De Anza’s Athletics Award Gala celebrates individual achievement and togetherness


Georgina Munoz-Villanueva

De Anza’s badminton team receives the Team of the year as well as the Staff of the Year awards at the Athletic Awards Gala.

Aaron Johnson, Reporter

Athletic prowess, academic excellence and leadership by example are all qualities that De Anza hopes to see from its student-athletes. These same qualities were the criteria to win awards at De Anza’s Sports Award Gala held on June 16, including the coveted Mountain Lion of the Year award.

The award ceremony was held in the Euphrat Museum and featured a red carpet for all the student-athletes to show off their outfits and take pictures to commemorate the occasion. 

One of the people in charge of organizing this event was Eric Mendoza, dean of Physical Education and Athletics, who said the goal of the event was to give the student-athletes a chance to appreciate the hard work they put in during the year. 

“The goal was to host our version of the ESPY Awards, complete with a pre-show on the red carpet and a rotation of presenters,” Mendoza said. “Our student-athletes work hard all year long and a special night to celebrate with family, friends, coaches and staff who all contribute in their journey is a fitting way to end the academic year.”

The nominees were submitted by all the head coaches across campus. From there, the awards committee narrowed down the selections to find the person who they felt served the award the most based on their criteria. 

De Anza honored its 15-0 state championship badminton team by awarding them the 2022 Team of The Year and Coaching Staff of the Year awards. During his acceptance speech, head coach Mark Landefeld spoke about how far his team had come. 

“It’s amazing where we are now after having to deal with all of the COVID restrictions, all of our returning players remember how that was,” Landefeld said. “A year ago, we were playing air badminton at Memorial Park as practice.” 

He also spoke about the support he felt from De Anza staff members. 

“At the end of the year, we had our traditional end of the badminton barbeque and our Athletic Director Ron Hannon and our President Lloyd Holmes were there,” Landefeld said. “That was a real treat across other athletic programs that doesn’t really happen.” 

The event showcased the unity and friendship that many of the De Anza student athletes shared. During the night, there were loud cheers when audience members’ teammates took the stage, occasional group chants and people in the crowd asking for score updates on game six of the NBA Finals in-between awards. 

Serena Geis accepting the Most Inspirational Student Athlete Award.

The Most Inspirational Athlete award went to the two student athletes who inspired and motivated their coaches and peers the most throughout the season. Cross country and track and field athlete Serena Geis was one of the two athletes who received the award. 

During a speech that Geis wrote — read by her teammate and presenter Tammy Dinh — Geis detailed her struggles from suffering mental shutdowns when she was younger and being placed in special education classes. Now, she’s inspired to plan out her future career of being a nursing assistant for the elderly by taking classes at De Anza while still performing at a high level in cross country and track and field. 

Football player Iretunde Akinsola, 20 and computer science major, was the other athlete who received the Most Inspirational Athlete award.

One challenge Akinsola faced was having to live on his own and the eviction he faced when he was 17. Before attending De Anza, he took classes at Chabot College while paying for classes himself working as a security guard.

During the De Anza football season, he maintained a 3.68 GPA, and he has received offers from Ivy League schools — a rare feat from someone at a community college. 

“What kept me going is the passion of the game,” Akinsola said. “I think that translates to all walks of life. As long as you have a passion, it’s always there to lift you up.” 

There were a lot of moving parts to get the event scheduled and running, and Mendoza was very thankful for that. 

“We had all-hands on deck wherever needed,” Mendoza said. “Our SAAC executive team, led by president Tammy Dinh, worked through scripts and took care of every detail. With a large production, we appreciate everyone’s effort to make the event come to life.”

The Special Recognition award was added to the list of awards to give appreciation to someone outside of students athletes and the coaching staff. This award was given to district employee Phil Weiss. 

Weiss is a security technician who primarily performs repairs around the De Anza sports facilities. He also volunteered to become an official bus driver for the volleyball team, donated money out of his own pockets for t-shirts for the beach and court volleyball teams and helped work the score table during games. 

De Anza women’s basketball team posing for a photo on the red carpet before the award ceremony.

Weiss was not aware he would receive an award, so he began to get emotional on stage, finally shedding tears once his daughter and member of the volleyball team, Bailey Weiss, joined him on stage. 

During his speech, he explained how love drove his desire to contribute to the teams. 

“I do this because I love all of you,” Weiss said. “(The volleyball team) felt like my adopted daughters because they are such great kids, they make me feel welcome.” 

On a projected screen, De Anza listed off more than 230 student athletes who were able to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher during their respective sports seasons. De Anza wanted to honor students for maintaining good grades through their busiest time of the year. 

In the same manner, De Anza also offered tribute to 50 student athletes who were transferring to four-year colleges. 

Throughout the night of acceptance speeches, a sentiment shared by many of them was that the student athletes were thankful that De Anza gave them the opportunity to play their sport again. Whether it was Rookie of the Year Winner Adriana Williams saying that during COVID-19 she thought she would never play volleyball again or SAAC Leadership award winner Tammy Dinh saying she thought she would never compete in track and field again, the athletes were thankful for their time at De Anza. 

This night was not only a celebration of individual and team success, but it was a victory lap for the return to sports after COVID lockdowns. 

This will be the last time our collective group will be together again,” Mendoza said. “So it was great to share these moments that many will remember for a lifetime.”