Making the Dough and the Grades
Paula Hopkins epitomizes the idea that no matter how bad the odds are stacked against you, there’s still a chance to make it as long as you keep trying.
The daughter of drug-addicted parents, Hopkins has lived with her grandmother and sister for most of her life, and has had to work to help pay the bills while going to school. Even though her parents’ situation hasn’t changed, she still continues to use it as a reminder of “what not to do.”
“I see my mother and say to myself, I won’t ever be that irresponsible, and I see my father and say I’ll never do drugs,” Hopkins says.
“We all make our own decisions and decide who we are and what we want to do,” Hopkins says.
Hopkins has applied for scholarships to Texas Woman’s University in Denton and plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy.
Hopkins’ prospect of graduating from high school, much less attending college, seemed especially dim her junior year when her sister asked high school counselor Sarah Publicover if she could take Hopkins out of school to work more hours.
Publicover convinced the sister that Hopkins could stay in school and work through the (ICT) Industrial Cooperative Training Program.
Hopkins takes trigonometry, English and a special ICT class while working 16 hours a week at Athletic Supply, including weekends.
Hopkins says she hopes other students who may have been faced with adversities can make something of their lives.
“I tell them not to let their circumstances dictate the rest of their lives because they’ll regret it,” Hopkins says.
“I’ve saved myself from a lot of things when I could have hit rock bottom.”
Success On And Off The Field
Jeff Barnett says it’s difficult to choose which is more signficant: athletics or academics. Though he deems the latter “a little more important,” Barnett excels at both.
As center of the Lake Highlands football team this season, Barnett was chosen All-City, All-Area, All-State and will attend Vanderbilt on a football scholarship. As co-captain, Barnett helped lead his Wildcat team to a 14-1-1 season. He was also a leader off the field.
“I was lucky enough to know how to change gears and sit down and study, do my homework and get ready for the next day,” Barnett says.
Ranked No. 9 in his class, Barnett is a member of the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was chosen one of two Academic Athletes of the Year by the Lake Highlands Exchange Club.
“Academics are a little more important because that’s what is shaping my life and getting me on the path to be successful,” Barnett says.
Barnett says his parents, Jim and Jackie Barnett, both pharmacists, always stressed the importance of academics while his brother Jason, a 1990 Lake Highlands graduate who played tackle for the Wildcats, influenced his football career.
“He saw my potential and pushed me – he showed me self-discipline,” Barnett says.
Barnett was offered scholarships at Rice, SMU and Texas Tech. He accepted Vanderbilt’s offer because of the school’s academic reputation and the level of competition in the Southeastern Conference.
Barnett says he plays defensive end but welcomes the challenge of playing a different position.
Everybody’s going to be good or better than I am, so I’ll just have to work harder to prove myself,” Barnett says.
The Well-Rounded Student
Fifteen-hour days don’t bother Ashley Loaring-Clark.
“I like school – I like learning and all the activities I’m involved in,” Loaring-Clark says.
A top varsity runner on the school’s cross-country team for three years, Loaring-Clark is a member of the All-District and Regional Track and Cross Country Teams.
She was voted Homecoming Queen by the student body and serves as chairperson for the Student Council’s Teacher Appreciation Committee. Ranked 20th in her class, she is a member of the National Honor Society, Vice President of Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society and was National Merit commended for her scores on preliminary testing. In her junior year, Loaring-Clark was a Hugh O’Brian Leadership Conference winner, a Jr. Marshall and Peer Helper.
Voted “Most Congenial” by her classmates, Loaring-Clark says being polite and smiling comes naturally.
“I like to try to put other people in a good mood – I figure a smile is a good way to do that.”
Loaring-Clark takes advanced placement classes and says her favorite is pyschology. She is considering pursuing a degree in the subject at Texas A&M, where she has applied for an academic scholarship.
Though athletics and academics are important, so is Loaring-Clark’s involvement in the neighborhood Young Life ministry program. Her parents, Bill and Barbara Loaring-Clark, are Young Life Leaders and her sister, Sarah, a sophomore at Lake Highlands High, is also an active member.
“I try to make my Christian work the most important thing in my life,” Loaring-Clark says.
A lesson Loaring-Clark says she will never forget is one she learned from her parents.
“They always told me to go for it with everything I have.”
A Balancing Act
As the number one student gymnast in the country and an honor student at Lake Highlands High School, Chad Conner knows how to balance academics with athletics.
Conner is captain of his school’s gymnastics team, ranks 8th in his class, is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society and was chosen as one of two Lake Highlands Exchange Club Academic Athletes of the Year. He was also named Young Texan of the Month by the Richardson Optimist Club.
Conner received a gymnastics scholarship from the University of Minnesota, where he will pursue a degree in business or medicine.
Conner’s road to success hasn’t been free of obstacles.
By placing 5th in the Jr. Elite Nationals in San Francisco last year, Conner automatically won a spot on the U.S. Jr. National Team. After competing in the Olympic Festival in Boulder, Colorado, Conner was set to go to the pre-Olympic trials when he had an accident during a routine on the rings.
Conner sustained nerve damage to his right shoulder and will be out for at least two more months. He continues to work out with leg weights and says his college coaches are confident he will be able to compete this year.
“My goal is to make use of every turn during every practice because that’s what determines how good a gymnast you’re going to turn out to be,” Conner says.
Though his ultimate dream is to compete in the Olympics scheduled for the year 2000 in Australia, Conner says he is focusing on short-term goals for now – getting well and making the National Senior Team.
“I read something once that said when you fail and then succeed, it makes the success all the sweeter,” Conner says.
“I hope I’ll be an example of that.”
Using Football to Succeed
When Juanapha Gipson was in the eighth-grade, he was a member of a losing team. A gang-member, Gipson says he was arrested several times on theft charges before he decided to join a team he would eventually help win the District 11-5A championship in football.
As a running-back for the Lake Highlands Wildcats, Gipson was named All-State, All-District and state “Blue Chip” running back. He is in the process of negotiating a football scholarship with the University of Tennessee or Jackson State. He plans to pursue a degree in marketing or business.
Gipson is lauded off the field as well.
Elected as a peer helper by the student body, Gipson counsels 7th- and 8th-graders and was one of four students at the school chosen as a Big Brother by the Girl’s Service League.
“It means a lot to me that people are looking up to me,” Gipson says.
He was able to spread his anti-gang message more than once as a brown-bag lunch speaker at Lake Highlands Junior High.
“I tell them not to make the same mistake I made and how lucky I am to be alive,” Gipson says.
Gipson says Forest Meadow Football Coach Lemmon Boyd recognized his talent and pushed him to trade his gang-membership for a place on the football team. It’s a decision Gipson has never regretted.
“I see some of them (gang-members) on the news and think that could have been me,” Gipson says.
“Now I look at the news and see someone congratulating me for doing something I love.”
Kathy Jo has some words of wisdom for students looking for success.
“They should find their forte and do the best they can possibly do in it,” Jo says.
“Talent and a gift for academics will only take you so far – it takes an inner drive, self-motivation, tenacity, and individual goals and standards as well.”
First in her class, Jo was co-captain of the Lake Highlands High Academic Decathlon Team, a member of the National Honor Society, a National Merit Finalist, and was chosen as a Lake Highlands Exchange Club Student of the Month.
She plays cello for the high school orchestra and is a member of the All-Region and All-State orchestras.
Jo will attend Harvard, where she will pursue a degree in medicine.
“It’s so important to find something that’s meaningful and enjoyable but will also affect people,” Jo says.
Jo says she learned some valuable lessons about learning and the importance of family from her parents, Korean natives Kevin and Grace Jo. Her older brother John, a senior at Duke, balanced school work with extra-curricular activities – something Jo continues to work on.
“My mother always told me that when things go wrong, all you have is family,” Jo says.
Jo’s father was an influence in the way she approaches learning.
“When I asked a question, he wouldn’t tell me the answer – I would have to find it out for myself. I can teach myself now because of it,” Jo says.
The Aspiring Playwright
When asked to name his idol, John Magary didn’t give an answer typical of an 18-year-old high school senior: Orson Welles, the late actor who brought Citizen Kane to life.
“The fact that he had done so much at such an early age is amazing,” Magary says.
“I’m going to try my hardest to follow in his footsteps.”
Third in his class, Magary is president of the National Honor Society and Theater LHHS. He plays standing bass in the school and all-region orchestras and was chosen as a Lake Highlands Exchange Club Student of the Month.
Voted Most Talented by the student body, Magary has performed the lead role in five school productions.
Magary recently won an award from the Texas Education Theater Association for his play, “Movements,” which was performed at the association’s annual convention in Houston.
When he’s not on stage, Magary is home studying to maintain top grades in the five advanced placement classes he takes.
He has applied to Harvard, Princeton and Yale and plans to pursue a degree in the arts, leaning toward English or theater.
Magary says his parents, Douglas, a labor lawyer, and Diane, a 6th-grade teacher at Richland Elementary, have encouraged him to pursue his interests.
“They feel that if I love something enough, I should go after it,” Magary says.
“Theater is a good application for what you’ve learned.”
The Football Star
Marcus Stiggers says he has been blessed, and he’s not taking it for granted.
“I have a God-given talent, and I go out every day and say I’m going to use it,” Stiggers says.
Stiggers, the Wishbone quarterback who amazed fans with breakneck speed and bull’s-eye passing, used his talent to lead the Wildcats to a District 11-5A title and shot at the Class 5A State Championship.
USA Today and Prime Sports named Stiggers the Division 5A’s Most Valuable Player in Texas. He was a member of the All-City, All-District and All-Area football teams. The school’s student body voted Stiggers Most Athletic and Mr. Lake Highlands High School.
College recruiters impressed with his speed – he has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash – bombarded Stiggers with scholarship offers.
Stiggers eventually decided on Colorado, where he will play running back.
The media made Stiggers a virtual household name, and fans flocked to see the high school star perform. It wasn’t uncommon for children to seek his autograph.
But his success on the gridiron, Stiggers says, wouldn’t have been possible without his teammates.
“It bothered me that they didn’t get the interviews – I feel like they need some attention too. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Stiggers says his accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his mother, Karen Stiggers, and his grandmother, Marie Johnson.
I love both of them – they were at every game and with me for every decision I made,” Stiggers says.
He also credits former Lake Highlands High School football coach Mike Zuffuto for instilling in him the discipline needed to be a success.
“He taught me that hard work pays off,” Stiggers says.
Stiggers says his dream when he completes his college football career is to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
“I want to come home and play,” Stiggers says.
Overcoming Life’s Obstacles
Kyron Sullivan has overcome personal obstacles in the past few years that most of us may never have to face. Sullivan’s father was killed during an armed robbery while he was in junior high school, and last year, his mother died the week before final exams.
Yet Sullivan, an only child, took the advice his mother had given him months before she succumbed to colon cancer and continued to pursue academics.
“She would always tell me that there’s not always going to be someone there to do things for you – one of her biggest quotes was: I won’t always be around. I guess she was preparing me to be independent, Sullivan says.
“She would have wanted me to continue.”
Sullivan was a finalist in the National Achievement Scholarship Program for Outstanding Negro Students and has been offered several scholarships, including a yearly $1,000 stipend from the Mobil Corporation at the college of his choice. Sullivan has applied to Babson College in Boston and will pursue a double degree in international business and management.
Sullivan takes all advanced placement courses and is active in theater. He is a member of the school’s mock trial team, academic decathlon and is a district officer of Key Club.
Sullivan says he couldn’t have succeeded without the support of classmate Elaine Bonifield and her family, who offered to give him a home after his mother’s death.
Sullivan says his mother would have wanted him to continue striving for success.
“For me it would have been hard to give up – I’ve put forth so much effort,” Sullivan says.
Giving Students a Voice
Out of all Lake Highlands High School senior Frances Yllana’s accomplishments, she is most proud of the one that influences her classmates.
As Opinion Editor of the high school newspaper, The Fang, Yllana says she has been able to evoke student opinions on issues ranging from the “no smoking ban” to the “V-chip” method of blocking adult-themed television shows.
“It doesn’t matter that they (the students) think I’m wrong – they still seem to want to read my piece and discuss it because of the way I write,” Yllana says.
Giving students a voice isn’t all Yllana has achieved.
A National Hispanic Scholarship Program finalist, Yllana is the production editor of the high school yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society. She is president of the school’s Gallery Arts Program and has won several awards for her sketches and water colors.
Yllana has applied to the University of North Texas and plans to pursue a degree in Communications Design.
“I think I’ve proven to myself that I can do things that will affect people in a positive way,” Yllana says.