Do the unexpected and always be prepared to improve.
That was the message former Heritage High School All-American and Lady Vol Cait McMahan gave to students being honored at the Annual Turnaround Achievement Awards.
When a knee injury ended her basketball career, McMahan embraced music and now she’s charting a course that could lead her to success on the airwaves. It all started with the right attitude, she said, while sharing her message during the awards breakfast at the Capitol Theater Thursday morning, April 28.
McMahan said the students being honored all four area high schools and six middle schools made choices to change their lives in the face of difficult circumstances. “You kept fighting, and that’s why you’re here today,” she said.
McMahan shared how after her mother, Teresa McMahan, died during McMahan’s sophomore year at UT and a knee injury her junior year ended her basketball career, she was discouraged. “I felt like my world was crashing down,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I was dying.”
At that point in her life, McMahan said, she realized what mattered most. “What matters is how you treat people and how you represent yourself,” she said. “You would not be here today if you hadn’t decided to change. You fought hard, but here’s the catch, it doesn’t stop now. Always, always work to better yourself.”
McMahan said she decided to refocus her energies from basketball to music. “Now, I’m a Hip-Hop artist. People said, ‘You’re white and from Tennessee,’ but there were 400,000 hits on my video, and I didn’t curse, and I mentioned God three times.”
Her message of not giving up was supplemented with advice to not let others determine your future. “Do not be ordinary. Be what others don’t expect you to be. Do what they dare you not to do,” she said. “Always be available to better yourself.”
Bob Kesling, the “Voice of the Vols” who does play-by-play announcing on the Vol Network during UT football games, encouraged the students to continue to surround themselves with positive influences. “You’re successful when you’re on a good team,” he said. “You’ve put yourselves on a good team.”
Chelsey Shirk represented Maryville High School and was introduced by assistant principal Joseph Pinkerton. “During her sophomore year Chelsey encountered setbacks but they only helped her to become independent, stronger and resilient,” Pinkerton said. “Chelsey has displayed fortitude and a positive, optimistic attitude. She’ll tell you there’s nothing she can’t do.”
C.J. Neal represented Alcoa High School and was introduced by teacher Robin Hitson who said C.J. had truancy problems and didn’t do well academically. During this sophomore and juniors years of high school, he started becoming more responsible for completing assignments. “C.J.’s family stepped up for him. Now C.J. is eager to learn and has the focus to complete whatever he sets out to do,” Hitson said.
“I’d like to thank my mom and my Uncle Randy and, most importantly, God for taking me from where I’ve gone to where I am going,” C.J. said.
Shane Hall represented Alcoa Middle School and was introduced by John Campbell. Shane’s dad, Tommy Hall, spoke and said that at one point, Shane lacked focus in school. “He was doing just below average. When he was in fourth grade, I remarried, and he didn’t know where he belonged. He got involved with church, found the Lord, turned everything around and his school work improved,” he said. “I could not be more proud.”
Shane said, “I’d like to say ‘Thank you’ to my dad and teachers. Without them I would not be here.”
Crystal Carter represented Carpenters Middle School and was introduced by principal Mike Crabtree, who said that a year ago, Crystal came to school while enduring personal hardships at home, and it showed in class. “She came to us uprooted from anything she knew. I think it is fair to say that through the trauma and hardship, she was an angry young lady,” he said.
When Crystal started school this year, Crabtree said teachers noticed Crystal’s behavior was different. “She turned herself around and her grades improved,” he said. “Crystal has found herself, and she’s an outstanding artist.”
Schuyler Bolinger represented Eagleton Middle School and was introduced by teacher Jon Young, who said Schuyler turned his grades around from “Fs” in sixth and seventh grade to “Bs” in eighth and was able to join the football team. “Eagleton Middle School is proud to have chosen Schuyler Bolinger as our 2011 Turn Around award winner.”
Haley May represented Heritage High School. Although Haley was unable to attend the breakfast, principal Earl McMahan praised her for turning around her behavior and grades. “She was a cyclone with a lot of behavioral, attendance and anger issues,” he said. McMahan said Haley changed her behavior. “Her grades have gone from ‘Fs’ to now she’s respected in school by her classmates and gets ‘As’ and ‘Bs,’” McMahan said. “She is definitely a worthy recipient.”
The principal also took time to thank attorneys Joe Costner and Steve Greene for sponsoring the awards, and he praised his daughter Cait McMahan for her words. “I’m proud of you,” he said to his daughter.
Seth Hatcher represented by Heritage Middle School and was introduced by Patsy Russell, who said Seth dealt with difficult situations in his personal life but turned around his behavior and grades. “Seth, with his quiet determination, will be a success in life,” she said.
Maclain Sudman represented Maryville Middle School and was introduced by counselor Kim Taylor who said Maclain was not a significant behavior problem. “He just didn’t want to be there. Then he came into my office, and said he could do more than this,” she said. “We made some adjustments, he stepped up, and he has done what he promised to do. We’re proud of you.”
Maclain thanked his family and teachers. “I want to thank my mom and sister for supporting me, and I encourage all students to move forward. You don’t always get patted on the back for making the right decisions, but good luck,” he said.
Charles David “Chad” Mincy represented William Blount High School. Counselor Scott Bristol said that the first two years Chad was in high school, he passed two classes. “Something kicked in,” Bristol said of Chad’s change of attitude going into his junior year. “He did everything we asked to make ‘As’ and ‘Bs’ and for credit recovery,” Bristol said. “In my 18 years of working with teenagers, I can’t ever think of being more proud of a young man.”
David Thomas Dovers represented Union Grove Middle School and was introduced by teacher Jennifer Pitman who said David had a tough seventh grade year and returned for his eighth grade year with a new attitude that resulted in better grades. “All of the teachers came together and nominated him, and we are so proud of him,” she said.
David’s mom, Kimberly Dovers, said she was proud of him. “His dad, James Dovers, and I have always tried to encourage him, and he’s done well,” she said. “He’s been my inspiration.”
Greene and Costner sponsor the Turnaround Achievement Awards to honor students who have made positive changes in their lives. Greene pointed out that a large number of dignitaries from the community were attending the breakfast to honor the students. “I want all of you recipients to realize what an honor this is, and you need to be thankful for those who helped you turn your lives around,” Greene said. “Keep on track and make the most of your lives.”