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An awarding year

Got awards?

Sarah Bennion does.

The St. Mary's standout has collected plenty, but now she wants to give a prize to the less fortunate.

And she needs your help to do it.

The 18-year-old Bennion added to a stockpile of accolades after receiving a Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year award earlier this spring.

The honor includes a $7,500 scholarship, an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., with her family and a picture in USA Today later this month.

Bennion was one of 25 high school seniors selected from more than 30,000 applicants across the county by a panel of celebrity judges for their excellence in athletics, academics, community service and leadership.

Pictures and a video of each of the 25 can be found on sammymvp.com. The person who receives the most votes will get to donate $5,000 to the not-for-profit organization of their choice. Bennion picked Feeding America, whose mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.

"I have already worked with Medford Food Project and organizations that give food and I thought it was an awesome cause," she says. "Everyone should have food."

Those who are interested may vote for Bennion as often as once a day. Voting ends at 8:59 p.m. on June 25.

The SAMMY award is just the most recent highlight of a senior year that Bennion describes as "perfect". She went to New York City as the finalist of a heralded award, received the state's Class 4A/3A/2A/1A female athlete of the year honor and captured multiple state titles. The Brigham Young University-bound Bennion graduated on Friday.

"My senior year has been the most perfect year I could have ever had," Bennion says. "All my friends and family have been amazing and my teachers and coaches have really pushed me to my best potential and made this year great."

Where to begin with Bennion's list of accomplishments?

She was Oregon's Wendy's High School Heisman Award winner and a national finalist, earning her a trip to the Big Apple. She is only the second Oregonian to be named a finalist in 18 years of the Heisman award and, by winning, she earned a $2,000 donation in her name to St. Mary's.

Bennion also took home the Johnny Carpenter award at the Oregon Sports Awards ceremony, honoring her as the top 4A/3A/2A/1A female athlete.

In track, Bennion claimed state championships in the 1,500 meters, the 800 and the 300 hurdles and anchored the runner-up 4x400 relay at the Class 3A meet last month, leading the Crusaders to their fourth straight state team title.

She was also a standout in soccer and cross country.

Away from sports, Bennion was the second student at St. Mary's to enter the AP level for Chinese, earned a leadership position at her church and received the position of ASB president at St. Mary's.

And then there was the SAMMY award, which she applied for online.

Some time passed before Bennion got a pleasant surprise during her yearbook class. She found a letter in her email inbox informing her that she had won.

"I was freaking out," Bennion recalls. "I jumped up in the middle of class and was like, 'Woooo!' and everyone was looking at me."

Some 48,000 students initially applied for the award, including 475 in Oregon. The nation's top winner will be announced in Florida later this month at an awards ceremony, which will be hosted by NBA player Chauncey Billups and softball star Jennie Finch.

During her time in the Sunshine State, Bennion will be photographed for a Milk Mustache advertisement set to appear in USA Today June 29.

She and her whole family — her sisters Mary (a 2010 SAMMY winner), Rachel and Emma, younger brother Luke, mother Kristi and father Ted — will be there to soak it all up during the last week of June.

And if Sarah takes home the grand prize at Disney World, she might inadvertently give her thank-you speech in Chinese. Bennion left for Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, today. There, she will live with St. Mary's exchange student Yijia Li and immerse herself in the language and culture.

When she gets back, she'll spend just a day at home before heading off to Florida.

And when it's all said and done, Bennion's hoping she can be on the giving end of an award.

"I feel so grateful and this is such an awesome opportunity," she said.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

An awarding year