DOBSON — The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) recognized several of its student-athletes this month for academic excellence during the 2015-2016 year. Those earning national distinction included four student-athletes from Surry Community College.
Kaylee Johnson, Jessi Marion, Jeremy Bottoms, and Jed Whitaker each earned a prestigious academic excellence award which placed Surry fourth among all North Carolina community college and sixth among the 32 member colleges within Region X (Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina).
Every sport at the Dobson institution was represented in the academic excellence honors with three athletes earning Exemplary Academic Achievement Awards (3.6-3.79 GPA) and one claiming a Superior Academic Achievement Award (3.8-3.99 GPA). North Surry golf product Jed Whitaker won the Superior Academic Achievement Award, while softball player Kaylee Johnson, baseball player Jeremy Bottoms and former East Surry volleyball standout Jessi Marion were recognized with the Exemplary Academic Achievement Award.
“We are extremely proud of our student athletes receiving national recognition for their academic achievements,” said Mark Tucker, Surry athletic director. “They have put in countless hours of hard work to excel in competition as well as in the classroom. These awards are very well-deserved by these students. Ranking sixth among the 32 member colleges within Region X is an incredible accomplishment and certainly speaks volumes for our institution.”
Leading the way with a 3.88 GPA was Whitaker on the Knights’ golf team. Whitaker’s situation is a bit of a unique one, but exemplifies the college’s priorities. A highly-recruited golfer from North Surry, Whitaker had to prioritize his highly demanding class load of 20 credit hours per semester along with working 30 hours per week. Surry golf coach Tom Pendergraft understood Whitaker’s situation and fully supported his commitment to academics.
“He was one of the top players in high school, but when he came to college I think he was carrying 20 credit hours and that does not fall in line with golf and the demanding schedule,” Pendergraft said. “I told him school was the priority. I commend him for his academic grades.”
In hopes of finishing up with a degree in Surry’s heating/air conditioning program in the coming school year, Whitaker will continue to maintain a heavy workload this fall. He hopes to be able to help the golf team this year, but ultimately has set his priorities on graduating in the spring and entering the workforce.
“I would have liked to have been able to golf more this past year. Last semester I would go to work at 7 in the morning, be at school at 11, and then back to work from 2 until 7, and then studying after that,” Whitaker said. “I would love to play golf, but school and work are two things that have to come first.”
Surry softball player Kaylee Johnson certainly made the most of her time in Dobson. Having learned the time management skills necessary to play a collegiate sport and earn a prestigious academic achievement award will serve her well as she continues her academic and softball career this fall at Greensboro College.
“She was a great young lady to be around. Softball-wise she gave it 110 percent every time she went out. She was steady,” Surry softball coach Blaine Bullington said. “She is a great young lady and I think she has proven that with the way her grades are and how she works on the field. She’s moving on to Greensboro College and I think she will be very successful there.”
Johnson said she was surprised to receive the academic achievement award, but is thankful for how much Surry Community College has prepared her to reach the next level.
“I know how to manage my time so much better now. Greensboro has smaller class sizes than Surry did also, so being in a big class where teachers aren’t always focused on an individual student I think prepared me as well,” Johnson said.
Surry volleyball coach Jan Marion-Kiser has known rising sophomore Jessi Marion most of her life. Knowing her work ethic and drive, the academic achievement award came as no surprise to Marion-Kiser.
“Jessi has a great work ethic in the classroom and on the court. She set the standard for herself where she doesn’t want to miss the mark with anything she does, whether it’s playing ball, in life, or whatever. She’s just a great kid all the way around,” Marion-Kiser said. “She knows that she wants to transfer after this year and with her GPA, she is attractive to any university. There are not enough good things I can say about this young lady. She is the type of kid that you love to coach because you know you are not only getting a great athlete, but a great all-around person.”
Marion said the award made her feel accomplished. After one more year at SCC, the East Surry alum has narrowed her list down to four North Carolina colleges that offer occupational therapy.
“I took the award as an honor to be able to maintain school and play a sport,” Marion said.
Surry Community College baseball coach Tim Collins had the unenviable job of taking over the Knights’ program at midseason in 2016. Players like outfielder Jeremy Bottoms, winner of the Exemplary Academic Achievement Award, made the transition much smoother.
“Jeremy worked hard, always had a positive attitude and was always trying to uplift the other players. He was very supportive and always gave maximum effort, whether it was practice, playing or just trying to uplift the team,” Collins said. “Jeremy is finishing up his associate’s degree this year and he wants to come back as announcer for the baseball team. He still wants to be involved with the program.”
Bottoms said he has a passion for baseball he would like to continue through broadcasting. He credits Surry Community College for enabling him to pursue his dream and setting him on the path to the prestigious academic achievement award.
“I think the award itself speaks volumes, not only about the administration, from the athletic director Mark Tucker to the professors I had. It’s just a great community,” Bottoms said. “They treat everybody
the right way and they are very kind. You get out what you put in, but they help you every step of the way.”
Bottoms said the award was a blessing and a very humbling honor. Considering only 505 baseball players across the country won the award, he said it’s something he can be proud of for the rest of his life. He plans to finish up his educational career at UNC-Chapel Hill or UNC-Wilmington.
“There was a lady who entered my life who taught me there are more important things in life than baseball. She made me understand what it means to be a mature adult and what it means to be responsible. I thank her and her family for helping me get through everything,” Bottoms said. “I met her during the summer of last year and if it was not for her, I would definitely not have achieved this prestigious award. I want to give the glory to her and God.”
Formerly known as NJCAC Academic All-American honors, the NJCAA Academic Student-Athlete Awards program has annually recognized the academic success of the association’s student-athletes since the program’s inception in 1983. Nominations are submitted by each student-athlete’s respective institution.