Vidalia basketball standouts claim academic honors

Published 12:13 am Monday, March 29, 2010

VIDALIA — For the Vidalia High School basketball team, fans have more to be proud of than just a state championship.

Gary Stewart and Louis Whitley, as well as Gabrielle Wagoner from the girls’ team, were recently selected to the LHSAA Academic All-State team last week.

With a 4.0 GPA, Stewart was named to the composite first-team, which includes athletes from each of the seven LSHAA classifications, as well as the Class 3A first-team.

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Whitley was named to the Class 3A honorable mention list with a 3.375 GPA, and Wagoner was selected to the girls’ Class 3A first-team with a 3.9756 GPA.

Rick Brown, principal at Vidalia, said the nominations show each of the three students are well-rounded in both athletics and academics.

“For me personally, I think it says a lot about the school and students that they could compete at such a high level and still maintain their grades,” Brown said.

“These three are taking courses to prepare for college, not just get through their senior year. It’s good that people see Vidalia is good in sports and academics, and we don’t win championships with barely-get-bys, grade-wise.”

For Stewart, the selection gives him great satisfaction after many long hours of studying after practice.

“It means a lot, and lets me know all the work I put in the last four years paid off, keeping my head in the books,” Stewart said.

Whitley, meanwhile, said he enjoys getting attention for something outside of basketball.

“It feels good, because I’m getting recognized for what I do off the court and in the classroom,” Whitley said.

In Wagoner’s case, the selection allows her to reflect on how she overcame the difficulty of balancing her studies and playing time.

“This award made me realize how much I worked, and how hard it was playing ball and doing well in school (at the same time),” Wagoner said.

And probably the hardest part of that was fighting off the urge to take it easy with her studies her senior year, she said.

“This year has definitely been my hardest year,” she said. “I just tried my best to set aside a time for schoolwork and still be able to do well in basketball.”

Stewart said he also battled “senior-itis,” but said many of his teachers were understanding, and helped him work through it.

“I just try to stay focused and make myself do it,” Stewart said. “Sometimes I get lucky, because I do my work at the last minute. My teachers helped a lot, giving me extra time to do the work in the classroom on game night.”

And Whitley said his teachers’ understanding was a big reason he did so well grade-wise.

“Teachers understand if you have a big game that night, you’re not going to do the work,” Whitley said.

“For me, just knowing that I have to graduate, and I’ve already come all this way and just have one year left, that motivated me.”