This year's Oglesby Public Schools Athletic Awards Banquet obviously couldn't be the in-person celebration everyone is used to.
Thanks to Cameo — a website that arranges personalized, paid videos from celebrities — the 2020 edition was still a memorable event for the Washington Bulldogs.
Professional basketball players Brandon Paul and Tiffany Mitchell, Olympic athlete Lauren Fendrick and Chicago Cubs play-by-play legend Pat Hughes all participated in the Oglesby Public Schools Athletic Awards Banquet, a virtual event released on the district's website.
"Hello to the Oglesby Athletics (Banquet). Go Bulldogs!" said Hughes in his famous timbre, opening the 44-minute video.
Oglesby teachers, coaches and staff then took turns with the celebrities announcing the district's sports award winners from the 2019-20 school year.
Washington School principal Merritt Burns said he first heard of Cameo via his counterpart at Lincoln Elementary School, Michael Balestri. When it became clear this year's sports banquet would not be able to be held in a conventional manner, Burns' mind returned to what Balestri had told him about Cameo.
"We usually do a big athletes awards ceremony," Burns said, "and it just connected. 'Maybe since we can't get together, it'd be cool if these celebrity athletes could reach out to the kids and say their names for being award winners.' ...
"All of the athletes on Cameo were very accommodating and great to work with. They were really good about saying the kids' names as well as they could without having met them, and I was thrilled with how it came together."
Fendrick — a U.S. Volleyball Association All-American during her indoor collegiate career at UCLA, 2016 member of the United States Olympic Team and silver medalist at the 2017 World Beach Volleyball Championships along with partner April Ross — in particular got into her role, doing drum rolls with her mouth and cheering enthusiastically as she announced the school's volleyball award winners.
Mitchell, a two-time SEC Player of the Year and member of the WNBA's Indiana Fever, and Paul, 2009's Illinois Mr. Basketball and a former University of Illinois and San Antonio Spurs player, introduced the basketball award winners, with Hughes returning to announce the school's athletes of the year.
"We wanted (Pat Hughes) to be sort of our big announcement winner," Burns said. "He was tremendous on this. He was just at another level."
While Burns pieced the video together — learning video editing on the fly — he was quick to share credit with Oglesby's Support Our Students organization as well as superintendent Michael Pillion.
"He's a big believer in this event every year," said Burns, adding that with Cameo costs the entire production came in under $150.
"It was pretty much a wash, I would say, (compared) to what we would normally do for our students in celebrating their achievements," he said.