop. To me, it's humbling but I appreciate it," said a modest Swift.

On top of being the school's athletic director, Swift has pulled triple duty serving as the school's varsity head football coach and as a math teacher. He's been with the school for 33 years and has served as the AD for the last 26.

In his speech, Reina accredited Swift for the rise of the school's athletic program and his devotion to helping Newark's student-athletes in sports and also in life.

"Our athletic program is better because of Rich Swift, he truly cares about students and our staff," Reina said.

Speaking of staff, former coach Wendell Jones was in attendance to receive his award.

Jones is best known for leading the 1996-97 Lady Cougars, perhaps the best team the school has had and that finished as the runner-up in the state championship. Since his departure from the school in 2003, Jones continues to be an avid supporter of girls hoops and still carries a love for the game. Reina served as the JV coach during Jones' tenure.

"It's always nice to come back here," said Jones. "It's been a while since I've coached basketball but it was nice of them to invite us over here for this," said Jones.

Joel and Janet Mullin began their support of the Lady Cougars when their daughter, Ashtyn, was a freshman getting her first crack on the varsity team back in 2004-05.

The Mullins were known for volunteering for the simpler things as well as the more complex. They've done everything from keeping stats and giving rides to organizing the crab feed baskets. According to Reina, the couple was estimated at giving 500 hours of their time and effort to the Lady Cougars program.

The Newark Optimist Club has been a fixture in the Newark community, primarily through their work with the youth of the town. The club has given away numerous awards and prices through their many fundraisers. In July of last year, they held their yearly Ice Cream Social to help kids diagnosed with cancer. Just this past December, the club sponsored the school's annual Lady Cougar Classic Tournament which was proclaimed to be a huge success.

And although there are more to be thankful for, Reina would like to continue distributing the Ambassador Awards for years to come and to make sure those who put in the time get what they deserve.

"It's very hard," Reina said about determining who got the awards this year. "I've already started to make the list for next year. I'm hoping to make this a tradition for many years to come."

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