The spring semester of 2020 will be one area high school seniors never forget.
The life they were used to living came to an end because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools closed in March. Social distancing and other guidelines meant that the Class of 2020 would not have a spring sports season, prom or traditional graduation ceremony.
Amid all the abnormality and cancellations, The Richmond Times-Dispatch/Sports Backers Scholar-Athlete of the Year joint venture has pressed on, thanks to online nomination forms, Zoom, and willingness by activities directors, guidance counselors, student-athletes and parents to work from home and make it happen.
One boy and one girl from the 20 finalists (10 boys and 10 girls) will follow in the footsteps of Corvell Poag of Armstrong and Molly Grube of Manchester, last year’s winners of the program’s top scholarships.
Chris Barfield Jr., L.C. Bird
Matthew Birken, Deep Run
Erik Engelke, Steward
Darius Gray, John Marshall
Malcolm Greene, Highland Springs
Simeone Holmes, Cosby
Luke Lamberson, James River
Gabriel Slate, Benedictine
Connor Speidell, Douglas Freeman
Walker Wallace, St. Christopher’s
Jailah Channer, St. Catherine’s
Rachel Crytser, Hanover
Emma Grace Ficara, Clover Hill
Samantha Finnegan, Maggie Walker
Bailey Hairfield, Cosby
Mary Caroline Heinen, Maggie Walker
Courtney Isley, J.R. Tucker
Megan Mann, Lee-Davis
Willa Shannon, St. Catherine’s
Sydney Whiting, Trinity Episcopal
The finalists were chosen during a Zoom meeting by a 10-member panel representing The Times-Dispatch and Sports Backers. The 20 were selected from a pool of 91 seniors who were nominated by their school or were Scholar-Athlete of the Month winners.
The annual Scholar-Athlete of the Year banquet and awards ceremony at The Jefferson Hotel has been modified. Instead, tune in to Richmond.com at 7 p.m. on June 1, when the finalists will be recognized during a special video presentation.
Scholarships this year total $58,500. The boys and girls overall winners receive $5,750 scholarships. The runners-up receive $3,500 scholarships and the other 16 finalists receive $2,500 each. Since the T-D/Sports Backers partnership began 29 years ago, 580 scholar-athletes have received $1,236,500 in scholarship money.
Last year, Poag became the first Scholar-Athlete of the Year from a Richmond Public School since Sean Archer from Thomas Jefferson was selected in 1993. Darius Gray, the valedictorian at Franklin Military Academy who runs track at John Marshall, is in the running this year.
The Sports Backers will present two need-based scholarships ($2,500 each) for the third year. Eric Thomas-Talley of John Marshall will receive the Raymond D. Patterson Memorial Scholarship. Lyndsay Corrigan of Colonial Heights will receive the Cheryl L. Oliver Memorial Scholarship.
Each high school in the T-D’s primary circulation area was given the opportunity to nominate one senior girl and one senior boy for the award.
The Scholar-Athlete of the Month program was halted when schools were closed in March. Only one of the monthly winners from September to February, swimmer Sydney Whiting of Trinity Episcopal, was the school’s year-end nominee.
Three finalists, Simeone Holmes from Cosby, Mary Caroline Heinen of Maggie Walker and Willa Shannon of St. Catherine’s, were Scholar-Athlete of the Month winners and not year-end nominees.
Three schools have two finalists: St. Catherine’s, Maggie Walker (two females) and Cosby (a male and female). Walker Wallace of St. Christopher’s is a co-valedictorian. Wallace’s brother, Fleet, was a runner-up four years ago. Holmes (wrestling), Heinen (cross country and track) and Jailah Channer (track and volleyball) of St. Catherine’s were named All-Metro athletes of the year.
The finalists’ sports are far ranging: football, cross country and track, wrestling, swimming, lacrosse, gymnastics and tennis.
The school nominees for Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be featured in a two-page presentation in The Times-Dispatch on Sunday, May 31.
Also during the June 1 program, Williams Mullen will present the second Community Impact Award.