This is a unique issue of SI, but before we get to the details, some conscience-clearing is in order. We owe an apology to MacKenzie Gore and Sydney McLaughlin, our cover subjects, because it took a little bit of subterfuge—O.K., a small white lie—to get them there.
As the world now knows, MacKenzie, a lefthanded pitcher at Whiteville (N.C.) High, and Sydney, a sprinter-hurdler at Union Catholic High in Scotch Plains, N.J., are the national male and female Gatorade High School Athletes of the Year. Since 2003, when Gatorade first handed out the national AOY award, the honor has proved to be not only a prestigious recognition of teen success but also a stunningly accurate predictor of future stardom. (Take a look at the list of winners—recognize anyone?) This year, as part of a new SPORTS ILLUSTRATED--Gatorade partnership, the honorees are also appearing on our cover. This explains why we've known that MacKenzie and Sydney would be the 2017 AOYs since shortly after the selection committee chose them from a group of 12 national finalists in late June.
One problem: MacKenzie and Sydney (the first two-time winner) didn't know they were this year's AOYs. Beyond the selectors and a small circle of SI editors, no one knew until the cover was unveiled at the annual Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year awards gala in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Even with two precocious talents accustomed to media attention—Sydney, 17, ran the 400-meter hurdles in Rio last year, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic track team since 1972; MacKenzie, 18, was the No. 3 pick in the major league draft last month and has already signed with the Padres—it's difficult to pull off an interview and photo shoot for an SI cover without questions being asked. So, to deflect attention from Project AOY, we told them that we were working on a series celebrating several standout athletes from the class of 2017.
Sorry, but we thought spotlighting Gatorade's AOY effort made a little misdirection worth it. Gatorade has been honoring high school athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character since 1985. First, a player of the year is named in every state and Washington, D.C., in a dozen sports, six male and six female. From that pool a group of evaluators—including, for the first time this year, a representative from SI—National Players of the Year are chosen in each sport. In 2003, Gatorade added another level, selecting overall Athletes of the Year from the six male and six female national POY finalists.
Yes, Sydney and MacKenzie have impressive athletic résumés—their achievements are chronicled in profiles that begin on page 28—but the AOY honor is about more than skill, speed and strength. The selection committee also looks for performance in the classroom and in the community. Both athletes graduated this spring with GPAs around 3.5, and both found time between schoolwork and competition to perform public service. "MacKenzie and Sydney embody the true spirit of the Athlete of the Year program," says Gatorade senior vice president and general manager Brett O'Brien. "We're excited to see what's in store for their futures."
So are we—no one would be shocked if this isn't the last SI cover for MacKenzie Gore or Sydney McLaughlin. Next time we'll even tell them first.
Gatorade High School Athletes of the Year
2003 LEBRON JAMES, basketball
2004 DWIGHT HOWARD, basketball
2005 GREG PAULUS, football
2006 GREG ODEN, basketball
2007 KEVIN LOVE, basketball
2008 MATT BARKLEY, football
2009 GARRETT GILBERT, football
2010 BRANDON KNIGHT, basketball
2011 DYLAN BUNDY, baseball
2012 JOHNATHAN GRAY, basketball
2013 ANDREW WIGGINS, basketball
2014 KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, basketball
2015 KYLER MURRAY, football
2016 JAYSON TATUM, basketball
2017 MACKENZIE GORE, baseball
2003 ALLYSON FELIX, track and field
2004 CANDACE PARKER, basketball
2005 CYNTHIA BARBOZA, volleyball
2006 TINA CHARLES, basketball
2007 MAYA MOORE, basketball
2008 CHANELLE PRICE, track and field
2009 SKYLAR DIGGINS, basketball
2010 CHINEY OGWUMIKE, basketball
2011 MORGAN BRIAN, soccer
2012 BREANNA STEWART, basketball
2013 MORGAN ANDREWS, soccer
2014 BRIANNA TURNER, basketball
2015 CANDACE HILL, track and field
2016 SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN, track and field
2017 SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN, track and field