Thomas Jefferson's Avery Shunneson named 2021 boys Freddie Steinmark Award recipient

Track and field state championships

(Brad Cochi/CHSAANow)

Avery Shunneson’s senior year at Thomas Jefferson High School went from the slow pace of having the fall football season postponed to warp speed of having three sports crammed into his final semester of school. Avery and his teammates at TJ participated in the state basketball tournament in early March, started football practice the next week, hoisted the 4A Football Season C Championship trophy in May, and then Avery won two state track and field championships the last weekend of June.  Not a bad way to wind up your senior year – oh, and add being named 4A football Player of the Year and committing to attend Princeton University to this list as well.

Avery Shunneson is the 52nd winner of the Steinmark Award since it was established in 1972 (there were two winners in 1976 and 1979) and he continues the proud tradition of Steinmark Award winners. Avery learned a lot of the history surrounding Freddie Steinmark and the award from his football coach, Mike Griebel, who passed on stories about the accomplishments of Freddie Steinmark from his glory days in the mid-1960’s at Wheat Ridge High School and the hard work it took for Freddie to get a scholarship to play for the Longhorns. They talked about Freddie playing in the 1969 ‘Game of the Century’ against the Arkansas Razorbacks and then a week later being diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his left leg and the immediate amputation of the leg.

Most importantly, Avery recognized the hard work and dedication it took in the classroom and his community to really stand out as a Freddie Steinmark Award winner. Avery wrote, “I recalled the many times I would see Freddie Steinmark’s name as I explored the halls of Wheat Ridge High School in between my club basketball games at tournaments held at Wheat Ridge. I was only in middle school at the time, but I can still recall the pride the school had for such an amazing man who was not only a great athlete but also a good citizen and a dynamic leader.”

Avery was a natural leader in the hallways at TJ and the local community. Woody Bonner, assistant track coach at TJ, commented that “as a freshmen, Avery went out to the throw rings the first practice and was instantly the leader of that group of young men and women.” Having the respect of the other athletes and knowledge of the throwing events truly benefitted Avery this year as he stepped up to be the team’s throws coach when Coach Bonner was not able to be at practices during the season due to medical reasons. Coach Bonner also shared that he would “hear from Avery by text or call to check up on me and to fill me in on how the last game [or meet] went. This is something that was not required or asked for. This is something he does because of who he is and the outstanding character he possesses.”

Avery is also deeply involved in the Spanish-speaking community in Denver and helps as an interpreter and technology support for seniors in the community and clients of a local fishing outfitter. Avery learned to appreciate the importance of language and education at a very early age thanks to his parents, Alison and Arnold Shunneson, placing him in a fully Spanish-speaking 1st grade class. A review of Avery’s transcript shows no less than six Spanish Honors or Advanced Placement classes during his career at TJ. A weighted GPA of 4.78 ranked Avery in the top 10 of his class and a composite score of 30 on the ACT made Avery a top recruit of Ivy League colleges and almost every other top school across the country.

Avery is proud to be a product of TJ and the Denver Public Schools system and will carry that banner proudly with him to Princeton this year. Avery is also very proud to be the first Steinmark Award winner at TJ and the fourth recipient from Denver Public School – Mike Edwards, Kennedy (1976); Fred Harris, Montbello (1988); and Greg Jones, Kennedy (1992). Avery knows the challenges faced by urban schools and the students face many challenges every day. “The Steinmark Award means that one faces those challenges with faith and courage….and that you never give up. Horrible things happen in our lives, like Freddie Steinmark’s illness, but we have to dig deep and show courage so that we can inspire others to do the same. I would be honored to be the first to win the award on behalf of my school….and to represent the city of Denver.”

All of Avery’s academic and community service accomplishments may have moved his athletic feats to page 2, but they are no less impressive. During the 2021 Season D track and field season Avery threw the discus 196’ 8” to find a spot as the 6th best discus thrower ever in the state of Colorado. His throw of 192’ 6” set a 4A State Meet Record in the discus and put him on top of the podium, a spot he duplicated two days later by winning the 4A shot put with a throw of 54’ 2”. Avery’s progression in the discus is notable in that he was on the podium in both his 9th grade (a 6th place finish) and 10th grade (a 3rd place finish).

The spring football Season C found the undefeated TJ Spartans in the state championship game and trailing the Gateway Olympians at half time. The Spartans remained focused on their season-long goal of a team championship and came out victorious after a late-game touchdown and two-point conversion. Avery was one of the team captains and was proud of the Spartans’ determination throughout the entire season. The team focused on Coach Mike Griebel’s commitment to player safety and made sure that they did not have any COVID-related issues throughout the season. Avery was the team leader in rushing yards and tackles during the season and was recognized as the 4A Player of the Year by CHSAA. And what did Avery do to celebrate the team’s victory? He woke up Saturday morning and competed in the first track meet of Season D! Avery admitted that he was pretty sore, but he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to compete in a track and field meet. That is a true commitment to excellence!

The Steinmark Award was established in 1972 and honors Freddie Steinmark, who excelled in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Wheat Ridge High School in the 1960s. He was also an outstanding student and active in several school and community-oriented endeavors before attending the University of Texas, where he helped the Longhorns to the national football title in 1969. Freddie died from cancer in 1971 at the age of 22. Student athletes nominated for the award must be seniors who have maintained a GPA of at least 3.0 and participated in at least two varsity sports, having earned at least All-Conference in one sport and All-State in another.

Dave Logan of Wheat Ridge High School, and now the extremely well-known sports announcer for the Denver Broncos and other sports endeavors, was the first winner of the award in 1972.

In 2020, Caleb Rillos from Ralston Valley received the boys’ Steinmark and Emily Cavey of Berthoud was the recipient for the girls. The Colorado High School Coaches Association is proud to be the sponsor of the Freddie Steinmark Award and congratulates the athletes, and their coaches, who were nominated for this award.

Finalists for the 2021 Steinmark Award: Jake Boley, Cheyenne Mountain; Tyler Collins, Wray; Jack Pospisil, Pomona; and Zane Rankin, Lamar.