An awards banquet is usually a tribute to excellence and sacrifice, not a life-changing experience. But Justin Clary's life took a sharp turn last night.
Clary, a guard on Eastern Tech's football team, was planning to enlist in the Air Force the day after he graduated. But then a funny thing happened: Clary and Patapsco girls basketball player Brittany Fairley were chosen as the McCormick Unsung Heroes at the awards banquet at the Hunt Valley Marriott.
Clary and Fairley will receive the Charles Perry McCormick scholarships, worth $30,000 each over four years. It is also worth a new chance for Clary.
"Now I'm going to college," he said. "I have this money. I'm not going to waste it."
Clary isn't sure where he'll go to school but said he plans to look at CCBC-Essex to get a degree in massage therapy because he wants to go into physical therapy. His father said the family plans to look into prep schools, too.
On the field, Clary dealt with a height disadvantage as a 5-foot-7, 170-pound guard. He started 22 games during the past two seasons and paved the way for the Mavericks to rush for more than 4,000 yards. He even filled in on the defensive line when injury struck - again playing against much bigger players.
"My head came to their chest pad," Clary said.
Fairley dealt with a similar height disadvantage. As a 5-4 guard on the Patriots basketball team, she routinely went up against girls 7 to 8 inches taller.
"Being short, it was a little difficult," Fairley said. "White girl can't jump; I didn't get that much height, either."
Fairley lost her spot in the starting lineup midway through the season but continued to contribute off the bench. Fairley plans to attend St. Mary's College in the fall and said upon accepting the award that the first year of school is covered.
In total, 118 senior athletes from 72 Baltimore County and city schools were recognized last night at the 67th annual McCormick Unsung Heroes Awards Banquet.