Seattle, Washington – Gabe Marsh, a para-athlete swimmer from Guntersville High School in Alabama, was honored Wednesday at the opening ceremonies of the 104th National Federation of High School Summer Meeting as the 2023 national recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award”.
The annual award, which was first presented in 2008, is given annually to an individual who personifies the true spirit of what participation in high school sports means to the many thousands of high school student-athletes and communities across America. Also honored Wednesday were Adam McWhorter and Casey Hubbard of Southmore High School (Oklahoma), a band director and student who captured the NFHS Heart of the Arts national award – presented annually in the arts category. Casey, who has spina bifida, plays trumpet and marches in the high school band thanks in big part to the special guidance of MeWhorter, who helps manage the wheelchair through all the band’s choreographed march steps.
Marsh, who is now attending Snead State Community College with plans to eventually earn a degree in theology, was born with no legs and only one arm. His teenage mother gave him up at birth, and Gabe was adopted four days later by Ed and Ann Marsh, a couple that has worked with nearly 50 foster children in their ministry over the years, including many with special needs.
Ann Marsh made the trip to Seattle with her son. She and her husband built a pool because they believed that the children in their care should be able to swim, They provided swimming lessons in their family pool. However, even she didn’t think Gabe should be in the pool due to his limitations. When Gabe was three years old, however, Ann was working with the other children in the pool and left Gabe poolside. Before she could stop him, he dove into the water and swam to her with one arm. From that day on, it was clear Gabe belonged in the water and that he had no limitations to what he could accomplish.
Gabe began swimming competitively at age six and developed into one of the top para-athlete swimmers in Alabama, winning state titles at the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) State Championships and the Alabama Para Olympics. More importantly, he has inspired so many others along the way with his attitude, tenacity, and strong faith.
A 2022 graduate of Guntersville High School, Gabe participated on the school’s swimming team for four years, competing in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events. He was also named Mr. Journalism at GHS for his work for the school’s media. Working part-time at McDonald’s, he was also named the McDonald’s high school employee of the year in Alabama.
“We are so proud of Gabe,” said AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs, who nominated him for the NFHS Spirit of Sport award. “Spend a few minutes with him and he will literally fill your heart with joy, and you will love him. His attitude and love for life is uplifting, and his ability to overcome such incredible obstacles is heart-warming. He is an amazing young man who is making a difference in this world.”
Nominated by his school for the annual Bryant-Jordan Achievement Award as a senior, Gabe was selected Class 5A Student-Achievement Athlete of the Year at the 2022 Bryant-Jordan annual banquet and was chosen the overall state recipient of the Betty Joy and Ken Blankenship Student-Athlete Award as well.
He often speaks to youth groups in northeast Alabama and plans to become a minister. With his NFHS Spirit of Sport recognition, his incredible life story of overcoming adversity has a chance to impact others nationwide.
Gabe accepted the Spirit of Sport Award in stride. “I am honored by this because I think it will give me a larger platform to tell others how God has blessed me. It is another door he has opened. He gave me a wonderful family and has blessed me so much.”
He became the second student from the AHSAA to receive the NFHS Spirit of Sport national award. Hayden Holton of Elmore County High School was the recipient in 2021. Sherri Miller, the band director at Dale County High School, was the recipient of the NFHS Hearts national award in 2016.
Gabe also became the eighth person in AHSAA history to earn the Section 3 Spirit of Sport Award, which encompasses the southeastern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
ALL-TIME NFHS SPIRIT OF SPORT AHSAA SECTION 3 RECIPIENTS
2023 – Gabe Marsh, Guntersville High School (NFHS National Recipient)
2021 – Hayden Holton, Elmore County High School (NFHS National Recipient)
2018 – Mark Russell, Huntsville football official
2017 – Hassan Hawthorne, Pelham High School
2008 – Leah Dorsett, Crossville High School
ALL-TIME NFHS HEART OF THE ARTS AHSAA SECTION 3 RECIPIENTS
2018 – LaFrancis Davis, Carver-Montgomery band director
2017 – Rakavius Chambers, Opelika High School
2016 – Sherri Miller, Dale County band director (NFHS National Recipient)