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All-County Academic Teams: 20 years

Banquet celebrates two decades, inducts 32 new members

Posted: April 23, 2015 5:25 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

C-I Web Extra: Camden High School (CHS) senior and 2015 All-County Academic Team member Zach Boykin reads from notes as he addresses those gathered for Monday’s 20th annual banquet. Zach is the only male member of the Team from CHS and recently learned he is one of only 1,000 students in the national to be named a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar. The scholarship will provide him a completely free education at any U.S. college or university of his choice.

Monday night marked the official 20th anniversary of the Upchurch & Jowers All-County Academic Team program. The insurance agency and Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) annual banquet, held in Bethesda Presbyterian Church’s Westminster Hall, looked back at those 20 years while inducting 32 members from the district’s three high schools.

The first banquet, held in 1996, was the result of Victor Jowers’ decision to honor academic excellence after seeing a Chronicle-Independent article the year before about the county’s all-star football team. Jowers’ wife, Sarah, started off the evening, welcoming guests and recounting how the insurance agency and district’s partnership began.

Out of more than 10,000 seniors who have graduated from district high schools during the past 20 years, she said, only 587 have been named to the All-County Academic Team. Team members are selected based, at least partially, on their grade point averages and SAT or ACT scores. Usually the top 10 students from each high school -- Camden, Lugoff-Elgin and North Central -- are selected; additional members are included due to ties and other factors.

Following Sarah Jowers’ comments, Dionne Hough, a member of the first All-County team from 1996, sang the national anthem. Hough graduated from North Central High School (NCHS) that year, going on to the University of South Carolina (USC), where she earned a B.A. in music composition. She received an divinity masters from Columbia International University and has worked with a local Baptist church, the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County and Columbia Workshop Theater, and collaborated on a YouTube music video filmed in Camden.

Former Kershaw County educator Rebecca Stokes, who became the Upchurch & Jowers’ “chief research analyst,” spoke to the program’s history after guests began eating. Her theme, “Where Are They Now?” touched on the whereabouts and activities of Team members from the All-County’s first decade.

“It was exciting, frustrating, stimulating and interesting journey,” Stokes said of reaching out to the former Team members. “Of the 290 students from these teams, I was able to locate likely over 50 percent.”

She said she discovered several families sent multiple siblings to the All-County Academic Team.

“Thirty-two of these students are still living in Kershaw County. Fifty-nine still reside in South Carolina. The rest live and work in 18 other states and abroad, including Germany, Great Britain, South Korea, Taiwan and Haiti. Interestingly, the majority of them are in the healthcare industry -- doctors, nurses, dentists or administrators,” Stokes said.

The next most frequently cited careers, in order, were education, finance and law.

“I found two ministers, four college professors, seven engineers, two social workers and one band director,” she said. “Some of these former students have written books, or have written for magazines and newspapers. Some work in state or federal government. Some in retail. Some are stay-at-home moms. And a few went into the military.”

Stokes went on to talk about two former students and their travels abroad due to their careers; how another student was an event planner for NASCAR before becoming a teacher; and how a fourth student is a corporate lawyer and lives on a sailboat on Lake Murray.

Stokes said the most satisfying information she found in her research was how much being named to the All-County Academic Team meant to these former students.

“Several say they have listed it on their resumes,” she said.

One of the questions Stokes posed to former members of the first 10 years’ worth of teams was whether they had any “words of wisdom” for Monday night’s inductees. Many were printed on the program Monday evening. Stokes shared two additional thoughts which were not included.

The first were from Lori Pindar, a 2005 Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) graduate and Team member. Pindar has a B.A. degree in communication studies from Clemson University, a M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Clemson.

“Get involved, take chances and look for opportunities to expand and challenge your world views,” Stokes read from Pindars’ comments. “The world is exiting, challenging and full of people who really should know you. Take time to cultivate your strengths and explore your passions -- you never know where they may lead you. And, finally, always greet people with a smile and treat everyone with the courtesy you would expect of others -- a smile will open doors and a kind word will help you walk through them.”

The second set of words of wisdom Stokes read from are by Chanda Cooper, a 2003 CHS graduate and Team member, graduate of USC’s Honors College in biology and marine science, who holds a masters of earth and environment from USC:

“Responsibly pursue your enthusiasms. Action is powerful. Create something, go somewhere, love somebody. Doing nothing gets you nowhere. Respect the wisdom and good intentions of everyone who tries to give you advice, but at the point of decision, remember it’s always your life and your choice. Don’t mistrust your instincts. Remember the earth; the lands, waters and skies that sustain you. Recycle. Don’t pollute. Take only as much as you need. Give back. Walk softly through a forest at sunrise, and pause to appreciate the world with all its beauty and mystery. Pray. Worship. Hope. Hold fast. Mourn, celebrate, cry out, rejoice. Do not neglect your spirit.”

The program continued with KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan, who said he never tires of hearing how the All-County Academic Team got started. Morgan also said the banquet is as much about the students’ families as the students themselves.

“This evening is certainly an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of young people; that’s first and foremost tonight. But just as importantly, I think, it’s an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the families,” he said. “Families are so much a part of what these students have accomplished. Families, obviously, provide a lot of material support and make sacrifices -- sometimes very large ones in doing so. And families do this quietly, without much fanfare.”

Morgan said it was only many years after he went through school that he became aware of his own parents’ sacrifices for him and his siblings.

“More importantly, I believe, families provide emotional support and expectations, and I think the expectations are really important. Families love unconditionally, even maybe, when, from time to time, you aren’t very lovable. I know that doesn’t happen often. Families celebrate when things go well and help pick up the pieces when something go well or there’s a disappointment.

“And families hold young people accountable, and sometimes have to take the hard stand. Believe it or not, young people, your parents don’t enjoy having to ground you, pull the car keys or take your cell phone to get your attention, which is probably, sometimes, but not often, necessary,” Morgan said.

He urged students at the banquet Monday night to, before graduation or soon afterward, look their families in the eye and thank them for what they have done and what they will do for them.

“Because no matter who you are, where you go and what you accomplish, your family is always there for you,” he said.

Finally, it was time for L-EHS Principal Worth Thomasson, NCHS Principal David Branham and CHS Asst. Principal Lesley Corner -- filling in for Principal Dan Matthews who was in Washington, D.C., Monday -- to introduce the members of the 2015 All-County Academic Team.

Pointing out he is in first year as L-EHS’ principal, Thomasson said he has only gotten to know the 11 students from his school on the academic team in the last nine months. When he has gotten to meet with them, he said it has been a “welcoming experience” and that they inspire him as their principal.

“As you can imagine, they are not frequent flyers to the principal’s office,” Thomasson said, bringing a small round of laughter from the audience. “They are all bright, intelligent and hard-working, and … they are the ones who make realize that what we do as educators really matters.”

Branham, himself in his first year as NCHS principal, thanked Upchurch & Jowers and said it was a special night for students, parents, educators and administrators. He said parents have given their children a “gentle push” from time to time, playing a large part in their success. Branham congratulated the NCHS Team members, telling them their hard work and dedication and paid off, even when they turned down popular choices to devote time to their studies.

“I commend you for this and know that it will pay big dividends,” Branham said, and cited a Bible passage concerning wisdom. “These students tonight have pursued wisdom, and I am confident they will reap the benefits.”

Corner humorously explained how she wasn’t really ready to fill in for Matthews in introducing the CHS members of the 2015 Team. She said she thought all she’d have to do was call out their names -- something Corner said she does at graduation -- but then, when she arrived, people began asking her if her speech was ready.

“(This weekend,) I took some young ladies to see ‘Cinderella.’ She had some good advice: have courage, and be kind,” she said. “Another thing at Camden we like to say is in addition to working hard, we like to have fun.”

On that note, Corner announced she would be providing “fun facts” about each student as they came up to accept their All-County accolades. Examples included how one student loves to put ranch dressing on everything she eats, how another got her father arrested at Disneyland (when she were 4) and how yet another wore her sisters’ clothes to elementary school just to annoy them (she also was once bit by a monkey).

The program concluded with two presentations and a speech. Upchurch & Jowers’ Kathy Cemprola presented Morgan with this year’s official All-County team plaque, including the names of all 32 recipients. Morgan then presented some gifts to Victor Jowers; Joe Upchurch, Jowers’ retired partner; and Jack Horejsi, of Main Street America Group, for their support of academics in Kershaw County. Finally, Upchurch & Jowers’ Kelli Bowers spoke on attitude and gratitude, urging students to have an attitude of gratitude throughout their lives.

The 2015 All-County Academic Team members are:

Lugoff-Elgin High School -- Blaine Cameron Burris, Cayla Christine Curtis, Lakayla Renae Dixon, Aayahna Monae Herbert, Cameron Levar Johnson, Jeames Gilliam Logan, Jessica Nicole Lumpkin, Daniel Jordan McAvoy, Zane Kamal Nayfeh, Hanna Michelle Ranson and Evelyn McRae Watson.

North Central High School -- Caitlin Alyssa Clark, Katherine Annalise Crosby, Kimberly Lynn Elliott, Nico Brannon Gunn, Lauren Alexandra Humphrey, Erin Lean Humprhies, Courtney Noelle Johnson, William Richard Mathis, Madeline Grace Pate, Rachel Briann Robinson and Tyler Bryan Steele.

Camden High School -- Elizabeth Clarke Allen, James Zachary Boykin, Maddison Regan Flowers, Taylor Noel Freeman, Montana Nicole Hicks, Francesca Laschanzky, Ann Miller Pennebaker, Savannah Marie Poe, Kelsey Selena Williams and Morgan Hannah Wilson.

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