The origins of the McCormick Unsung Heroes Award weren’t conceived on a basketball court or football field or in a locker room.

“My father was influenced by his participation in team sports and his military service during World War I,” said John G. McCormick, whose father, Charles Perry McCormick, started the program in 1940. “He often talked about the team spirit associated with both of these activities.”

For more than seven decades, McCormick & Company has honored Baltimore area high school student athletes with an annual banquet. The 71st McCormick Unsung Heroes Award ceremony will be held Monday, May 2 at 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Marriott Hunt Valley Inn.

Local high schools — public, private and parochial — nominate an Unsung Hero from their football and girls basketball teams who has displayed noteworthy qualities such as sportsmanship, dedication, integrity and positive attitude.

At the event, two of the Unsung Heroes – one representing football nominees and one representing girls’ basketball nominees – will receive special recognition when the Charles Perry McCormick Scholarship Award winners are announced. This scholarship was established in 1969 and is currently valued at $36,000. Both winners will receive $9,000 per year for each of their four academic years.

One hundred-nineteen students from 73 area schools will attend the event. All nominees will receive a plaque and Unsung Heroes logo gifts. The Company announced that this year, a new event is being planned for the Unsung nominees at  M & T Bank Stadium. A date for this event has not been determined, but it will precede the awards ceremony in May.

“It’s a celebration,” said Jim Lynn, McCormick’s Director of Corporate Communications. “It’s hard work, and the pay-off is seeing the joy on the faces of the kids, the pride of the parents and the spirit that makes it all worthwhile and makes it different than any other project we do.”

Years ago, before the girls’ basketball winner was added, the honor was sometimes nicknamed the “Guard Award.” It usually went to the player that threw the key block for the winning touchdown and didn’t get written about in the media. But if he didn’t do his job, there wouldn’t have been a touchdown in the first place.

John McCormick, Vice President of Government and Community Affairs, said his father, who was President and Chairman of the Board from 1932 to 1969, was inspired by a friend who was the head of a small, private college in South Carolina that gave a “Single Blocking Award.”

In 1940, Southern High’s James Nugent became the first McCormick Unsung Hero Award recipient. Patterson’s Michael Kavanagh was the first scholarship winner in 1969. (Then, the scholarship was worth $2,000 over four years.) Jane Donovan (Archbishop Keough) became the first girls’ scholarship recipient in 1987 as girls’ basketball nominees were added.

Jessica Kikola from Patapsco and Dunbar’s Joshua Melton were last year’s McCormick Unsung Hero scholarship recipients. Melton is attending Frostburg State University and Kikola is at Towson University.

Past guest speakers have included ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale, Hall of Fame quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Bart Starr, U.S. Olympic all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, NBA Hall of Famer and former Washington Bullets coach and executive Wes Unseld, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Johns Hopkins Hospital’s director of Pediatric Neurosurgery Ben Carson, and the list goes on and on.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was last year’s guest speaker. This year’s speaker is Byron Pitts, currently the chief national correspondent for the CBS evening news, as well as a contributor to the television news magazine 60 Minutes.

Athletic directors and coaches fill out lengthy forms for the nominees, which usually detail the athlete’s character traits, accomplishments, goals and background. From there, a series of committees judge the nominations and narrow them down to the top 10 for both boys and girls.

Then, an independent panel reviews the nomination forms for the 20 finalists and selects the two Unsung Heroes. All identifying information on the forms has been removed prior to their review to ensure no bias or conflict of interest is exercised. The final two award winners are announced at the banquet.

Mr. McCormick stressed the importance of the opportunity that the Unsung Heroes Award scholarship presents.

“In my opening comments before dinner, I mention the $36,000 scholarship and you see a lot of parents who look at their kids having no idea that this is part of the program,” said McCormick. “We want to get the parents involved as well as the coaches and athletic directors and make sure the information is presented.”

“It’s a very moving moment when you surprise these two kids who are about to get a scholarship of that size and then they say a few words at the podium. It’s very impressive how composed they are expressing gratitude to their family, coaches and teammates,” said Lynn. “You can tell right away they are the classic All-American student athletes and Unsung Heroes.”

The Master of Ceremonies for the event will be Scott Garceau, who has been a sports television personality in Baltimore since 1980. The former WMAR Channel 2 sportscaster and play-by-play voice of the Ravens has been participating for the last 17 years after taking over for Vince Bagli, one of the great voices of Baltimore sports. Bagli, who retired several years ago from WBAL Channel 11 after nearly a half century in the sportscasting business, was considered a backbone for the Unsung Heroes banquet.

For more information about the McCormick Unsung Heroes Award, school athletic directors and coaches can call McCormick & Company at 410-771-7301.