The Johnny Bench Awards recognize the top high school baseball and softball catchers in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as the nation’s top Division 1 college baseball and softball catchers. The winners were notified by the Hall of Fame catcher on July 1.
“Congratulations to the 2021 class of the Johnny Bench Awards,” Bench said following the announcement. “This special group of athletes persevered through the challenge of a canceled 2020 season and other adversities, continuing to work on their craft and succeed at a high level. We look forward to their future success wherever their career may take them next.”
2021 Johnny Bench Award winners
Matheu Nelson, Florida State University, baseball
Kayla Kowalik, University of Kentucky, softball
Trey Pancake III, South Range (Ohio), baseball
Madison Jellison, Watkins Memorial (Ohio), softball
Matt Klein, Trinity (Ky.), baseball
Sydney Melton, Lyon County (Ky.), softball
Austin Bode, Columbus North (Ind.), baseball
Sarah Stone, Bedford North Lawrence (Ind.), softball
Parker Redden, Shady Spring (W.V.), baseball
Emily Faith Allen, Parkersburg (W.V.), softball
For the first time in the history of the Johnny Bench Awards, one of the recipients was a Reds Draft pick. 2021 ACC Player of the Year Matheu Nelson was selected 35th overall by the Reds in this year's MLB Draft. He already has his sights set on returning to the ballpark as a Reds player.
“They’re the team that’s giving me a chance, and that means everything to me,” Nelson told Bally Sports Ohio. “I look forward to everything that comes along the road, no matter how long it takes to get here, and hopefully I’ll be playing at Great American Ball Park someday.”
The 10 award recipients and their families attended Tuesday’s program in the Bally Sports Club and were joined by Bench, former Big Red Machine teammate George Foster, Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini, general manager Nick Krall and Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank, among others. Representatives from MSA Sport, Coca Cola and other event sponsors were also on hand. 2020 Ohio high school baseball winner Mason Sawyer from Bishop Hartley High School also attended after taking part in last summer’s virtual ceremony.
With the 1976 World Series trophy as a backdrop, the student-athletes posed for photos with the Hall of Famer before settling in for the ceremony.
Bench spoke to the audience, speaking highly of all the winners’ work ethics and characters. He wrapped up by delivering a message about humility, something Bench said he had recently been reminded of.
“Never expect people to be impressed with who you are or what you’ve done,” he said. “Our goal in life is to make somebody enjoy themselves and make life better for everyone we possibly can. And I hope this award does that sort of thing.”
After the players answered questions, they took pictures with their new hardware and the luncheon concluded. The group capped off the big day by returning to the ballpark that evening to participate in a pregame ceremony before watching the Reds defeat the Mets.