2023 Ochsner Rush Health Athletes of the Year Named


Above: From left, Sheryl West, Justin Strickler and Zauria Clark.



MERIDIAN, MS – Three athletes who competed in the 2023 State Games of Mississippi not only overcame challenges but for two of them, they competed in multiple different sports to be named Ochsner Rush Health Athletes of the Year. The titles go to Zauria Clark of Meridian (Youth Athlete), Sheryl West of Hickory (Female Athlete) and Justin Strickler (Clinton) Male Athlete.

The State Games of Mississippi hosted more than 5,000 amateur athletes in more than 40 sports in 2023. “It has been amazing to see the levels of competition and the spirit during this year’s events,” said Missye Dozier, Executive Director of the Games. “And we are so grateful to our sponsors and volunteers as they continue to stand strong in support of everything we do for Mississippi’s amateur athletes.”

Based on the national program, the State Games of Mississippi established the annual “Athlete of the Year” award to recognize Mississippi’s amateur athletes. Coaches, officials, athletes, volunteers and spectators nominated athletes from each of the 2023 sports for the award. The nominated athletes personify the ideals of the State Games movement, such as participation, sportsmanship, special attributes, achievements, efforts and positive attitudes. Three final winners are chosen: Male, Female and Youth Athletes of the Year.

Above, Tara Shelton.

The State Games also named the 2023 Volunteer of the Year, Tara Shelton of Meridian. Tara has been volunteering for three years after serving as the Lead Intern in 2021. This year, she was instrumental in keeping All Star Baseball running smoothly, as well as helping with the Opening Ceremony.


Zauria Clark — 2023 Youth Athlete of the Year

Fourteen-year-old Zauria Clark of Meridian excels at Track & Field (for which she took home two gold medals and one bronze medal at the State Games this year) but also competed in softball and plays volleyball. This ninth grader at Meridian High School was named South State Champion for Track & Field at MHS. She credits her mom Wende Moffit for “keeping her on track,” she said. “She is a single mom of three and helps me and my two sisters to be the best we can be. She always supports us in every way.” Zauria looks to her faith as well. “I’m trying to be what God wants me to be.”

Sheryl West — 2023 Female Athlete of the Year

Hickory resident Sheryl West is a long-time supporter and participant in the State Games of Mississippi. Competing since 2014 in the Trail Run competition (with seven gold medals to her credit), this year Sheryl added Cycling to the list. And she did well in Cycling, taking home a gold medal with a race time of 53:12 for the 13-mile course in her age group. Despite health issues and injuries (including colon surgery), Sheryl doesn’t stop. “I exercise (run, bike or swim) 5 to 6 days a week. I enjoy the excitement of competition events and the thrill of crossing the finish line.” Sheryl has competed in triathlons as a cyclist, half-marathons, the Singing Brakeman Century Ride (30 miles) and has the goal of completing the 2023 Singing Brakeman Century Ride Metric race – a mere 62 miles!

Justin Strickler — 2023 Male Athlete of the Year

Justin Strickler of Clinton took aim at three sports in the State Games this year — Pistol, 2-Gun and Sporting Clays. During the State Games Pistol competition, Justin won the gold medal for the fastest time of 114.68 seconds. In the Sporting Clays competition, he won gold for shooting 97 out of 100 clay targets. To top it off, he won the gold in the 2-Gun event as well. Active in the shooting sports for 10 years, Justin says it affords him the opportunity to be with his son. “Shooting sporting clays is something my son and I enjoy doing together and is a great way for us to get some quality time.”



Other nominees for the 2023 Ochsner Rush Health Athlete of the Year included:

Rob Pilar 2 Gun Competition
Stephanie Cayula 22 Caliber Rifle Competition
Carter Walton 5K Road Race
David Hillman Archery 3D & Field
Wyatt Bayless Archery Youth
Wade Wicht Axe Throwing
Brady Robertson All-Star Baseball
Will Miles High School Baseball
Kendall Blevins Junior High Baseball
Jacob Woodall Youth Baseball
Stephen Hudson Baseball Men 18 & over
Andrew Evans Bowling
Nathan Perkins Cornhole
Sheryl West Cycling
Jacob Shepherd Disc Golf
Molli Swiderski Equestrian Barrel Racing
Alayna Yarbrough Equestrian Pole Bending
Ben McNamara Fencing
Ben Eichelberger Junior Golf
Kaitlynn Sanders Mountain Bike
David Green Paddle Race
Vicki Collier Pickleball
Justin Strickler Pistol Competition
Sienna Nichols Youth Soccer
Josie Wiggins Soccer High School 7v7
Savannah Terrell Softball High School Fast Pitch
MaryEtta Barnes Softball Youth Recreational
Justin Strickler Sporting Clays
LaDainian Isom Stickball
Rick Wery Masters Swimming
Tramy “Gigi” Nguyen Youth Swimming
Benson Holland Table Tennis
Henry Hiatt Junior Tennis
Zauria Clark Track & Field
Rita Ray Trail Run
Kim Larson Volleyball Beach 2 Person
Kenneth Turner Volleyball Beach 4 Person




About the State Games of Mississippi

The State Games of Mississippi is now in its 32nd year offering top-level competition for Mississippi’s amateur athletes in more than 40 sports.

The Games kick off with an exciting Opening Ceremony in downtown Meridian, complete with the parade of athletes, lighting of the State Games flame and fireworks.

The State Games of Mississippi keeps its entry fees low primarily through the generous donations of sponsors, including Founding Gold Sponsors: Meridian Coca-Cola Bottling Company and Ochsner Rush Health and Gold Sponsors: BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi, Meridian-Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau, City of Meridian, Paul & Sherry Broadhead Foundation, Meridian Community College, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians/Pearl River Resort, The Meridian Star, WTOK-TV and WMDN/WGBC-TV (The Meridian Family of Stations). For more information on the Games, call 601-482-0205 or visit the State Games of Mississippi website at www.stategamesofms.org.