• 52°

McKenzie senior claims statewide scholarship award

McKenzie senior Olivia Nelson prepared for an ordinary day of school Tuesday after an extraordinary Monday evening.

On Tuesday she was still jittery, and with good reason.  The night before, she was named the recipient of the Class 1A Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Achievement Award for the state.

Combined with an earlier recognition as the regional Bryant-Jordan winner, Nelson earned approximately $5,500 in scholarships.

The feat also earns Nelson distinction as the first Butler County student to win the statewide award in recent memory.

The award, sponsored by the Alabama High School Athletic Association and named in honor of the late coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Ralph “Shug” Jordan, recognizes student-athletes for their excellence in the arenas of athletics as well as academics, as well as their capacity for overcoming major obstacles in the course of their high school careers.

Nelson was one of the former.  Though the award celebrates well-rounded students, Nelson is no stranger to juggling responsibilities.

“Since I’ve been younger, I’ve always taken care of my siblings, so I’ve always had more on my plate than most of the kids in my school,” she said.

In addition to a 13-year-old brother and an 11-year-old sister, she also takes care of a pair of cousins, an eight-year-old and a three-year-old.

She did so while participating in softball from grades 9-11 and basketball in her freshman and sophomore year.  She was also a majorette in her junior year and a cheerleader during her senior year.

Though she added that she had a great deal of help along the way.

“I always kind of leaned on the teachers for their help, and my cheer coach, Ms. Christin Smith, has been the best help this year,” she added. “She helped me fill out the scholarship application for the Bryant-Jordan.  And Ms. Haden Horton helps me a lot, too. The teachers were a lot of help this year.”

Nelson found herself in elite company at Monday evening’s banquet honoring the state’s top student-athletes, which makes the achievement that much more special. 

“There were kids there who had amazing stories that I could never even imagine, and for me to beat them out… I was completely shocked,” Nelson said. “I don’t even know what my face looked like.

“And when I got up there, I didn’t even know what to say because I was shaking.  It was totally unexpected.”

The significance of her rare accomplishment with relation to the history of Butler County nominees was similarly not lost on her.

“I’m in awe that I’m the one person from Butler County, because there are people who go to it from Butler County every year or every two years,” she said. [McKenzie alumnus] Ashley Ballard went one year, and she was crazy-smart, so I’m in awe that I’ve done something that they haven’t done.