Not all of the local candidates for awards at the Bryant-Jordan 27th Annual Student-Athlete Scholarship Program Awards Ceremony Monday night were aware of just how big a deal the event was.
But once they stepped inside the Birmingham Ballroom at the Magic City’s downtown Sheraton, they began to understand.
And while none of the nine regional award winners from The Star’s coverage area left the suit-and-tie affair with any more scholarship money than they arrived with, they all departed with an experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.
“It’s just an honor to be in the same room with this group of people, people who scored a 35 on the ACT,” said Wellborn senior Dalton Carroll, the Class 3A, and Region 5 Achievement Award Winner. “I didn’t know. I thought it was going to be something small, maybe 100 or 200 people. But obviously, that wasn’t the case.”
Carroll said he plans to take his talents to Newberry College after visiting the school’s South Carolina campus recently. He chose Newberry over nearby Shorter (Ga.) and Northern State (S.D.)
“I liked their coach. He seemed like a straight forward guy. I could see myself wrestling for him,” the four-time state champion said. “They’ve also got a great education program and that’s what I want do. I want to be a coach and an English teacher.”
Other local region scholarship winners included: Tate Thomas of Donoho, Amber Williams of Jacksonville Christian, Jessica Smith of Spring Garden, Whitney Roberson of Ohatchee, Zack Hall of Handley, Luke Endress of Clay County and John Herndon of Jacksonville.
For their achievements, each had already been awarded a $2,500 scholarship.
Monday’s event brought together 96 of the state’s finest student-athletes in one room.
According to one of several speakers to take to the lectern, an estimated 150,000 students play Alabama High School Athletic Association sports.
Hearing those figures helped put both the magnitude of the event and their accomplishments in being chosen into perspective.
“I’m extremely honored. I feel blessed just to be here,” Ohatchee’s Roberson said. “I’ve made so many friends.”
Roberson, who plays softball and cheers for the Indians, is headed to Auburn University. The class valedictorian plans to major in biomedical sciences.
Jacksonville Christian’s Williams summed up her experience at the student-athlete equivalent to the Oscars in the state in one word — “amazing”.
She found a few more as well.
“I felt really, really blessed that God would put me in this position,” she said. “It’s really all about Him. All the glory goes to God.”
The awards were broken down into major categories — Scholar-Athlete and Achievement winners.
Brilliant’s Brooke Frazier (Class 1A), Cottonwood’s Neil Granberry (2A), Glencoe’s Christopher Tinker (3A), Oneonta’s Andrew NeSmith (4A), Albertville’s Nathan Spence (5A) and Hewitt-Trussville’s Daniel Seay (6A) were named Scholar-Athlete award winners.
Alex Fourie of Shades Mountain Christian, Heather Fondren of Oakman, Tyler Holliday of Hamilton, Jimnarrius Furlow of Oak Grove, Rose Marceaux of Faith Academy and Justin Levens of Prattville were named Achievement award recipients.
Spence, a football and basketball star who also scored a 35 on the ACT, and Levins, who managed to have a standout wrestling career despite having two prosthetic legs, received the night’s biggest honors.
Spence was tabbed the Larry D. Striplin, Jr. Scholar-Athlete winner and Levins the Ken and Betty Joy Blankenship Achievement winner.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.