WINTER PARK — Ryan Lochte entered 2011 wanting to show the world's swimming community that he still had room to improve. And he did that, winning five gold medals at the world championships in Shanghai.
On Saturday night, the Daytona Beach native learned that his accomplishments also were noticed here at home. Lochte won the Professional Athlete of the Year honor at the inaugural SPORTYs, the awards show hosted by the Central Florida Sports Commission.
"You guys get ready for London and the 2012 Olympics, because here I come," Lochte told a crowd of about 300 people inside the Full Sail Live venue.
Lochte's award helped cap a night in which three people also were inducted into the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame: former Orlando Magic coach and current Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, former Florida Citrus Sports Executive Director Chuck Rohe and former NFL running back Ricky Watters.
Rivers thanked his wife, Kris, former Magic General Manager John Gabriel, his former Magic players (especially the 1999-2000 "Heart and Hustle" team) and Chuck Daly, who had recommended Rivers to Gabriel.
"John Gabriel, Rich DeVos and Bob Vander Weide took a chance on a kid that had been the assistant coach of his daughter's second-grade basketball team, and the head coach was my wife," Rivers recalled. "I had never coached basketball in my life.
"The fact that they took a chance on me is why I'm here," Rivers added. "You don't get a lot of opportunities the way I have."
On Saturday, there was an added bonus for Rivers. His son Austin, who led Winter Park to its second consecutive state basketball title, was named High School Athlete of the Year. The elder Rivers accepted the award on Austin's behalf, because Austin is in school at Duke University.
Other award winners included Boone High track-and-field and football star Marvin Bracy (Amateur Athlete of the Year), UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey (College Athlete of the Year) and Dr. Phillips High girls basketball and flag football coach Anthony Jones (Coach of the Year).
But the most memorable moment of the hour-long ceremony was delivered by a youngster who could barely see over the podium. Ten-year-old Ricky Watters Jr., incredibly calm and confident, gave a heartfelt introduction of his father, calling his dad "one of the greatest running backs in the history of football" and "my best friend."
Watters Sr. beamed after his son was finished.
"He's something else!" said the proud father, who settled in Central Florida after his playing career ended.
In some ways, however, the night belonged to Lochte, a graduate of Spruce Creek High and the University of Florida. He took some time out from his training routine to make the drive from Gainesville to Winter Park.
"I'm a Florida boy for life," he said. "It definitely is a great honor."
SPORTY notes: These awards also were given out during Saturday night's awards show.
Amateur Athlete of the Year: Marvin Bracy, Boone High
Business of the Year: ESPN Wide World of Sports
Employee of the Year: Tom Snyder, UCF
Volunteer of the Year: Shawn Cavalieri, Arnold Palmer Invitational
Rich DeVos Community Spirit Award: Orlando Magic Youth Foundation
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