Michigan State’s Varsity S Club recognized it annual award winners Friday at the 20th Annual Awards Ceremony. The seven recipients represent what it means to be a Spartan both in and out of competition.
Former Michigan State men’s track and field student-athlete Kevin Jackson is the 2016 recipient of the MSU Joey M. Spano Varsity ‘S’ Club Graduate Endowed Fellowship, an award presented annually to assist Michigan State student-athletes advance their education in their respective field of study.
Jackson competed on the MSU track and field team from 2008-13, exemplifying excellence on the track as well as the classroom. Despite being two-time NCAA East preliminary-round qualifier in the high jump and team captain, he was a member of the Student-Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC), a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, and received the MSU Multicultural Award and the Dr. James Feurig Achievement & Service Award.
Kevin graduated from MSU in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Policy and a minor in Economics. He will be graduating from the MSU College of law in 2016 with his degree in Economics.
Kaleb Thornhill is the co-founder of APEX Academy, a 2015 non-profit organization that engages, educates, and empowers student-athletes with under-resourced backgrounds who have the desire to attend and complete college. Thornhill has also just entered his fifth season with the Miami Dolphins as the organization’s director of player engagement, where he engages, educates, and empowers players on and off the field. Thornhill is the 2016 recipient of the Cheryl M. Gilliam Young Alumni Award. This award is presented to the Spartan who has showed promise in their chosen career path as well show an exceptional record of community service.
Thornhill is a former four-year letterwinner, from 2003-07, for the Michigan State football team. He was a three-year starter, four-time All-Academic Big Ten selection, team captain his senior season, and he was named Michigan State’s Potsy Ross Scholar/Athlete award.
Kaleb received his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in human resources in 2007 and master’s degree from Michigan State in kinesiology, with a concentration in sports administration in 2009.
Cheryl M. Gilliam
Cheryl M. Gilliam is the 2016 award winner of the Dr. Nell C Jackson Outstanding Alumna Award. This award is presented annually to a Spartan varsity alumna whose career upon MSU graduation demonstrates professional and community service accomplishments.
With over 30 years of packing experience at companies such as Kraft, Heinz, Sara Lee and Johnson & Johnson, Gilliam has now been a member of the Kellogg staff since 2006, serving as the Senior Packaging, in Battle Creek, Mich.
Throughout the years, Gilliam has been invested in many MSU organizations, including the MSU Packaging Alumni Association, MSU Finish Line Club, MSU Varsity ‘S’ Club, MSU Student Services Advisory Board, and she is the recipient of numerous awards at Michigan State University
Gilliam graduated from Michigan State University College of Agriculture, The School of Packaging in March 1982. She currently has a scholarship in her name in support of students aiming to earn a degree in packaging. She was a standout member of the MSU Women’s Track and Field team, garnering multiple Big Ten champion and All-American honors, and she is a member of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Todd (T. J.) Duckett
A Kalamazoo native, Todd Duckett came to Michigan State University on a football scholarship in 1999. Duckett studied Communications while at MSU, and earned All-Big Ten Conference honors as a junior, and holds the record as sixth all-time leading rusher in the school’s history.
He is the 2016 Henry C. Bullough Service Award winner, and this award is presented annually to an MSU varsity letter winner who demonstrates outstanding service and devotion to Michigan State athletics. After a career in the NFL from 2002-2009, Duckett’s passion brought him back to his home state where he co-founded New World Flood, a Michigan non-profit organization. New World Flood aides citizens to develop a sense of responsibility for the overall well-being of the communities they live in. The organization believes citizens can be change agents in their communities by using education and service as a means to sustain the overall welfare of their environment.
Duckett also founded the Duckett Enterprises in 2011, Duckett Enterprises’ mission is to build successful businesses that have a true impact on the community by providing goods, products, and services the customers will enjoy while at the same time giving back to the community.
A life-time devoted individual to Michigan State University, Gus Ganakas is the 2016 award recipient of the Eldon VanSpybrook Retired Coaches Award, an award that is presented annually to the MSU coach whose coaching career has brought great honor personally, and by reflection, to MSU and its intercollegiate athletic program.
Gus attended Michigan State University from 1946-1950, upon graduation from MSU, Gus took over as coordinator for the Ralph Young Fund, better known today as the Spartan Fund. Ganakas then became the assistant men’s basketball coach in 1966, before taking over the head coaching position. He led the team to an overall 89-84 record while at the helm of the program.
At the conclusion of his coaching career Ganakas stayed enriched in MSU athletics, where he moved to an administrative role and served as the assistant athletic director at MSU from 1976-1998, he later spent two years as a special assistant to Tom Izzo. Ganakas retired in 2000 after 36 years dedicated to the university.
The Jack Breslin Life Achievement Award is presented annually to the Spartan alumnus whose post-college career has brought great honor to him and by reflection to Michigan State University. A 1964 graduate of Social Science, Jerry Sutton is the 2016 recipient of the Jack Breslin Life Achievement.
Jerry is the founder of Sutton Advisors firm, him and his team are strategic advisors for his clients. The company’s business model allows Jerry to pursue his vision of helping each of his clients to live with confidence. Jerry and his wife, Linda Sutton, have partnered since 1977 to create Sutton Advisors, PLC, and continue to lead it into the future.
Saxton also shows his passion for community involvement, and helps his clients do the same. He is an annual sponsor of Wharton Center events, founding donor to the Eli and Edythe Board Art Museum, supporter of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, sponsor Food Bank Empty Plate Host Committee, sponsor of the Magic Johnson and Steve Smith Golf Classics, and past board member of the Mid-Michigan Alumni Club and Michigan State University Alumni Association External.
Former Michigan State football student athlete, Courtney Hawkins is the 2016 recipient of the Clarence “Biggie” Munn Extra Effort Award. This award is given out periodically to an MSU graduate who possess the highest standards of integrity and character, and who has demonstrated outstanding service to MSU and the Michigan State community.
Hawkins, a Flint, Mich. native exemplifies the belief “the difference between good and great is just a little extra effort”. After a standout high school career academically and athletically, Hawkins was again a standout athlete and student at Michigan State, earning All-Big Ten wide receiver and Academic All-Big Ten Honors.
After nine years in the NFL, he has returned to his Alma Mater, Beecher High School as the Athletic Director and head football coach. Hawkins took over a struggling football program, and in the 10 years he has been coaching, BHS has made it to the playoffs nine times, won three conference championships, two division championships and one regional championship.
As the athletic director at BHS he has effectively run all of the sports programs covering K-12 with a balanced budget. He successfully petitioned Beecher high school be included as a member in the Genesee Athletic Conference in 2009, he has increased participation in all sports every year while adding four sports to the small Class C school.
Hawkins also worked with the Superintendent to create a bond that was passed in May 2013 for the first ever Beecher Community track and field complex. He also worked tirelessly to secure donations of up to $20,000 to purchase a new scoreboard for the track and field complex. Courtney was also able to influence the district to resurface the gym to allow BHS to host their first ever Boys Basketball Districts.