Shining on education

Starlight Awards honors six in gala evening

Hours before the red carpet unrolled in Hollywood, Maryville City Schools Foundation unfurled a red carpet of their own at a gala, black-tie event honoring six individuals for their support to the Maryville school system.

The sixth annual Starlight Awards was held Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Capitol Theatre. With red-carpet host Brian Tuggle, microphone in hand, interviewing arriving patrons, guests walked the red carpet into the theater to begin the dinner, awards presentation and dance.

Six were honored as the brightest stars and received the six Starlight Awards. Honored for their achievements and excellence were: Carly Pearson Waugh, Randy Burleson, Sherrod Blankner, Ted “Gunner” Ousley, Don Story and the late Jim Campbell.

Stephanie Thompson, director of Maryville City Schools, thanked everyone as evening began, saying that the support of the Maryville City Schools Foundation is invaluable, helping pay for projects that reach beyond the school budget.

Foundation executive director Barbara Jenkins further explained the goal of the foundation. “Our work is to provide education opportunities that are above what is available through public funding,” she said.

Master of Ceremonies Todd White, president of the Maryville City Schools Foundation, said the ceremony was to honor those individuals who are amazing and inspiring. “Acknowledging people who make no little plans is what this is about,” he said, referring to a quote by Daniel Burnham.

The Outstanding Young Alumni award went to former forest fire fighter Carly Pearson Waugh. Waugh was injured and left paralyzed while fighting a blaze in Oregon. The former standout athlete, now a wife and mother, has become an inspirational speaker.

Waugh said she was appreciative of the lessons she learned in high school. “I wouldn’t have been able to make it without the lessons I learned in high school,” she said.

She also thanked friends for their support.

Aubrey’s restaurant owner Randy Burleson was presented the Community Partnership Award.

Burleson was gracious in accepting the award. “This is about a lot of people, and they’re back in the back,” he said of his employees who were working catering the event. “You don’t know how much these people mean to me.”

The restaurateur said the award is very special for his company. “Maryville means more to us than any other community we’re in,” he said. “Education makes your life better. That’s why it’s so important to give back.”

Sherrod Blankner, Maryville High class of 1986 grad who graduated from Yale and became an artist in California, took home one of the two Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Blankner, whose forte in school was writing, said that her education taught her something that isn’t found in books she -- how to be brave. “The American spirit of ‘I can just try that,’ really exists,” she said. Blankner thanked the educators who helped her. “I feel lucky to have had this fantastic free education.

Ted “Gunner” Ousley, a member of the Maryville High School class of 1976, was recognized for his work as an on-air radio personality with the country music station WIVK radio and won the second Distinguished Alumni Award. He also was praised for his work with military personnel in Iraq and for his efforts helping an Iraqi girl suffering from spina bifida.

“He has a passion for helping those in need,” White said.

Ousley recounted his school days and thanked Dr. Penny Ferguson for how she helped him realize his career path during a play. “I didn’t know if you could make a living out of talking, but she got me through it,” he said

Ousley said Maryville High School offers students something special and recognized the school’s supporters. “We have something very, very special here, and it’s thanks to you,” he said.

To further show his support, Ousley donated the Legends guitar, which was autographed by 20 country music stars, to the foundation to auction. The guitar brought in a $3,400 donation for the foundation.

The Distinguished Service Award went to the late coach Jim Campbell who served as athletic director. Campbell always worked to make Christ’s love evident in his playful ways, White said.

Campbell’s widow, Janice Campbell, brought laughter when she joked about her husband’s penchant for talking. “It’s probably the first time I’ve gotten the chance to speak,” she said.

Janice Campbell said her husband would have been humbled by the award. “The people in this community were his family,” she said. “I might have been married to him, but he didn’t belong to me. He wasn’t a Campbell, he was a Maryvillian.”

Retired coach Don Story was honored for his service as a teacher and coach and for his generosity in making financial donations to help the entire school system with the Family Partnership Award.

“He talks the talk and walks the walk,” White said.

Story thanked the audience for the award. “I’m deeply grateful for this award,” he said.

Following the dinner and awards, the curtain rose at the Capitol and Smooth Groove lit up the rest of the evening. Guests, award winners, dignitaries and servers all hit the dance floor to cap off the gala night with a grand party.

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