2022 Sports Person of the Year: Jovan Booker

The exuberance Jovan Booker brings to whatever he is doing is second to none, whether it’s starting for the U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team or just doing his job.

Just ask Liz Casey Searl, co-founder and executive of Peconic Community School, where Booker works as a wellness instructor.

“He’s sort of a natural coach,” she said. “That’s what makes him so good with kids. He’s inspiring and he’s fun. He’s always got great messages for the kids.”

For his dedication and hard work, Jovan Booker is The Suffolk Times’ 2022 Sportsperson of the Year.

Jovan Booker in his team USA uniform. (Courtesy Photo)

A Cutchogue resident, Booker put an exclamation point on a memorable and marvelous year when he represented the United States and the North Fork in October at the Amputee World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I am thrilled. It couldn’t go to a more fitting person,” Casey Searl said. “Honestly, I can’t even imagine a more appropriate candidate for this year, the year of his representing the U.S. overseas, the year of the World Cup, and just knowing him as a person and everything that he’s up against and how much he succeeds.”

North Fork United sporting director Marco Da Fonte, who brought Booker in as a coach with the club, echoed her remarks.

“He more than deserves it,” he said, referring to the honor. “He’s not one of those that seeks it, trying to put himself out there. It’s been attention that has followed him. He still remains very, very humble.”

And an inspiration for children of all ages. In 2022, Mr. Booker became a full-time wellness coach at PCS, teaching physical education. 

When he was 3 months old, it was discovered that he was missing the tibia in his right leg. Seven months later, the leg was amputated. He has worn a prosthesis ever since.

“He has overcome something and has persevered,” Casey Searl said. “We focus a lot on resilience in our school and with our kids and falling forward and working hard to achieve what your dreams are. He does that every day. It’s not just in sports, but in life.

“You can work hard at something and really overcome a challenge, whether it’s a little challenge or a big one,” she continued. “He represents a very big challenge, but also to compare it to other challenges. We have kids in our school who are on the autism spectrum, kids with speech challenges, all kinds of different things. They can look to coach Jovan and say, ‘It doesn’t matter. I can work hard, I can persevere, I can accomplish my goals and dreams.’ “

Da Fonte marveled how consistently Booker, 29, brings his “A”game to every coaching session.

“He’s been just a tremendous addition,” he said. “It’s so much more than the soccer aspect. It’s just how he connects with kids, his level of energy and enthusiasm that he has throughout the session. A lot of these coaches, it’s a check in, check out. There’s no real connection to the community.

“Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll know half of the players’ names, and with Jovan, it’s a complete opposite,“ Da Fonte said. “He just he shows up with a smile. He’s probably breaking a sweat just 10 minutes into it, just because of the animated and passion he has for teaching the game.”

Competing in the World Cup in Turkey “was a very big deal” for Booker, Casey Searl said.

“We witnessed him being a little nervous before he left and just how important it was to him to do well and to represent this country,” she added. “He talks about the game as being such a beautiful sport. He feels that it’s like a universal language that it brings people together.”

The U.S. (2-1-0) finished second in Group C behind Argentina before falling in extra time in the Round of 16 to Haiti, which finished fourth in the competition.

“From the moment we touched down, I think as a team we really were focused,” Booker told Fox 5 TV after he returned. “I’m currently living my dreams out right now. Even though we didn’t come up with the result that we wanted for all goals. We’re excited about what the future has in store for us.”

The school gave Booker a parade and a big sendoff before he left for Turkey.

With Booker securing Sportsperson of the Year, perhaps another celebration could be in the offing in the not-too-distant future.

Previous Winners

2021: Dylan Newman
2019: Skip Gehring
2018: Frank Massa
2017: Grace Syron
2016: Phil Reed
2015: Mattituck boys baseball team
2014: Mat Litchhult

Editor’s Note: There was no Sports Person of the year named in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.