When Poly’s Gregory Toliver and Parkville’s Paige Holley heard their names called as the respective top boys and girls winners at the 81st annual McCormick Unsung Heroes Awards ceremony last week, the news was met with an assortment of emotions.
After receiving a college scholarship worth $40,000, they felt gratitude, overwhelming support and a bit of shock.
Watching from home with the ceremony held virtually because of COVID-19 — with former Ravens star and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed serving as the keynote speaker — it provided a special moment for Tolliver, a four-year varsity football player for the Engineers, and his family.
“We were soaking in the moment,” he said. “I actually told my mom even if I got any award, I would be so grateful and then it was just so surprising when they said my name as the grand prize winner. It was just crazy. My mom was shouting. My grandmother was shouting. It was a blessing — it was truly a blessing.”
Holley, who plays lacrosse, basketball and soccer at Parkville, was taken aback by all the kind gestures waiting for her at school the next day.
“I learned I had a very big support group because I went to school the next day and every teacher was saying congratulations and my team made a huge $40,000 check out of cardboard with a sign. So I knew I wasn’t alone and would always have them to depend on,” she said.
The two recipients share plenty in common. In addition to their love for sports, they are both “A” students and hold down several jobs.
Toliver, who is set to play football at Stevenson University, lost his father when he was 6 years old and his special bond with his mother, Cheree Toliver, added another chapter. He described the award as an early Mother’s Day present.
“It’s a blessing to be put in this position and to make her proud,” he said. “She’s my rock — she really is. It was such perfect timing as far as Mother’s Day. The look on her face was priceless — I will never forget the look on her face when they called my man and said grand prize winner.”
Set to attend Loyola Maryland, Holley said sports has helped shape her as a whole. Her hard work and team-first approach is paying off.
“I just thought ‘Wow, this is pretty cool’, a cool turn of events because we were worried how we were going to pay for college and now it’s not as much a worry,” she said.
“Ever since I was a kid, my dad put me into sports, so I think learning to become a team player and stuff like that came from being in sports. Working hard , I’ve always wanted to have a couple extra dollars to hang out with friends and go places, so I knew in order to do that I had to work hard and put in the effort.”
During the ceremony, McCormick honored 100 student-athletes in the Baltimore area and awarded $105,000 in college scholarships to six winners.
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In addition to Tolliver and Holley, Hereford football player Dustin Krotee and Reach! Partnership School runner Ty’Candice Smith were awarded $7,500 scholarships and Western Tech basketball player Chase Glenn and Owings Mills soccer player Aureole Djoumejio received $5,000 scholarships.