Williams a leader on diamond, in classroom

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Class valedictorian will major in biomedical engineering

By Marie McMullan

South Panola High School senior Aidan Williams has mastered the balancing act of reaching his academic and athletic goals. 

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A spot on the baseball team awaits him at Itawamba Community College, where he hopes to continue pitching and playing third base. Though Williams was first offered a substantial athletic scholarship, it was his high ACT score that paved the way for better financial aid at the junior college. 

Williams earned a 31 ACT on the March 2022 exam, five points away from a perfect score. A junior at the time, he beat out 95 percent of other ACT test-takers across the country, per data ranking high school graduates from 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

His superscore – the average of his best individual subject scores from different times he has taken the test – is a 33. 

Williams had hit a homerun in terms of standardized testing and ended up being offered more financial aid for his brain than his baseball skills. 

“Itawamba [Community College] offered me a scholarship to play baseball, but I ended up taking an academic scholarship instead because it paid for more of my college,” he said. 

The average ACT score in Northeast Mississippi falls well below Williams’. South Panola High School juniors who attend the same school as Williams averaged a 16.4 ACT in 2022. North Panola High School juniors had an average score of 14.3 in 2022. 

Lafayette County School District reported its juniors averaged a 19.8 in 2022, the sixth highest average in the state. Oxford High School ranked fourth in the state for its average of 19.3. 

The ACT is a standardized test used by many colleges and universities for admissions requirements. Multiple choice questions measure students’ abilities in English, reading, math and science. Students earn a score on each section that is then averaged into a composite score. 

More than half of test-takers across the country earn a composite score below 20. 

For SPHS baseball coach and math teacher Hunter Mize, academics and athletics are intertwined. “We want to be the example on the field and the example off the field in the school building,” said Mize. 

“When [students] are falling short, we will get them as much tutoring as we need to,” he said. 

Math is a major hurdle for some students, Mize said. After a long afternoon of practice, the coach will stay a bit longer for impromptu math lessons. 

“A lot of kids struggle in math. I don’t mind staying after practice and helping them,” said Mize. 

When it comes to Mize’s third baseman and pitcher, the coach said that he has never had to worry about motivating him in practice or in the classroom. “[Williams] is the example.” 

Though North Mississippi’s average ACT scores fall below the national average, Williams credits his teachers and parents for his above-average score. Importantly, Williams notes that he had many opportunities to take the test and improve. 

“My mom pushed me to take it as many times to practice and to get a higher score,” he said. Williams first took the ACT in seventh grade through a junior high school program. “Normally you’d have to wait until ninth grade,” he said. 

Though Mississippi is one of 15 states that administers the ACT to juniors at no cost, taking the test multiple times can become expensive due to fees. However, individuals can apply for the ACT Fee Waiver Program for free prep resources, score reports and fully-covered registration fees. 

With most of his required classes out of the way, Williams’ routine is now a steady mix of class, doing the mail route for the school and baseball practice. He recently learned he was selected as his graduating class’s valedictorian. 

Williams wants to major in biomedical engineering. He said his plan is to go to Mississippi State after his two years at Itawamba, but he would be open to going elsewhere if he had more chances to continue playing ball. 

“It all kinda depends on if I go somewhere to play baseball or not.” 

His days of hitting the books and swinging his bat are far from over. 

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can because it’s one of the things I enjoy most,” said Williams. “It’s where I feel most at home: when I’m playing baseball.”