The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Ä Tanya Hughes, a four-time high jump champion and one of the leading anti-drug activists in college sports, was presented the NCAA Woman of the Year award Monday.
Hughes, who graduated from Arizona last May with a 3.5 grade-point average in interdisciplinary studies, received the award at the NCAA's fourth annual Woman of the Year awards dinner.
"It's going to take a little while for this to register. I can't describe how happy I am," said Hughes, a member of the 1992 Olympic team who dominated the NCAA's woman's high jump competition during four years at Arizona.
Active in college affairs, Hughes was named three times to the Pacific 10 Conference's all-academic team and last January became one of the first athletes to ever speak at an NCAA convention.
"She has met high standards in her academic pursuits while she met equally high standards as an athlete," said former UA athletic director and current NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey.
Hughes disagrees with Charles Barkley of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, who says athletes are not role models. As a member of Smith Project for Substance Abuse Education, Hughes has spoken to more than 4,000 young people.
"Whether we want to be or not, we are role models," Hughes said in an interview.
"Because we're held in high esteem, we have a responsibility to the public."
Hughes, who is attending an international manage-ment school in Phoenix, decided early to ditch the "just say no" approach.
"To a lot of people, that was a joke," she said. "So I ask them, 'What are you saying yes to when you choose drugs?'
"Are you saying yes to a better way of life? Are you saying yes to being a better person? I think we need to change the focus with people away from denying themselves something and get them to look at what they're accepting into their lives when they accept drugs.
"I've been around hustlers," she continued. "I talked to a guy and told him his whole success depended on other people's weakness. He said, 'Yeah, but I have a lot of money in my pocket.'
"Well, money doesn't equal character. I told him, 'People's lives are being torn apart and you're supplying the substance, and somebody else is getting it to you. What are you doing for yourself? You could have a better life and so could the people you're supplying.'"
But are the kids listening?
"I hope they are, so I'm going to say yes. I feel I'm reaching somebody every time I speak. There are those who will listen."
Almost 400 NCAA member schools nominated their own Woman of the Year candidate. Hughes was selected from a pool of 10 finalists by the NCAA committee on women's athletics.
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