E.A. Sports Today

Top of the class

Multi-sport Pleasant Valley standout Karmyn Sparks among three top winners of Bryant-Jordan Awards

Karmyn Sparks (55) played basketball, volleyball and softball at Pleasant Valley. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)


MONTGOMERY – Pleasant Valley’s Karmyn Sparks, Phil Campbell’s Ben Williams and Elmore County’s Hayden Holton were selected the overall state winners at the 35th annual Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Awards Program Monday. A total of 104 high school regional senior honorees were recognized and awarded more than $380,000 in scholarships.


Williams, a three-sport standout at Phil Campbell, was the recipient of the Larry D. Striplin, Jr., Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. And for the second year in a row and just the third time in Bryant-Jordan Program history, Sparks and Holton were named co-winners of the Ken and Betty Joy Blankenship Student Achievement Athlete of the Year Award.
Sparks, who played basketball, softball and volleyball for the Lady Raiders, earned All-County (9-12), All-Conference (10-12) and All-Area (10-12) as a defensive standout on the Raiders’ volleyball  team. She was named captain as a senior, earned the Stay After and Most Digs awards and was named Defensive Player of the Year. She also was active as a SGA ambassador, was a volunteer for the Live Like 14 Camp and Christmas drive and worked with the Palmer Home for Disadvantaged Children tutoring in its extended day program.
Struggling through her early years in an extremely dysfunctional and abusive home environment, she and her younger brother Jaden were eventually adopted and moved to Pleasant Valley where she blossomed into a strong leader. She tried out for sports and immediately showed an ability to lead and flourished in the team setting. She said basketball was her escape.

“Every day I am reminded of my struggle, but that is what motivates me to keep going,” said Sparks, who has a 3.60 grade-point average. “I was taken out of my situation to encourage others that there is hope for theirs. When it gets hard, you keep fighting.”
She’s headed to Jacksonville State where she’ll study nursing, specializing in pediatrics. She told ABC 33/40’s Jeff Speegle last week she is officially retired as a competitive athlete, but she still has goals. One is to encourage youth in situations like hers they don’t have to stay in that situation. 

“I have burned myself out,” she was quoted saying. “I’ve played though a ruptured appends, rolled ankles, my knees are about destroyed. JSU’s nursing program is tough, very tough. My goal is not to make below a B in any of my classes.”

The scholarship program, named in honor of the late coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama and Ralph “Shug” Jordan of Auburn, recognized 52 regional scholar-athlete winners selected for their excellence in athletics and academics and 52 achievement winners chosen for their ability to overcome major obstacles during their high school careers.
Each of the 104 regional winners received a $3,000 scholarship; the 14 Class Winners received an additional $3,500; and for each overall state winner, the additional stipend received was $4,000. In total, the 104 Bryant-Jordan Regional Winners collectively received $325,000 overall from the Bryant-Jordan Foundation.

In addition, several other individuals and organizations have also joined the Bryant-Jordan Program and presented additional scholarships as well. Since the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program’s inception, 3,220 senior student-athletes have received approximately $10.8 million in scholarships.
Williams became the first Class 3A scholar-athlete to receive the Larry D. Striplin, Jr., Scholar-Athlete of the Year award since Piedmont’s Chase Childers and Aliceville’s Harriet Washington won in back-to-back years in 2010 and 2011.

A multi-talented athlete, Williams will graduate No. 1 in his class of 80 with a 99.87 grade-point average on a 100 scale. He scored 35 on the ACT college entrance exam. 
He was named the Most Outstanding Student in his class each of the last four years. He finished first in the Franklin County math tournament in Algebra I and Geometry and was second in Algebra II/Trigonometry. He is the current SGA president, was vice president as a junior and served as class president all four years in high school. He is also the SADD Club and Junior Civitan Club president as well as president of the school’s rocket team and history club. Williams is also active in his church community.

“Ben is that kid who just does everything the right way,” Phil Campbell principal Darrit Riddle said. “He’s one of those – I can’t tell you the word – but if you ask him a question or tell him to do something, he really takes it in. Anybody who makes a 35 on the ACT, you can tell it’s someone who really observes things and thinks about things. He’s probably the smartest kid I’ve ever been around.”

Williams played three sports in high school – football, basketball and golf – but not without enduring some setbacks. As a freshman, he suffered a torn knee ligament. As a sophomore and a junior, he suffered a broken collarbone. He refused to allow the injuries to derail him.
“I guess it teaches you perseverance,” he said. “It’s also a humbling experience. You’re doing pretty good and supposed to be one of the better athletes and you get injured three times. It kind of puts that on hold and it’s humbling.”
Holton, an outstanding four-sport student-athlete who will graduate from Elmore Cwith a 3.06 grade-point average, played baseball through the 11th grade, soccer as a senior, and basketball and football all through high school. He served as captain of the basketball and football  teams as a senior – earning All-County and All-Region at tight end. 

On Sept. 11, 2016, he saw his life turn upside down when both parents were killed, and a family member was arrested soon after the incident. The charges were dropped two years later.

In the meantime, the freshman went to live with relatives in another county before returning to Eclectic in mid-year. Although he was ineligible to participate, he came to every practice, attended every game and supported his teammates any way he could. His coaches, teammates and their parents immediately became his extended family – helping him complete his high school years as normally as possible by showing him an abundance of love. He emerged as a leader on and off the field – displaying an amazing perseverance that inspired all who know him.

“I loved the family part of sports, most definitely,” Holton said. “That seriously helped the most. It’s always something to fall back on. If you break down, there’s always somebody there for you no matter what, and you’re there for them the same way. It’s one big family, a huge family.”

“They wrapped their arms around him and embraced him and helped him through this situation as much as you could,” Elmore County principal Wes Rogers said. “There’s no playbook or manual for something like this.”

2020 Overall Bryant-Jordan Winners
Larry Striplin Scholar-Athlete of the Year Recipient
Ben Williams, Phil Campbell High School

Ken and Betty Joy Blankenship Student-Achievement Award Recipient
Karmyn Sparks, Pleasant Valley High School
Hayden Holton, Elmore County High School

Class 1A: 
Alli Temple, Phillips High School
Class 2A: Derek Warren II, Samson High School
Class 3A: Ben Williams, Phil Campbell High School
Class 4A: Josiah Green, Cherokee County High School
Class 5A: Joseph Perrella, Beauregard High School
Class 6A: Isaac Stubbs, Wetumpka High School
Class 7A: Ashley Sinclair-Curtis, Enterprise High School

Class 1A: 
Leighanne Sanders, Elba High School
Class 2A: Journey Sutton, Hatton High School
Class 3A: Karmyn Sparks, Pleasant Valley High School
Class 4A: Hayden Holton, Elmore County High School
Class 5A: Kennedy Cobb, Hamilton High School
Class 6A: Haylee Hunter, Benjamin Russell High School
Class 7A: Cooper Tullo, Hoover High School
2020 Bryant-Jordan Special Scholarships
Herman L. “Bubba” Scott Coaching Scholarship
Aaron Salter, Oak Grove High School

Dr. Gaylon McCollough Medical Scholarships 
Lillie Yazdi, Daphne High School
Cage Cochran, Fyffe High School

Alabama “A” Club Educational & Charitable Foundation Scholarships
Jordan Tidwell, Brooks High School (Achievement category)
Fallon Haley, Muscle Shoals High School (Scholar-Athlete category)

Auburn Football Lettermen Club Scholarships: 
Jake Robinson, Smiths Station High School (Achievement category) 
Ashley-Sinclair Curtis, Enterprise High School (Scholar-Athlete category)

United Methodist Children’s Home Scholarships
Karmyn Sparks, Pleasant Valley High School
Juan Sheffield, Cullman High School

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