Head of the class

By Staff
Kim West, Franklin County Times
What does supermodel Cindy Crawford, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench and parody singer Weird Al Yankovic share with some Franklin County student-athletes?
Crawford, Bench and Yankovic are celebrities, along with Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster, Comedy Central host Ben Stein, U.S. Senator Robert Byrd and country singer Emmylou Harris. All of the above are not only famous – they finished at the top their class in high school or college.
Joining their famous company are four high school students who balanced academics and athletics on their way to earning class valedictorian this spring – Phil Campbell's Chase Hutcheson, Red Bay's Tamara Burleson, Vina's LaShe'McGee and Belgreen's Mary Billingham.
Hutcheson played basketball, football and golf for the Bobcats. He was named to the TimesDaily and Franklin County Times all-area basketball teams and earned the basketball team's scholar-athlete award. He will attend the University of North Alabama on a valedictorian scholarship.
Burleson was the cheerleading captain for the Tigers and also played tennis. Burleson, named the school's scholar-athlete of the year, earned scholarships from the the non-profit There's A Way corporation and Alabama Contract Poultry Growers. She will attend the University of Alabama in Birmingham on a Green and Gold scholarship to major in chemistry for a career in pediatric medicine.
"It's just important to set aside time to study and be organized," said Burleson, who was involved in several clubs at Red Bay. "Academics has always been a priority over sports and activities because I know that's going to get me somewhere in life."
McGee played softball and ran track for the Red Devils, and was named to the all-tournament team and awarded most valuable player in softball. She also won a There's A Way scholarship and will attend UNA on a valedictorian scholarship.
Billingham played softball and basketball and ran track and cross-country for the Bulldogs. Billingham won the region and division scholarships as the Class 1A Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the Robert C. Byrd Scholarship and a There's A Way scholarship. She will attend UNA on an academic scholarship and double major in social work and psychology with a minor in education and plans to become a guidance counselor.
"I've always enjoyed school," said Billingham, whose two older sisters Rachel and Sarah were also valedictorians at Belgreen. "Playing sports doesn't really make it harder, although it is a challenge to make sure all the homework is done because of practices and games."
Student-athletes also swept salutatorian honors at the area's five high schools, including Russellville's Jordan Dollar, Belgreen's Holly Nichols, Vina's Jill Abbott, Red Bay's Jeremy Johnson and Phil Campbell's Shelly Cooper.
Dollar was awarded the Mullins Sportsmanship Example Scholarship, Northwest Shoals Community College academic scholarship and UNA salutatorian scholarship.
Nichols played basketball for the Bulldogs and won a There's A Way scholarship. She will attend Northwest-Shoals on a salutatorian scholarship.
Abbott played softball for the Red Devils and will attend UNA on a salutatorian scholarship.
Johnson played football and tennis for the Tigers. He won a scholarship from the Franklin County Cattleman's Association and will attend UAB.
Cooper was the softball and basketball co-captain for the Bobcats. She was named to the Franklin County Times all-area and the Northwest Alabama tournament teams in basketball, and was named the team's scholastic award winner. She also won the softball team's biggest play of the year award.
Cooper ran track and was named the team's best in field events winner. She won the state championship in the javelin throw in 2006 and 2007.
Cooper was named a There's A Way recepient and will attend Northwest-Shoals on a saluatorian scholarship.

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