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SIDELINES: The best athlete in the history of Federal Way is...
Just in case the Mayans were right and the world ends today, I wanted to answer a question that has been knocking around in my head for the last week: Who is the greatest athlete to ever come out of Federal Way?
It’s actually a pretty tough question to answer and a debate that is best held when sitting on a barstool, sipping on your favorite beverage.
But as the sports editor of the Federal Way newspaper, my barstool is a little taller than yours.
The city has produced some top-shelf athletic talent in the not-so-distant past. Professional athletes like Donny Marshall, Travis Ishikawa, Kelyn Rowe and Lamar Neagle have all graduated from high schools in Federal Way during the past 20 years.
Marshall played five years in the NBA after a stellar career at UConn. Ishikawa is entering his seventh season in Major League Baseball. Rowe was drafted third overall into the MLS after being named Pac-12 Player of the Year. Neagle has tallied seven MLS goals in the past two seasons.
But, for me, the title of Federal Way’s best athlete comes down to four: Apolo Ohno, Michael Dickerson, Lake Dawson and Benson Henderson.
In terms of accomplishments alone, Ohno is the one to beat. The short track speed skater is an eight-time medalist (two gold, two silver and four bronze), making him the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time. Not too shabby.
Ohno, who started training at Pattison’s West Skating Center, could also be called a two-sport athlete, if you want to call ballroom dancing a sport. Ohno won the fourth season of the reality show “Dancing with the Stars,” with an unbelievable freestyle dance to Young MC’s “Bust a Move.”
In terms of pure athleticism, Dickerson tops the list, without much question. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard was a beast during his high school days at Decatur and Federal Way, one of the best preps to ever put on a uniform in Washington.
Dickerson went on to win the 1997 NCAA national championship at the University of Arizona before being drafted 14th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. He averaged 18.2 points a game during the 1999-2000 season for the Vancouver Grizzlies and 16.3 the next season.
But Dickerson’s professional career was cut short in 2003 after severe hamstring and groin injuries.
Dawson played wide receiver at Notre Dame before being drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994. He spent four seasons with the Chiefs, catching 103 passes for 1,406 yards and 10 touchdowns.
After his football career, Dawson has worked in the pro personnel departments for the Seattle Seahawks and, currently, the Tennessee Titans.
As for an “old timer,” another Federal Way High School graduate who had a solid career in professional sports was Dan Spillner. The right-handed pitcher finished with 75 career wins and 50 saves for the San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox during an 11-year career that ended in 1985.
But, from my barstool, the moniker of best athlete in the history of Federal Way has to go to Henderson. The 2001 Decatur grad is the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion and considered one of the best pound-for-pound, mixed-martial arts fighters in the world.
Henderson just defended his 155-pound title by dominating No. 1 contender Nate Diaz on the biggest stage the sport has ever had, on national television on FOX inside KeyArena two weeks ago.
And it’s not like UFC fighters don’t get respect from other athletes around sports. Just ask All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald from the Arizona Cardinals who the best athletes in the world are.
“Fighters are the toughest, hands down,” Fitzgerald told Sports Illustrated. “Their livelihood depends on how they can take a punch and throw one. There’s no other job like that, besides boxing. They’re as mentally tough as they come. Our game is different: you don’t have to worry about getting punched and kicked.”
And in a sport where the so-called “best fighters in the world” get caught with a punch or kick and lose, Henderson hasn’t. Since joining the UFC, Henderson is a perfect 6-0 with impressive wins over top contenders like Mark Bocek, Jim Miller, Clay Guida, two victories over former champ Frankie Edgar and his recent decision over Diaz.
In total, Henderson is 17-2 during his entire MMA career and also held the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight championship for over a year. At 29, Henderson has a lot of good years left in the UFC and could go down as one of the best ever if his dominating run continues.