Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion and member of gold-medal winning teams at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, will be in Fort Smith as the celebrity guest for the 2019 River Valley Best of Preps banquet.
The third annual event is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 30, at the Fort Smith Convention Center. The event is hosted by the Times Record and presented by Shoppers Value, Arvest and Taco Bell.
Douglas was part of the Olympic teams nicknamed the “Fierce Five” and the “Final Five” during her Olympic years. She is the first African American in Olympic history to become the all-around champion, and is the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. A native of Virginia, Douglas began training in gymnastics when she was just 6.
Douglas’ autobiography, “Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith,” was released in 2012. A TV movie based on her life, “The Gabby Douglas Story,” in which she performed gymnastics stunts herself, aired on Lifetime on Feb. 1, 2014.
The River Valley Best of Preps event brings together top high school athletes from seven counties throughout the area. The evening includes awards for Team of the Year, Player of the Year and Coach of the Year from more than 19 different sports, as well as other awards for the area’s most inspirational athletes. State champions and athlete All-Stars, named throughout the year by the Times Record sports team, also receive free admission to this star-studded event. Business sponsors help provide free tickets for all the local honorees. Dinner and dessert are included, and VIPs and award-winning athletes and coaches will have the opportunity to have photos taken with Douglas, who will also speak during the event.
“We’re very excited to have Gabby Douglas,” said Tina Reagan, president and COO of KMAC Enterprises/Taco Bell. “She represents the pinnacle of an athletics career and epitome model citizenship that we can all aspire to, and we think she will be very inspirational to our area student athletes.”
The Best of Preps event will mark its third year in 2019. Previous guest speakers include former Razorbacks Darren McFadden and Alex Collins.
“We are involved in River Valley Preps because we believe in our youth and the communities in which we serve,” said Deb Golden, marketing director for CV’s Foodliner, Inc./Shoppers Value. “We are excited to have Gabby Douglas as the keynote speaker at 2019 River Valley Preps. Through her career, she has illustrated a consistent drive to reach her goals and succeed.”
Rodney Shepard, president and CEO of Arvest Bank in Fort Smith, said Best of Preps reflects the hard work and dedication that local high school athletes put forth all year.
“We hope all of those who participate in this event will feel the pride and sense of achievement that comes as a result of putting those attributes into action, and also hope they recognize Arvest’s commitment to the communities we serve every day,” Shepard said. “We especially look forward to hearing from Gabby Douglas, a true trailblazer and the embodiment of many of the same qualities that our River Valley athletes possess – discipline, perseverance and the will to be the best they can be … I am excited not only to hear what she has to share, but to see what she inspires in all of us.”
Reagan added that KMAC Enterprises/Taco Bell hopes that “everyone, especially the students, takes away from River Valley Preps a sense of pride and accomplishment, so that as they go forward in life, they have the confidence to become leaders in their careers and communities.”
Honorees will be announced in the paper and then notified by letters from the Times Record. Individual tickets for the 2019 River Valley Best of Preps banquet are $55 and can be purchased at www.swtimes.com/preps.