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Powell, Gaston named 2017 Achiever Award scholarship winners

Georgiana senior Ezekiel Powell received the surprise of his life Thursday night.  He was named one of two Achiever Award winners for 2017, a distinction bestowed among the best student-athletes Butler County has to offer.

Even after holding the physical award in his hands—with the promise of $3,000 in scholarship money to come–the moment didn’t feel real.

“It was a shock,” Powell said.

“With all of those different candidates, I really didn’t think I would get it.  I didn’t really have a speech, either; I gathered it on the way up there.”

The second winner, Fort Dale Academy’s Madison Ann Gaston, did in fact have a speech prepared in the event that she would win.  Though the prepared speech belied her surprise upon winning all the same.

“I came up with mine, just in case, earlier today,” Gaston said.

“It was still such a shock to receive it, because there are so many qualified nominees here tonight.”

Powell played varsity football for each of his four high school years, and he earned the highest GPA on the team each season.  He also played basketball and baseball during his freshman, sophomore and junior years.

His prowess on the gridiron earned him full scholarship offers from the University of South Alabama, Troy University, Jacksonville State University and Georgia State University.

He was also chosen as a member of the 1A 1st Team All State Football team.  He is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and is in the top ten of his graduating class.

Gaston was a four-sport athlete for the last three years, lettering in basketball, tennis, track and cheerleading.  She was selected as an AISA All-Star cheerleader and UCA All-American cheerleader, named to the AISA State All-Tournament basketball team and the AISA All-Star basketball team.  Her athletic honors also include being the No. 1 seed on the FDA tennis team, the No. 4 seed state runner-up, varsity cheer captain and the varsity basketball MVP, captain, and Coach’s Award winner.  She is Distinguished Young Woman for Butler County in 2017 and is Fort Dale’s valedictorian this year.

For Powell, being named one half of the 20th Achiever Award winners held much more value than a $3,000 scholarship.

“It means that I’m becoming a young man, and people can see that,” Powell said. “The people who have helped me have done a good job of allowing me to become a young man. It’s just a blessing.”

Gaston echoed those sentiments, offering thanks to those around her, both seen and unseen, who propelled her along the path.

“I think it’s a result of trusting in God,” Gaston said. “And I know that so many people have helped me get here today, and I know that it will help me accomplish a lot of things in college.”

Auburn University defensive coordinator Kevin Steele served as the event’s keynote speaker. The 38-year-old coaching veteran imparted several nuggets of wisdom to the Achiever Award nominees, with most of it stemming from discussions with his wife’s uncle, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly seven years.

Steele’s message was to “fly your plane,” and avoid the myriad distractions facing youth today.

“Distractions are everywhere,” Steele said.  “Whether they be jealous or envious people, or bad decision makers, eliminate the distractions in your life.  Negative people have a problem for every solution.

“And please don’t forget—don’t be selfish.  Yes, we want you to be happy and have peace.  But there is so much more joy in giving to and serving others than there will ever be in your own accomplishments.”

Upon taking to the podium in front of their 24 fellow peers and their families, both Powell and Gaston offered their heartfelt thanks to family members, coaches and friends, as well as the Achiever Award board members who helped make the evening possible.

“I’d like to thank God, because without him none of this would be possible,” Powell said.  “I would like to thank my parents and, like Coach Steele said, the others who have gotten me to this point.

“For everybody who really knows me, it took a lot of maturity to get to this point. I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t on me.”

“I’m so excited about attending Auburn University next year and starting on a path to become a biomedical engineer,” Gaston said.  “This scholarship will help with expenses of tuition, housing and books.  I’m so eager to see what the future holds for me, and what I can accomplish while representing this program.  I will be forever grateful, and I promise to fly my plane.”