From left, Stephanie Cayula, Tulio Figarola and Larry Dudley.
State Games Names 2019 Athletes of the Year
MERIDIAN, MS — The three winners of the 2019 Rush Athletes of the Year for the State Games of Mississippi show the diversity of sports offered to athletes from across the state. Trail runner Larry Dudley (Meridian), cycler Stephanie Cayula (Waveland) and swimmer Tulio Figarola (Madison) were honored at the Athlete of the Year celebration and will be torchbearers at the 2020 Opening Ceremony.
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 one male and one female athlete from each of the 40 sports for the award. The nominated athletes — out of nearly 6,000 who participated in 2019 — 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.
Larry Dudley — 2019 Male Athlete of the Year
Meridianite Larry Dudley, 74, has been a trail runner for more than 60 years and makes sure to compete on a yearly basis in many area races — plus has medaled 18 times in trail running in the State Games of Mississippi. Running became his way of dealing with health issues. As a young adult, Dudley was diagnosed with circulation issues that primarily affected his legs while playing sports. Told not to participate in strenuous exercise every day, he beat the odds by focusing on running every other day. This routine has continued for more than 60 years and allowed him (with therapy) to continue to run after suffering a herniated disc in 2006.
Stephanie Cayula — 2019 Female Athlete of the Year
Stephanie Cayula, 53, of Waveland has been competing in cycling events since 1996. She placed 11 times in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Bicycle Club-20K Time Trail Series and Medaled 18 times in the State Games of Mississippi. She also medaled 31 times and placed five times in the Mississippi Senior Olympics. Cayula also competes in Shotokan Karate and has achieved a Dan Black Belt. A runner as well, she has competed in numerous AAU State, Regional and National Championships and other sports. She overcame a cycling accident that left her with a broken collar bone, three broken ribs, a punctured lung and road rash — and has become a big supporter of wearing helmets while riding.
Tulio Figarola — 2019 Youth Athlete of the Year
Youth swimmer Tulio Figarola, 10, of Madison, is a student at Madison Avenue Upper Elementary. Despite his young age, Figarola has been competing half of his life. Participating in the State Games for two years now, Figarola broke the state record for the 9- to 10-Year-Old Boys in both the 50 and 100 Backstroke. He achieved the national times standards of a Quad A in the 100 Backstroke; Triple A in the 100 & 200 Freestyle, 50 Backstroke and the 100 & 200 Individual Medly. He was also the overall highest scoring 9- to 10-Year-Old Boys at State Games this year, with 5 Gold and 2 Silver medals. During the swim year, he achieved the national time standards of Quad A in 4 events, Triple A in 10 events and Double A in 9 events.
State Games of Mississippi
The State Games of Mississippi kicks off with an Olympic-style Opening Ceremony each year in Meridian. All three of the 2019 Athletes of the Year will have the honor of lighting the torch at the 2020 Opening Ceremony. Events for athletes are held throughout the months of May and June in various locations around the state.
The other nominees for each sport in 2019 were:
Jeremy Hopkins of Chunky is the Male Athlete of the Year for .22 Caliber Rifle. He has participated and won medals for two years in a row. He has also competed in two other events and placed in competitions held at Modern outfitters.
Lauren Hopkins of Chunky is the Female Athlete of the Year for .22 Caliber Rifle. This was Lauren’s first year to compete in the Games and like her father, Jeremy Hopkins, she won Gold. This father/daughter duo will be able to share many memories together in the years to come with their love of the sport.
Griffin Atkinson of Collinsville is the Male Athlete of the Year for 5K Road Race. The last two years he has medaled in 5K Road Race where he was first in his age group and 2nd overall finisher. He also holds the title of All District Cross Country for 2018-2019.
Emily Snodgrass of Meridian is the Female Athlete of the Year for 5K Road Race. Winning more than six Gold medals, Emily is in her fourth year of competing in the State Games. She has a love of running that shows in her wins — she placed fourth in 2018 and second in 2019 in the MSHAA 4A Female XC Varsity State and First Place Female at Allie Cat 5K.
Alan Martin of Philadelphia is the Male Athlete of the Year for Adult Basketball. “Team Skoden has been competing in State Games for several years now and has a great approach to the game. Alan is a player and a coach who has a great attitude even when the game gets a little intense,” says Basketball Sports Commissioner Neil Henry.
Greg Copeland of Escatawpa is the Male Athlete of the Year for Archery. He has participated and medaled in the State Games for three years of his 36 years competing. He is the two-time Texas Field Archery Champion for 2018-2019, two-time MS Archery Association shooter of the Year, 2019 MAA Classic indoor Champion, 2019 NFAA Sectional Indoor Champion, 2018 SYWAB Indoor Champion and placed 3rd in the 2018 AFAA Outdoor National.
Hannah Dickerson of Brookhaven is the Female Athlete of the Year for Archery. She won Gold in both Field and 3D Archery shoots, was Athlete of the Year for MS ASA in 2018 and placed third in the Bayou Championship and first at 2019 AFAA indoor Nationals.
Drew Rogers of Collinsville is the Male Athlete of the Year for Youth Archery. He was the overall winner for grades 7-8 and received a Gold medal for his age division.
Hanna Dyess of Hattiesburg is the Female Athlete of the Year for Youth Archery. She was the overall winner for grades 11-12 and received a Gold medal for her age division.
Creek Robertson of Madison is the Male Athlete of the Year for All Star Baseball. Starting at five years of age, Creek has been playing for 12 years. Due to his dedication and love of the sport, Creek was titled All Region 6A infielder as a Sophomore at Madison Central, his team went undefeated to win Gold for the 2019 State Games and he was chosen to play for Team MS where they won Silver.
Judson Byars of Biloxi is the Male Athlete of the Year for Junior High Team Baseball. Starting at the age of four, Judson has been playing ball for 9 years. As a student at Biloxi Junior High School, Judson and his team, the Biloxi Indians won Silver in the 2019 State Games.
Haleigh McNeil of Enterprise is the Female Athlete of the in Year Barrel Racing. Choosing between her social life and horses was an easy decision for Haleigh and it has paid off. Competing for 16 years with the help of her horses — Kaboon, Splash and Docs Lucky Seal — she is titled the 2017 World All Around Senior Girl Cowgirl for the National Little Britches Rodeo Finals. She has won 12 saddles and more than 100 belt buckles in rodeos and barrel runs to add to her six medals in the State Games.
Ronnie Thomas of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Bowling. He has been competing for 25-plus years in his sport and has competed almost every year in the State Games. He has such a passion for his sport that he is a Life Member of the Board of Directors of the Meridian Bowling Association, current member of the MS State Board of Directors Bowling Association and past League Secretary of Meridian Bowling Association. His honors include MS Senior Champion 2016, Gold medalist in 2019 State Games of Mississippi, nine unsanctioned 300 games, four sanctioned 300 games and, most recently, Ronnie has been inducted into the Bowling Hall of Fame for 2019.
Allie Williams of Philadelphia is the Female Athlete of the Year for Bowling. She has been competing for eight years where she was the three-time back-to-back State Champion, All Region and All State Team in 2018 and Placed 11th at Junior Gold Championships. She has competed in the State Games for two years and medaled Gold both times.
Jonathan Dickerson of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Canoe/Kayak/Stand-up Paddle Board. He has competed for just over five years, three of which have been with the State Games where he has brought home three Gold medals and set his personal best record. He is also a four-time first-in-class finisher and competed and placed in four other events.
Gloria Bailey of Ocean Springs is the Female Athlete of the Year for Canoe/Kayak/Stand-up Paddle Board. She has been competing for a total of eight years, five of which have been with the State Games, bringing in five Gold medals and breaking her personal best time. Across the Southeast, Gloria holds 30 first-place wins and three second-place wins.
Emry Kennedy of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Cycling. He has such a love for the sport and has placed in many statewide triathlons and races. Emry is the Director of the Sunfish Triathlon and is going on to help with 2020 Cycling Competition for State Games.
Bailey Avalos of Sumrall is the Male Athlete of the Year for Disc Golf. At the age of 8, Bailey is in his first year of Disc Golf and won a Gold medal at this year’s State Games. His love of the game comes from his father, who is a past Disc Golf World Doubles Champion. Bailey also plays in a Disc Golf league and has risen from No. 80 to No. 6 at this time. Balancing marital arts classes, home schooling classes, fishing, swimming and kayaking, Bailey does a good job of juggling everything so he can continue to grow in his sport.
Lakylee Martin of Choctaw is the Female Athlete of the Year for Disc Golf. Her love of sports has driven her to win Gold in Basketball, Disc Golf and Bronze in Fastpitch Softball. Playing at her local park, Lakylee is continuing to improve her skills on the course. Her 2019 Sate Games victory came after having surgery on a torn meniscus and ACL injury jthis year. “2020 will prove to be the best year yet for Lakylee, because she is a shining example of what the State Games hopes to inspire in today’s youth.” Said Disc Golf Sport Commissioner Dale McVeay.
Sean Holmes of Oxford is the Male Athlete of the Year for Fencing. Competing for 27 years now, Sean has quite the Fencing background. He has been a part of the Games for six years bringing home four Golds, three Silvers and one Bronze. His love of the sport has given him the opportunity over the past 20 years to coach hundreds of students.
Lauren Purtle of Southhaven is the Female Athlete of the Year for Fencing. Competing in her sports for over three years now, Lauren has won two Golds. Her team, The Dueling Dawgs Fencing Club, is sure to make a return to the 2020 Games.
Shaquille Fluker of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Flag Football. Team Arsenal made it through till the end bringing home a Silver medal.
Spence Davis of Madison is the Male Athlete of the Year for Golf. Competing for more than 10 years, Spence was chosen as State Games overall Golfer. He has competed in many other events outside of State Games and was most recently ranked No. 1 in the Junior Division by the MS Golf Association.
Grace Sinclair of Brandon is the Female Athlete of the Year for Golf. A 10th grader at Jackson Prep, Grace has been competing for three years. Winning First Team All State, Greenwood Invitational, the State Father/Daughter, a boys State Team Title and also a Gold Medal with the State Games, she is just getting started with her sport and is excited to see what the future holds.
Austin Dungan of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Jr. Tennis. Bringing home a Gold medal in the U16 Boys division, Austin is sure to make a return to the Games.
Annabelle Simmons of Lauderdale is the Female Athlete of the Year for Jr. Tennis. Entering High School at Lamar, Annabelle has made it to Southern Regionals the past three years where only the top 11 in Mississippi are invited. She is No. 5 in MS in her age group, She won State Championship in doubles for Lamar’s Varsity Tennis Team as an 8th grader this past year and has won three Golds and one Silver in the three years she has participated in State Games.
Chandler Watson of Laurel is the Male Athlete of the Year for Martial Arts. Participating in the Games for four years, he has medaled each year winning more Gold than Silver. He participated in Nation AAU Martial Arts in 2018 and won Gold in Kumite, AAU Regional Gold in Kumote, Silver in Kata in 2019. He also made it to the Nation NKF Marital Arts Competition in South Carolina in 2017 and again in Chicago in 2019.
Tammy Griffus of Byhalia is the Female Athlete of the Year for Martial Arts. In the 40-45 Female Advanced category, Tammy won the Gold in Kata and in Kumite.
David Lindsey of Canton is the Male Athlete of the Year for Masters Swimming. Competing for several years now, David most recently won Gold in the 45-49 50 Meter Backstroke, 100 Meter Freestyle, the 50 Meter Freestyle and won Silver in the 50 Meter Freestyle.
Andrea Fairchild of Vicksburg is the Female Athlete of the Year for Masters Swimming. For more than 33 year, Andrea has been competing in more than just Masters Swimming. As a multisport competitor, Andrea has an impressive list of wins in Swimming, Track, Volleyball, Discus, Javelin and High Jump. Winning more than 78 Gold Medals and one Silver, it’s no wonder that Andrea has competed multiple times in the State Games of America.
Landen Brookshire of Clinton is the Male Athlete of the Year for Mountain Biking. Although finishing last is not what any competitor wants, Landen proved he was a worthy opponent when his bike chain broke in the first mile and he ran with his bike the last five miles to be classified as a finisher.
Tiffany Landry of Hattiesburg is the Female Athlete of the Year in Mountain Biking. Winning the Women’s Cat 1 race all while stopping during the race to assist a rider who had crashed in front of her shows her great sportsmanship.
Ken Hall Barnett of Jackson is the Male Athlete of the Year for Pickleball. Competing for four years now, Ken has brought home seven Golds and one Silver. He played in his first Pickleball Tournament four years ago in Monroe, LA, and made it to the finals in doubles at a level of 4.0.
Dianna Warden of Flowood is the Female Athlete of the Year for Pickleball. Winning Gold in the Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles, Dianna is sure to be back next year.
Carson Myers of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Pistol Competition. This is the first year Carson has competed in the State Games and he was able to bring home a Gold Medal. At the young age of 9, Carson’s parents have taught him the responsibilities that come with gun safety and he is excited for what his future holds.
Walker Fairey of Hattiesburg is the Male Athlete of the Year for 7v7 High School Soccer. Walker and his team, Oak Grove, brought home the Gold this year for the 2019 State Games.
Ember Temple of Meridian is the Female Athlete of the Year for 7v7 High School Soccer. Ember has been playing soccer for eight years, six of those years in the Games — winning Gold four times. She has been selected for the Top Drawer Soccer Best Players of MS for High School Soccer, nominated Gatorade Player of the Year, Premier Preps Player of the Year, MS Preps Player of the Year, MS Preps All-State Girls Soccer Team, Clarion Ledger All State Girls Soccer Team and 2019 4A State Champions.
Avery Anders of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Youth Soccer. He has been competing for 11 years now, 10 of those in the State Games, winning three Golds and four Silvers. He has played travel soccer most of his life and has been recruited to guest play for teams outside of our local area. Avery has been a starter with the Clarkdale Varsity Soccer team since 7th grade playing several positions and was selected as 1st team all-district.
Nori Garcia of Laurel is the Female Athlete of the Year for Youth Soccer. During the Games, Nori spent most of her time playing defense where she aided her team in three awesome wins. When playing one of the highest ranked teams in the Games, she scored the winning goal in overtime. Showing her value, she was promoted to team captain. At the age of 9, 2019 was the second year Nori played in the Games where she now has two Silver medals and she cannot wait to shoot for the Gold in 2020.
Calea Gardner of Meridian is the Female Athlete of the Year for Slowpitch Softball. Calea has played softball since she was 4-years-old when she has competed in the State Games every year. Three of those years she and her team won Gold. Softball Sport Commissioner Chris Gardner says “Calea is always encouraging during the games whether they are winning or losing and always lends a helping hand to her teammates when needed. She has grown to love softball and every aspect of it.”
Melina Seiferd of Sucier is the Female Athlete of the Year for High School Fastpitch Softball. She has been playing for six years but this was her first year at the State Games where her team, Harrison Central, brought home the Gold. Melina is excited to return to the 2020 games for another victory.
Taijian Dixon of Choctaw is the Male Athlete of the Year for Stickball. Playing for three years now, he has won two Golds and one Silver. His team, Beaver Dam, won the 2019 World Series Stickball Champions Youth Division. Scoring 11 points throughout the tournament with 17 tackles, Taijian has proven himself to be a great athlete at the young age of 11.
Natalie Cox of Madison is the Female Athlete of the Year for Youth Swimming. Competing in the Games for six of the eight years she has been in her sport, she has brought home three Golds. Natalie currently holds 10 State Records and has one Silver and three Bronze medals in her three years of swimming at high school state events.
Eric Smith of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year in Table Tennis. He has competed in his sport for more than 20 years now. Eric won the championship game in his brigade while serving in Iraq.
Ni’Riyah Bell of Laurel is the Female Athlete of the Year in Table Tennis. Competing for only a year now, she has won a Silver medal and cannot wait to return to the 2020 Games.
Daniel Hill of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year in Track and Field. Having only participated in the sport for four years, Daniel has an impressive record of 11 Gold medals and two Silvers just in State Games. He also has competed in the 2019 USATF Southern Association and Region 6 Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships held in Meridian, MS. In June and July, he qualified for and competed in the USATF National Junior Olympic Champions held in Sacramento, CA.
Princess Grant of Meridian is the Female Athlete of the Year for Track and Field. Competing for more than five years now, she has brought home 14 Golds, four Silvers and one Bronze medal. She is a 2017 State Champion, won second place in the Junior Olympics and firt place at the Galleria Games.
Betty Eaves of Brooksville is the Female Athlete of the Year for Trail Run. Her first ever year to compete in the State Games, Betty received a Gold in our 5K walk and Bronze in Trail Run. For the last three years she has competed in six other runs where is has placed first four times. Doing at least two races a month, Betty keeps herself busy with her love of the sport.
Chuck Dooley of Meridian is the Male Athlete of the Year for Volleyball. He has competed in his sport for 41 years now, three of which were in the State Games, winning a Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. His love of the game spills over into coaching and mentoring children and teens in Volleyball skills and development. Many of these teens have gone on to strengthen Volleyball teams at their selected colleges.
Kenna Turner of Meridian is the Female Athlete of the Year for Volleyball. She has competed for five years in Volleyball and more than that in Softball, bringing home one Gold, two Silver and two Bronze medals. Achieving what she has at the young age of 14, she is sure to have a bright future.