MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Staff Sgt. Steven Santana cannot decide his favorite sport. He has played them all. Since the age of six, Santana has played baseball, basketball, football, volleyball. Name any sport, he’s tried it and loved it. Santana, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, joined the Marine Corps when he was 21 years old. He became a tank crewman, and his first duty station was 1st Tank Battalion at the Combat Center. Since Santana was young, he loved sports for the competition and the team camaraderie. In the Marine Corps, Santana met a stronger type of competition and camaraderie. “When I started playing with Marines, it was more intense,” said Santana. “Everyone was more athletic and you see the camaraderie branch off into other areas of the Marine Corps.” Santana, now 38, has coached and played for almost all of the Tanks’ sports teams including the softball, soccer, volleyball and basketball teams. This has earned him base-wide recognition at most sporting events, and now, has earned him Marine Corps-wide recognition as the Combat Center’s 2005 Athlete of the Year. Santana was nominated by other Marines and the Marine Corps Community Services’ sports director to represent the Combat Center with the Marine Corps Athlete of the Year award, Santana explained. “I had no idea until after people started congratulating me,” he said. Some people say they play sports for the love of the game. Santana loves to win, he said. “It’s for bragging rights,” he explained. “We like to bring trophies back to the battalion.” There is more that comes from winning than bragging rights, Santana explained. “It’s a morale boost for our battalion,” he said. “It gives us pride. And when you have pride in one area, you see it develop in other areas.” Santana has noticed his team members performing well in other areas of the Marine Corps. Those who participate in sports have become well-rounded Marines, he said. “Sports and the Marine Corps are very similar,” Santana explained. “You coach a team to victory the same way you lead Marines to complete the mission. You practice the sport, you succeed, and when you train in the Marine Corps, you get the job done.” Even if Santana’s teams don’t win all the trophies, there is always something they take back to the battalion, he said. “It gives Marines who work together a chance to get to know each other,” he explained. “It’s good for unit cohesion. “It also keeps them in good shape.” One of the most important reasons Santana started urging young Marines to participate in sports aboard the base was to keep them out of the barracks. “I walked through the barracks one day and saw a lot of Marines just playing video games, watching movies, eating pizza, drinking beer,” said Santana. “I wanted to show them that there are more things to do on this base than what they had been doing.” Once he got the young Marines out of the barracks and into the sports teams, Santana noticed there was a boost in morale and in the Marines’ physical condition, he said. Santana also volunteers in coaching youth sports. He believes it will help children later in life to instill the fundamentals at a young age, he said. Throughout his years in coaching and playing sports, Santana has acquired a few trophies, but he has three of which he is most proud, he said. “I received a trophy for coaching a little league baseball team that really meant a lot to me,” Santana said. “Then I won a trophy for volunteering with youth sports that was very important.” The third trophy was from the “Best of the West” football all-star game in December 2005. Tanks’ team represented the Combat Center against bases from the West coast in the annual football competition. Tanks has played in the competition four times in the last seven years and this was their first victory, said Santana. Santana is coaching a Tanks’ softball team in the Commanding General’s Intramural Softball League and is getting ready to start a team for the soccer season. It doesn’t mater if the seasons collide; Santana will be there at all games. That’s why he is the Combat Center’s 2005 Marine Corps Athlete of the Year.