John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Second student award means more recognition

A new venue to recognize outstanding students at local schools opened this school year when the Batesville Exchange Club began its “Student of the Month” recognition.

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That’s in addition to the Student of the Month recognition that the Batesville Rotary Club has sponsored for years. The programs are similar in that school officials are asked to choose a student whose overall school and community activities warrant recognition. The selected students visit the club’s meeting on the designated day, get introduced and then tell something about themselves. They also get a certificate and the right to add a line to young but ever-expanding resumés.

Sometimes students overlap as they did most recently at a meeting of the Batesville Rotary Club. David Conner and David Renfroe attended as South Panola’s selections for October and November, respectively. Emily Ridge was the November selection from North Delta.

The following day, Ridge was again honored as the November Student of the Month from her school, this time by the Batesville Exchange Club. Renfroe had also been honored previously by the Exchange Club as had Clayton Cole and Taylor Herron, both of whom were also honored by Rotary.

That the Tuesday, Nov. 18 Rotary recognition included two months’ worth of outstanding students from South Panola, bringing the two Davids there together at the same time was only appropriate. After all, they’ve spent so much time together on the practice field, in the field house and under the lights that the bond now established between them is perceptible even to the casual observer.

The Davids had also been summoned together recently to Jackson where they were honored, along with teammate Marvin Burdette — as the Jackson Touchdown Club’s Players of the Week.

And Emily Ridge — so petite, young and beautiful — provided a perfect counterpoint to the two Goliaths of the gridiron.

In speaking about themselves at Rotary and Exchange presentations, students tell about club memberships, community involvement, extracurricular and academic activities. They have usually pushed the envelope of  possible activity, leaving some listeners trying to recall what they themselves had been doing at age 17 or 18.

David Renfroe holds up well to the scrutiny of the public spotlight focused on him in his position as South Panola’s quarterback. The son of Kim and Laddie Renfroe, the South Panola senior has already signed with Ole Miss to play baseball under scholarship.

Last summer, Renfroe was selected for the UnderArmour All-American Game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field where he struck out five and hit the game’s only home run.

And, “I got to pitch on the same mound as my dad,” he said, alluding to Laddie Renfroe’s stint with the Cubs that stopped with a career-ending injury.

Renfroe’s academic prowess is attested by his membership in the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. He’s active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, serves as a PEER Counselor and is a member of Junior Civitan.

Renfroe enjoys fellowship at the Batesville First United Methodist Church’s Monday Night Youth Fellowship and the Youth Fellowship at Batesville Presbyterian Church where he is a member and where his grandfather and biggest fan, David Snellgrove, is former pastor.

The versatile athlete’s post-high school plans include earning his bachelor and master’s degrees in exercise science and sports management with intentions of establishing a multi-purpose sports management facility concentrating on baseball.

But Renfroe’s ultimate ambition:  “Play professional baseball like my dad,” he said.

Ridge’s ambition is to become an optometrist, she said.

The route she has chosen to take her there is through Delta State University’s pre-optometry program that she hopes will be facilitated via an art scholarship, she said. Ridge plans to minor in art and is currently preparing her portfolio for scholarship consideration.

The North Delta senior has excelled in academics and participated in diverse activities, according to her lengthy resumé. She’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Government Association and the Service Over Self organizations in her school. She has also gained three hours of college credit in both Algebra and English through advanced placement programs offered at North Delta, she said.

The daughter of Bill and Robin Ridge, Emily is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. She has been a representative in Academic Betterment Competition since the seventh grade. She’s a cheerleader and member of the Batesville Sub-Deb Cotillion where she serves as senior representative. She been a member of the homecoming court, the math and science team and has participated in Physics Camp at Ole Miss and a TVEPA leadership conference in Washington, DC.

But it was David Conner who veered from the message.

Though SP Counselor Martha Lynn Woodruff would later provide Conner’s responses to a resumé-like Rotary questionnaire that was as lengthy and distinguished as his co-honorees, on facing the audience of club members and guests, Conner prefaced his remarks by stating through a fill-the-room smile: “This is a first-time for me.”

Conner then launched into extemporaneous remarks about his love for football spawned by his family’s long history on South Panola teams and about a pellet gun accident that threatened the vision of one eye, triggering even at age six his biggest fear – that he would never be able to add to the Conner gridiron legacy.

The South Panola middle linebacker spoke also about his love for his parents, Mary Ann Conner and David Conner.

Then, as he neared the end of his sixteenth year, Conner said, “God blessed me with a job at Piggly Wiggly. On his 17th birthday — the minimum age eligible for employment at the local grocer’s — Piggly Wiggly Manager Mark Cole called, Conner said.

“I was still in bed and he called me,” the teenage athlete said of a birthday morning wake-up call. He started work that day, he added, praising the store manager for having given him the opportunity.

Last summer, “God was still blessing me,” Conner continued, when he was named evening stock manager. Conner mentioned that promotion with equal emphasis as another blessing last summer: his selection to for the Clarion-Ledger’s storied “Dandy Dozen.”

“God was still blessing me,” Conner said.

Conner is active in his church choir and in car washes through which his church youth group raises funds. He’s a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Senior Select and the SP Science Club. Conner was one of three SP students who represented the school in the launch of the Mississippi Department of Education’s “On the Bus” dropout prevention program.

Add to Conner’s many athletic honors his selection, along with teammates Burdette and Don Blevins, to play in the Mississippi /Alabama game Dec. 13 in Mobile.

Conner also volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club. Mentoring younger children in some capacity is a common bond with Conner, Renfroe and Ridge, and with every other student selected thus far for recognition by either club this year.

Conner has not in common with Renfroe his post-secondary choice. Conner said that he plans to play for Auburn University, “but David’s been working on me about Ole Miss,” he added about his teammate.