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In the Community > Scholar Athlete Award - NC > Mountaire/Civitas Media Scholar Athlete Awards

2012 - 2013 Mountaire/Civitas Media Scholar Athlete Awards

June 2013
Courtney Willaims of Scotland High School
Laurinburg, NC


Courtney Williams has always been a leader.

This year, the Scotland High School senior helped lead her softball team to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A State Tournament and is constantly involved in the community off the field as well.

The leadership and determination displayed by Williams were among the reasons she was chosen as June’s Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar Athlete of the Month.

The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded each June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

Williams finished her prep career at Scotland by making it further in the state playoffs than any Scotland softball team ever has. The Scots made a deep run before falling to West Johnston in the fourth round.

Williams said this was her favorite season at Scotland.

“I think this season was our best season simply because we were able to forge together as a team and as a sisterhood and break barriers,” Williams said.

She will be attending Eastern Carolina this fall, where she’ll major in biology. She hopes to continue onto medical school to become a general practitioner. She will also continue her softball career for the Pirates, after she redshirts her freshman year.

Williams finished this year with a .458 batting average, a .747 slugging average, seven doubles and six home runs. Two of those home runs came in the third round playoff game against East Wake.

Williams has played predominately third base throughout her high school career, but has also played other positions when she was needed. She played shortstop at Sycamore Lane and she also played center field during last summer’s travel ball season.

“That was a little different but I didn’t do too bad,” she said.

Williams said her favorite thing about playing on the corners is the speed of the game.

“You never know what’s going to happen so you’ve always got to be on your toes and you always have to be ready,” Williams said. “Like the line drive that came to me in the West Johnston game, I didn’t know I caught the ball but I felt something solid in there so I said ‘hey, I must’ve done pretty well catching it.’”

When she’s not playing on the diamond, Williams can be found working with one of the several on-campus clubs or volunteering at her church or former middle school. She is the president of the Future Business Leaders of America and also participates in the Anchor Club, Technology Lab Support, the National Honors Society, an AP English book club and the Young Entrepreneurs Academy out of the Scotland/Laurinburg Chamber of Commerce.

The Honors Society requires its members to have at least a 3.7 GPA and nine service hours. Williams had a 4.2 GPA and had no problem finding the hours despite her busy schedule on a softball squad that practiced almost every day.

Williams returned to her middle school, Sycamore Lane, to tutor students in math. She also serves as an usher at Laurel Hill Baptist Church, where she helped with the church’s summer feeding program.

“If you put God first, everything else follows,” Williams said.

Williams, who started playing softball in elementary school, is a reflection of her father and coach, Patrick Williams. A Scotland alum, he is always coming up with slogans and phrases to motivate his team. His daughter quoted one of them when describing the lessons she had learned from playing softball.

“Patience is a virtue. And the three Es to success, which my dad came up with: energy, effort and enthusiasm.”

Courtney Williams said she enjoys playing for her dad, even if she can’t escape his coaching sometimes.

“I love it. The only thing that most people couldn’t take but I was able to work with it and progress through it was the criticism,” Williams said. “You’re going to get it more than others but it’s all for your benefit to help you become a better player.”

Patrick Williams said he can usually tell if a player has “it” or not after watching them play. He knew his daughter would be a good player when he realized her passion for the sport.

“I realized she wanted to be serious about it and her love for the game. My thing about it is if someone has that type of passion and love for the game then who am I to tell them that they can’t do it,” he said. “It’s just my job to help in any form or fashion I have to help them excel at it.”

If she has free time one day, Williams said she could see herself coaching softball.

“But I’d have to bring my dad along with me,” she said.
 

May 2013
Abbey Walters of West Bladen High School
Dublin, NC


Abbey Walters’ softball career can be traced back to 2000 when, as a 5-year-old, she first picked up a bat, ball and glove — thereby launching a journey that has taken her talents to new heights every year since.

Thirteen years after that auspicious beginning, the West Bladen High senior three-sport and classroom star was recognized as the Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar-Athlete of the Month for May.

“I’ve coached Abbey since she was 8 years old,” said current Lady Knights softball coach Pam Stephens, who nominated Walters for the award. “She is one of the most determined and talented athletes I have ever coached. She’s the total package … athletic and smart.”

The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

Walters’ prowess on the softball field is obvious, whether she is tabbed to twirl from the circle or patrol the shortstop position. And those talents, which also include a fearsome presence in the batter’s box, has helped lead the Lady Knights to a 23-2 record and a deep run into the Class 2-A state playoffs.

This season for West Bladen, Walters is 10-1 as a pitcher with a 2.17 ERA. Her totals include 86 strikeouts in 74 innings of work and four complete games. She also has three saves this season.

In the field, Walters has committed just eight errors through 25 games and often comes up with a stellar or heady play to send a buzz through the crowd.

At the plate, Walters has hit .612 from the No. 3 hole with six doubles, four triples, 14 home runs — nine of them the result of her speed for inside-the-park home runs — and 45 RBI. She is also 12-for-12 in stolen bases this season.

Although she plays volleyball and basketball at West Bladen, softball is her decided favorite.

“It’s always been my favorite sport,” Walters said. “And I’ve enjoyed being a part of all the success, in all three sports, we’ve had my senior year — but it’s a little bitter-sweet, since I’ll be graduating next month.”

Walters has been given some attention by both Barton College in Wilson and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She said she is currently leaning toward Barton, but hasn’t made up her mind for sure yet.

Whichever school lands her, Walters will not only bring her athletic talents. She’s also one of West Bladen’s top-notch students.

“Abbey has earned the reputation as a hard-working, honest individual who strives to be the best in all she attempts to do in sports and in the classroom,” said Stephens, who also coached Walters in basketball the past three years.

Walters is ranked No. 7 in her senior class of 163 students with a weighted GPA of 4.3571. She has taken a number of honors and AP classes throughout her high-school career with a focus on science and math.

But Walters isn’t only known for her individual talents. She has also established a reputation for working well with others and helping to make them better.

“Abbey is always encouraging her teammates to do their best,” Stephens said. “She understands the importance of teamwork.”
 

 April 2013
Jessica Williams of Red Springs High School
Red Springs, NC


RED SPRINGS — Red Springs High School senior Jessica Williams is a big believer in giving back to the community, and for that reason, cheerleading has always been natural fit.

“We don’t just build ourselves, we’re there to build other peoples’ character as well. Like with the basketball teams and football teams, we’re there to push them on,” she said. “We give them those encouraging words that others might not.”

Though cheerleading is a simple way of giving back, it’s merely the beginning of the list of ways in which she works to support a community that has always supported her.

The dedication she brings to her community, along with her school spirit and overall academic success, was among the reasons she was chosen as April’s Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar Athlete of the Month.

The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

Athletically, Williams has dedicated herself to cheerleading since she first tried it in elementary school. By the time she was in high school, she made the varsity team at Red Springs as a freshman and has a penchant for the spirit involved with the sport. She’s earned numerous awards from her team for being the most spirited.

Inside the classroom, Williams has amassed a 4.3 grade point average, taking advantage of high-level classes.  Her commitment to academics was part of why Kathy Piazza, an English teacher and cheer coach at Red Springs, nominated her for the award.

“Jessica has always challenged herself academically,” Piazza said in her nomination letter. “She is an active participant in class discussions and grasps material quickly. She has superb written and verbal skills that are a pleasure for any teacher to encounter.”

Williams said academics have always been her top priority, coming above cheerleading and her other endeavors.  At Red Springs she is the Student Government Association president, the Beta Club vice president, and has been involved with numerous other clubs during her time at the school. Additionally, she is involved in HOSA, which gives students interested in nursing the chance to volunteer at long-term care facilities.

Outside the school Williams has a strong presence in her church, and volunteers at multiple places. She said much of her service-driven attitude stems from adversity she overcame when she was younger.

“I was picked on a lot and I know how that feels,” Williams said. “I know how it is to struggle and I want to be able to help somebody. I want them to see that I’m not picture perfect, but I overcame what people thought I couldn’t be.”

Ultimately Williams believes her calling is in nursing.  This fall she will be going to Methodist University in Fayetteville, where she’ll take the first steps in becoming a nurse practitioner.  She’ll follow similar footsteps of her mother, who is a nurse, but is also inspired by an aunt that dealt with cancer.

"I love to give back, so instead of getting, getting, getting all the time, I want to be able to help somebody else,” Williams said. “Maybe I can cure something, or find something that’s wrong with them before they have to go through what my aunt had to go through.”

While at Methodist, she will also get an opportunity to do what she loves most and will be a member of the university’s cheer team.  Though cheering wasn’t the primary reason she picked the school, she’s excited for it and all the opportunities the sport has given her. 

“I really thank God for being able to get and see the different things I’ve been able to see,” Williams said, “because, at first it seems like things aren’t going right or you aren’t getting exactly what you thought, but it’s like my hard work is paying off.”


 

March 2013
Isaac Bell of Lumberton High School
Lumberton, NC

LUMBERTON — When Lumberton High School senior Isaac Bell takes the tennis court, there are few returns he won’t try and tackle.

Whether it’s close to the net or deep in the corner, he refuses to be passed by the opposition.

“A lot of people tell me that I’m better than a lot of tennis players because some give up on plays and I usually try to go for every ball, no matter if it goes in or out, just to keep the play going,” Bell said.

It’s a work ethic that plays out not just on the tennis court, but in all aspects of his life, be it the soccer field, the classroom, or his numerous extracurricular endeavors. The all-around success and his contributions to the community were among the reasons he was chosen as March’s Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar Athlete of the Month.

The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

Athletically, Bell is a two-sport athlete that competes in both tennis and soccer. Academically, he’s ranked fourth in his class with a 4.64 weighted grade point average, 3.93 unweighted.

“He’s an outstanding young man. He epitomizes the term student-athlete,” said LHS soccer coach Kenny Simmons, who nominated Bell for the award.

A Robeson County native, Bell was raised in Pembroke and moved to Lumberton late in elementary school.

When he was young, he played baseball, basketball and football but it wasn’t until his move to Lumberton that he picked up soccer and tennis, the two sports he’s now known for. When he moved to Lumberton, he got involved in an indoor soccer league with some friends.

“I figured I’d try something during the winter just to have fun,” he said.

He ended up discovering one of his passions and decided in middle school to forgo another year of football to try out for soccer. He played one year of recreation soccer before joining the traveling team in the spring.

His tennis career got off to an even later start.

Bell played baseball through 8th grade, but didn’t enjoy certain aspects of the game and decided to give tennis a shot instead. It was a sport he was already somewhat familiar with, having played with his dad.

“I was decent,” he said. “Only the top six seeds play (varsity), and the first year I was No. 12, but after that I got pretty good.”

Despite getting a late start in both sports, he’ll leave the school with plenty of honors.

He won the soccer team’s Most Improved award as a sophomore and was a team captain, All-Conference and All-Region last fall.

In tennis, he won the team’s Most Improved award as both a sophomore and a junior, and was All-Conference honorable mention last spring. He’s the team’s top player during the on-going season and also its captain. He helped last year’s team make its first state tournament appearance in five years.

In the soccer team’s case, Simmons said Bell was a good choice as captain because he’s trusted by both his peers and his coaches.

“He’s one of those kids that you truly enjoy coaching and don’t have to worry about,” Simmons said. “You know he’s going to do the right thing on the field and off.”

The work ethic Bell has on the field is one that translates from the one he has in the classroom.

Since starting high school, Bell has given him a rigorous schedule of classes that include honors and AP, where available, and never gotten a grade lower than an A-.

He credits his success to positive role models throughout his life, including several teachers and his sister, Victoria Bell, a former LHS volleyball team captain who now teaches at Tanglewood Elementary.

“I looked to her as a role model and she showed me the ropes of time management and making sure you get your work done first, then you can play your sports,” Bell said.

Issac also has an abundance of extracurriculars.

On top of being president of the LHS chapter of the National Honor Society, he’s a member of the Leo Club, the Beta Club, the Asian Club, the Native American Student Alliance, and was a founder of the Pirate Nation club, which encourages school spirit at athletic events.

Bell also helps out at other schools in the district as a member of the Teacher Cadet program and the Breakfast Buddies program, in which he mentors at-risk elementary school students.

Through the programs, he’s watched some of the students he helped when he was younger arrive at the high school.

“I would see those same kids (in middle school), and now they’re freshman here,” he said. “It’s just cool that they got here and they’re in Pirate Nation and they’re in clubs like that when they used to be another student that I went to teach.”

Bell plans on attending the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the fall and will major in communication studies. He hopes to eventually work for a college or university doing public relations work.

Bell doesn’t plan on playing varsity level sports when he gets to college, but will remain active playing intramurals for fun and hopes to get a spot on the club soccer team at UNCW.
 

February 2013
Mackenze "Mac" McGill of Lumberton High School
Lumberton, NC


LUMBERTON — For Lumberton High School senior Mackenzie “Mac” McGill, there was hardly a closer relationship within his family than the one he had with Sonny.

“I have four brothers and he’s the one I’ve pretty much grown up with my entire life,” McGill said Thursday about his late brother, Rufus Arthur McGill II. “He taught me how to ride a bicycle.”

With the love, there was loss last October, when Sonny was injured in a car accident in Virginia. He spent several weeks in a coma before passing away Nov. 1. It was loss that Mac refused to let affect him in a negative way. If anything, it served as inspiration.

“He never got to see one of my senior games, and I know he wanted to see one of those. Without him being able to be there, it helped me to play better, just because I knew he was able to watch every one of my games,” Mac said.

It’s a type of adversity McGill has had to overcome multiple times in his career, including when a Lumberton football player passed away prior to his sophomore season. McGill’s “heart,” as referred to by retired Pirates coach Mike Brill, along with strong academic performance and success in as both a football player and swimmer, are among the reasons he was chosen as February’s Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar-Athlete of the Month.

The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

In the classroom, McGill is an accomplished student, having taken honors courses in varying subjects throughout his four years of high school, accumulating a 3.81 weighted grade point average in the process.

McGill said he didn’t enter high school wanting to take the honors courses, but was encouraged by his parents originally, and later his friends.

“With the senior class that I’ve been with, it was pretty much either take honors classes or be bored in school because all my friends took them,” he said.

It was encouragement he appreciates in retrospect.

“I’m actually glad they pushed me. There’s not much difference in taking honors classes and taking regular classes. The only difference is maybe a project or two.”

He’s also involved with the NC Scholar program and is members of both the Beta Club and the Chess Club.

On the field, his passion for athletics spans several generations. His father and grandfather both were athletes at the West Virginia University, and Sonny was passionate about football.

McGill has had plenty of success on the gridiron, earning All-County honorable mention his sophomore year. He became a full-fledged All-County recipient in both his junior and senior year. This year, he was also named a team captain, All-Conference, and was The Robesonian’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording over 100 tackles last season.

He’s also one of the top swimmers in the county, having picked up the sport to help rehab a shoulder injury his sophomore year. As a team captain, he’s specialized in freestyle events, swimming both the 50 and the 100 meter distances, and also swam the 200 meter individual medley and contributed to the 200 yard freestyle relay team’s success.

“If I wouldn’t have done sports, I wouldn’t know half the people at this school, as it is now,” he said, noting that when he picked up swimming, his relationships expanded even further. “It feels like the more evolved I was, the more people I was meeting, and I liked to get to know everybody better just through doing sports.”

When nominating McGill, Brill noted not only his linebacker’s athletic prowess, but his response in the hardship that came with losing his brother.

“Despite facing the death of his brother, despite walking on the field for recognition on senior night without his parents, and despite ending his high school football career with such a dark cloud of memories and emotion, this young man continued to perform in the classroom and on the field,” Brill said. “He maintained his grades and had one of his best games ever on senior night, as well as during his final home game against our county rivals.

“He led by example, showing his teammates first-hand the true meaning of dedication, ‘heart’, and how to overcome adversity. I couldn’t have been more proud, if he was my own son,” Brill said.

McGill said much of his strength through the experience has come from keeping a positive mindset.

“Without (Sonny) around, it’s different, but the way I think of it, I can’t let that overcome me. I will overcome it,” Mac said. “It’s not like he’s gone anywhere, because I know he’s just waiting for me. People come and go and it happens.

“I know I’ll see him again one day.”

McGill was enthusiastic as he received the trophy announcing him as the winner.

“It feels rewarding because I feel like we always get overlooked around here, being here in Robeson County and in Lumberton, and it feels like this is something that puts your name out there.” he said. “Everybody has dreams of going to Division I schools and being on TV and all that stuff, but I’d rather go somewhere where I’m going to play, and having even the smallest scholarships helps keep that dream possible.”

McGill’s top college choices include Allegheny College (Pa.), Alderson-Broaddus (W.V.) College and Methodist University in Fayetteville, and he’s also been offered a preferred walk-on spot at West Virginia.

He’s unsure of where he will sign or what he will study, but the date he signs is one with personal significance: Sonny’s birthday, March 18.

“I’ll give him one last gift, to be able to see me succeed in life, and I feel like that’s the most important part of me signing to where I’m going to start my career,” he said.
 

January 2013
Lucas McNeill of West Bladen High School
Dublin, NC



DUBLIN — Lucas McNeill has been faced with numerous challenges during his high-school career, primarily dealing with the usual academic obstacles but also an athletic career filled with injuries.

But the West Bladen High senior has met every one of those challenges the same way — with hard work and persistence.

That has garnered the attention of the Mountaire Farms Scholar-Athlete Award committee, which chose McNeill as the January winner from among student-athletes in Bladen, Robeson and Scotland counties. The award comes with a $1,000 scholarship and puts McNeill in the running for the Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, which comes with an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

“Lucas is a really good kid, very light-hearted and good to be around,” said head basketball coach Travis Pait. “He has a real understanding that sports are a place to learn lessons. He wants to wins, don’t get me wrong, but he keeps it all in perspective.”

McNeill is currently carrying a 3.7865 weighted GPA and is ranked 37th among the 167 seniors in the Class of 2013.

His class schedule is filled with AP and honors classes, and he is now enrolled at Bladen Community College taking biology and psychology classes. He is planning to major in criminal justice when he attends college in the fall, and has his sights set on East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

He is a member of the schools BETA Club, Spanish Club, Varsity Club, FCA and Dream Team.

“High school has allowed me to grow up a lot,” McNeill said. “And I think it’s helped prepare me for what I want to do in life.”
McNeill, who was the 2012 West Bladen Homecoming King, was recently named a Wendy’s Heisman Scholar-Athlete winner.

This past summer, McNeill was able to be involved with an air emissions research study through N.C. State University at his family’s farm, then traveled to the University of Delaware to gather information for a study on solar panels in poultry houses. In addition, McNeill worked as a lifeguard at the Woodman of the World pool in Robeson County.

McNeill’s athletic career for the Knights has been filled with football, basketball, soccer and baseball — but he’s been faced with injuries at nearly every turn.

He was an MVP safety and wide receiver on the football team as a sophomore, but sustained a broken wrist that could have sidelined him for six weeks. Instead, he was fitted with a cast and continued to play.

He has played baseball for the Knights since starting high school and was voted Most Improved as a sophomore. He also attended baseball camps at ECU and a summer showcase in Florida.

McNeill has also played basketball all four years at West Bladen, and is used primarily as the Knights’ sixth man this season. But he’s also had two injuries — a broken toe and a sprained ankle — that have limited his time on the floor. He has also attended two basketball camps at Campbell University.

On the soccer pitch, McNeill played his first-ever season as a senior and was voted co-captain for the Knights. He was a striker and goalie, and scored three goals.

“Lucas is a real hard worker,” Pait said. “Really the kind of kid you’d like to have a team full of. He’s very involved with his church and school community.”
According to Pait, while playing soccer McNeill was also in a Bladen County fall baseball league that played in Pembroke.

“He would practice with the soccer team, leave this practice to do conditioning for basketball, leave this practice and go to fall baseball practice,” Pait said. “And when he had out of town games for soccer, he would go into school at 6:45 to practice his basketball shots.”

McNeill is a member of New Marsh Baptist Church, where is a member of the choir. He spent his 16th birthday in El Salvador helping to build a new church. Prior to that, he helped with a youth sports camp in Canada and, last summer, he went to Fort Caswell to help pack food to send to Haiti.

December 2012
Joshua Sumner of Lumberton High School
Lumberton, NC


LUMBERTON — Lumberton High School senior Joshua Sumner is no stranger to adversity.

ACL surgery his sophomore year, hand surgery his junior year and a concussion this fall make up the laundry list of roadblocks Sumner, a three-year varsity football player at LHS, has found in his path.

Nevertheless, Sumner continued to stay the course whether he’s knocking helmets or hitting the books.

Ranked No. 9 in his class of 400 seniors with a 4.48 GPA, Sumner, a 221-pound left guard and long snapper for the Pirates, has earned the Mountaire/Heartland Scholar Athlete of the Month award for December.

The Mountaire/Heartland Scholar Athlete program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

“It’s very exciting,” Sumner said. “Just the hard work I’ve put in football over the years, and school, especially, it’s all paid off.”

Keeping his priorities straight has helped.

“It’s important to be focused on and off the field,” Sumner said. “But once school was over on Fridays, I knew it was time to focus on football.”

Mike Brill, who recently retired after six years as the Lumberton football head coach, has admired Sumner’s relentless work ethic on the gridiron and in the classroom.

“Though injuries kept knocking Joshua down, he has continued to get back up,” Brill said. “He manages to balance the high expectations I place upon all my players with respect to performance and leadership with the academic expectations of his teachers. Joshua is first and foremost a scholar athlete.”

This past season, Sumner and the Pirates rolled through their non-conference schedule to a 4-1 start before skidding to a 1-5 record the rest of the way, finishing 1-4 in the Southeastern Conference and falling in the first round of the state playoffs to Jack Britt.

Lumberton’s one league win, however, was one of Sumner’s most memorable games as a Pirate — a 42-18 rout of chief rival Purnell Swett at Lumberton’s Alton G. Brooks Stadium. The win snapped Lumberton’s three-year losing streak to the Rams in the Backyard Brawl.

“I was glad we beat Purnell, that was definitely the best part of this year,” Sumner said.

Now, with the football season in the rear-view, Sumner, who said he has a rigorous course schedule, still has plenty to keep busy inside the halls of Lumberton High. Sumner is a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Science Olympiad Team and is a Teacher Cadet. On top of that, he was recently awarded the highest honor in Boy Scouts, Eagle Scout.

“Balancing everything out has been tough,” Sumner said. “But it’s going to help me a lot in college, balancing out my time and putting my priorities in place.”
Next fall, Sumner plans to major in pre-pharmacy at either Clemson University or Presbyterian College.

 

November 2012
Erica Tanner
West Bladen High School


DUBLIN — Erica Tanner has a clear set of values that she applies to everything she tackles: God, school, sports. And she has a family that fully supports those values.

Tanner, a senior at West Bladen High School, has applied those standards so well that she has been selected as The Mountaire Farms/Heartland Publications Scholar-Athlete of the Month for November. The monthly award is given to the top student-athlete from Bladen, Robeson and Scotland counties.

“Erica is one of the most determined athletes I have ever coached,” said West Bladen tennis coach Jeff Atkinson, who nominated Tanner for the award. “Erica is very committed to practice and is outworked by no one. She takes preparation seriously and understands this is a direct route to becoming a better player.”

During her senior tennis season, Tanner finished the regular season undefeated in singles with a 14-0 record, including 12-0 in the Waccamaw Conference. She also teamed with Lexi Storms as the Lady Knights’ No. 1 doubles team and took second place in the Waccamaw Conference Tournament before going 1-1 in the Class 2-A state tournament.

Tanner is also a key member of the West Bladen varsity softball team, and is one of the Lady Knights’ top pitchers.

“We’re blessed by Erica,” said her mother and father, Paula and Eric Tanner. “She has her priorities straight and works hard.”

That hard work isn’t saved for the athletic fields. Erica currently ranks No. 12 in her class of 167 students, and carries a 4.2135 grade point average.

“I’ve always been taught to give my best and work hard no matter what at everything I do,” Erica said. “And that’s what I try to do.”

Her course load hasn’t been filled with just the high-school minimums, either. She has been taking classes that include honors biology, honors English, honors geometry, honors algebra, honors pre-calculus, honors chemistry and advanced placement classes in biology, English, U.S. history and calculus.

Atkinson, who has coached Erica for the past three years, says she stands out in every way.

“She’s earned a reputation as a hard-working, trustworthy individual who strives to excel,” he said. “She understands the importance of team dynamics and team cohesion; she puts all her energy into action, not emotion.”

After graduation in June, Erica is planning to attend either Methodist or Peace College to pursue a degree in biology. While in college, she plans to play tennis competitively and, beyond college, she hopes to land a job as a physician’s assistant.

“I want to have a good balance between academics and athletics while in college, just like I have here (at West Bladen),” she said.

And though she has her sights set on becoming a physician’s assistant, Erica said she’s given a little thought to something else, as well.

“I might think about coaching,” she said. “But no matter what, I want to keep playing.”

October 2012
Kane Banner
St. Pauls High School



ST. PAULS — What defines an especially strong student-athlete is not lost on St. Pauls High School senior Kane Banner.

“You got to remember the first part — student,” Banner said Thursday on the St. Pauls football practice field.

The Bulldogs senior quarterback certainly hasn’t forgotten during his four years at St. Pauls High.

Touting a 4.7 weighted GPA, Banner is ranked No. 1 in his senior class and a member of numerous academic clubs, including the SGA, African American, Science and Math clubs.

“Our coaches always make sure that all of our grades are taken care of,” Banner said. “It’s really helpful that our coaches make us keep our grades up before we come on the field.”

He’s no slouch on that field, either.

As St. Pauls starter under center, Banner has amassed 26 total touchdowns — 17 passing and nine rushing — while helping lead the Bulldogs, who’ve racked up a county-best 470 points, to a 7-3 overall record and 2-2 Three Rivers Conference mark. Friday, Banner accounted for 332 yards and three touchdowns in St. Pauls’ 56-10 win at West Columbus.

Banner’s high marks on both ends of the student-athlete spectrum have earned him October’s Mountaire/Heartland Scholar Athlete of the Month Award.

The Mountaire/Heartland Scholar Athlete program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

“It helps a lot,” Banner said. “Right now, getting ready for college, everybody’s pushing me to get scholarships, so every little bit’s helping right now, and this ($1,000 scholarship) is going to help a tremendous amount.”

In the meantime, Banner, who along with football plays basketball in the winter and runs track in the spring, is looking to continue being a model student-athlete at St. Pauls.

“Kane is the definition of what a student-athlete should be,” said Travis Lemanski, who coaches JV football and varsity basketball and is a science teacher at St. Pauls. “He is extremely cerebral and a fierce competitor. He’s very mature, responsible and honest. His parents did a fine job raising him and molding him into the young man he is today.”

Banner, in fact, gives a lot of credit to his parents, Mike and Erica Setzer.

“My parents have always made sure my grades are always right or they won’t let me play (sports); they always push me,” Banner said. “It may be my last year ever playing football again. I don’t want to give it up without a fight. Every day, I’m giving everything I have.”

The Valedictorian-bound Banner is hoping that gusto will translate to an admission into an Ivy League school next fall. He plans to study pre-med in college.

“I want to be a cardiac surgeon when I grow up,” Banner said. “All of my teachers, my guidance counselors, my brothers, my sisters, my cousins, everybody is telling me to keep my head in school — that school is going to take me farther in life than anything else.”

 

Sept. 2012
Zach Leach
Red Springs High School


RED SPRINGS — Red Springs High School senior Zach Leach is all over the county football stat-leaderboard.

The Red Devils wideout ranks first in the county in catches (36) and touchdown receptions (9) and second — to teammate JuJu Brown — in receiving yards with 541.

Perhaps his most notable stat as a student-athlete, however, is his No. 9-rank in the Red Springs senior class with a 4.19 weighted GPA.

The Red Springs senior’s efficiency when hitting the field and the books earned him September’s Mountaire/Heartland Scholar Athlete of the Month award, kicking off the new and improved program that now awards each monthly winner a $1,000 college scholarship. Each monthly winner also becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 college funds that is awarded to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.

“It means everything to me,” Leach said in regards to being a successful student-athlete. Along with playing football, basketball and baseball, he is also a Junior Marshall and member of the school’s choir. “Basically, the key is not being lazy. Doing your work in school and putting in your work on the field.”

The Mountaire/Heartland Athlete of the Month program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

For George Coltharp, the second-year Red Springs football coach and athletic director, nominating Leach was a no-brainer.

“First and foremost, he’s just a great kid, his character is unimpeachable," Coltharp said.

Along with his best friend since middle school and teammate Zach Jones — “he’s helped me not procrastinate” — Leach accredited Coltharp for helping shape him into the standout receiver and student-athlete he’s become.

“He’s really helped me actually see the talent that I have,” Leach said. “I didn’t really start doing anything in high school football until my junior year, and that was the first year he came. He kind of gave me a chance to shine.”

It didn’t take long for Coltharp to see the potential.

“He’s a kid who’s just got extraordinary quickness,” Coltharp said. “He’s not a big kid — he’s maybe 5-6 … 150, 160 pounds — but has good leaping ability and works hard in the weight room.

“We think we highlight what he does well, we get the ball to him quickly in space and let him make moves and he does what he does.”

Leach has been doing loads of that this fall, opening the season with a six-catch, 123-yard, three-touchdown showing in Red Springs’ 67-27 rout of West Bladen. Most recently, Leach hauled in a 17-yard touchdown to help the Red Devils run away from rival St. Pauls in a Three Rivers Conference opener.

With performances like that, along with top-notch grades, Leach is considering an athletic career at the college-level, with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and East Carolina as his two schools of choice thus far.

“Really, I never thought I’d be in this position. It’s been kind of eye-opening,” said Leach. “I’m really trying to go to East Carolina. If I go there without a scholarship, I’m going to walk on to see if I can get a shot.” 

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