Some things don’t change. Or maybe they have changed a little, for the better.

We’re proud to introduce today our 11th Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team.


We’ve never had higher average SAT scores, more National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists or more all-around energetic achievers.

It is, we think, a pleasant reminder – on the heels of a contentious legislative session marked by debates on education – that Arkansas high schools do produce outstanding graduates.


As ever, we sought nominations – a maximum of one male and one female – from every high school in the state. Two rounds of judging, the final by a group of educators, produced our winners. They will be honored at an awards ceremony this week at UALR with plaques and cash prizes.

The guidelines for selection are simple: academic achievement augmented by achievements outside the classroom and other personal accomplishments.


AETN will be on hand again this year in its partnership with us to recognize academic achievement. The All-Star team is the only statewide program to recognize top Arkansas students, though there are many that recognize athletic accomplishments.

AETN will film the ceremony. It has also been at working producing feature segments on several of our honorees. They’ll be shown periodically on the state’s public television network.

With this year’s team, we will have distributed more than $55,000 to All-Star winners. Here they are:

Age: 17
Hometown: Conway
School: Conway High School West Campus
Parents: Greg and Tina Antley
College plans: Baylor, University of Arkansas or Washington University; major uncertain


Busting stereotypes

Of the long list of extracurricular activities Christina Antley participates in, one stands out — not because of its difficulty, but because it’s a bit unexpected for someone with such high academic achievement.

Christina is a cheerleader, and has been since the ninth grade. Cheering at ballgames is “one of my favorite things,” she said. The competing stereotypes — unsocial bookworm and ditzy cheerleader — don’t bother her, but she said she knows other people still cling to them.

“It’s good that I can maybe influence younger girls that you can have both,” she said.

Or, that you can have all three. Christina also plays flute in her school’s marching band, which makes for awfully busy football games.

“I cheer through the whole game, and then at halftime I go out on the field and march in my cheerleading uniform,” she said.

Christina ranks first in her class, and is a National Merit Finalist. But she seems to be most proud of her accomplishments in the arena of community service, and her guidance counselor, Sheila Counts, also wrote about that aspect when she nominated Christina.

“Her academic success is obvious, but her greatest asset, I believe, lies in her strength of character, maturity, and high moral standards,” Counts wrote.

As president of her school’s National Honor Society this year, Christina organized a number of service projects, including shipping packages and cards to 10 Arkansas soldiers in Iraq who weren’t receiving any mail.


An essay about a day she spent helping an elderly man clean up his yard won an essay contest sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service — a school she hopes to attend one day.

Christina said she envisions a career of founding community service organizations: analyzing a need, setting up an organization to meet it, and then training other people to run it.

Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
School: Fayetteville High School
Parents: M.T. and Behnaz Bararpour
College plans: Not sure, pre-med

Master of two worlds

Layla Bararpour put her medical-school aspirations through a sort of trial by fire last summer, volunteering 40 hours a week at a Fayetteville hospital in departments where she’d see things that would turn the average person’s stomach. After watching doctors treat one particularly severe wound, she knew she’d passed.

“I saw a really bad one and it didn’t bother me at all,” she said. “I was calm.”

The Fayetteville High senior’s upbringing has straddled two worlds. Her parents are natives of Iran; Layla was born here, while her father studied for his Ph.D. in agronomy at the University of Arkansas, but the family returned to Iran after Layla’s second-grade year. They moved back to Fayetteville five years ago.

Because she’d had to put so much energy into mastering the Persian language when her family moved to Iran, she lost a lot of her English-language skills.

“When I came back (to the United States), I didn’t know a lot of words, but it came back,” she said. “I guess it wasn’t that bad for not speaking English for five years.”

Students in Iran must pass an entrance exam to go to college, so they get serious about academics much earlier, she said. And Layla earned admission to a middle school for gifted students, where she studied high-school subjects like chemistry and physics.

She’s taken those same subjects again, but Layla said it hasn’t been repetitive. Her Iranian classes stuck to what was in the textbooks, she said, while American classes bring in other resources and activities like labs.

Layla said she values the time she lived in Iran.

“Everything was different, but I really enjoyed having the cross-cultural experience,” she said. “I think it really did shape me.”

Age: 17
Hometown: Deer
High School: Arkansas School for Math, Science and the Arts
Parent: Laurel Sung
College plans: Harvard University, possibly pre-med

Traveling for a cause

Andrea Blankmeyer loves going to other countries, but it’s not always pleasure that takes her there. Three summers in a row she traveled to Romania and Russia on extended mission trips, doing volunteer work in orphanages and Gypsy camps.

“Mostly what I remember from my trip to St. Petersburg, however, is not some grand lesson that radically changed my life, but a series of snapshot memories that embody my experience,” the 17-year-old wrote in her Academic All-Star application. “…Spontaneous games with rocks and pine cones as props and evenings spent with the translators discussing their perspective on life were just as important to me as the spiritual and emotional growth that I experienced.”

Andrea and her family moved to Deer from Dallas when she was 11. She’d attended a private all-girls school in Dallas, and said that focused her attention on academics at an early age. In tiny Deer, she said, she had to learn how to create her own academic challenges.

“I had to push the school to let me take advanced classes,” she said. “It made me really value that.” After 10th grade, she enrolled at the Arkansas School for Math, Science and the Arts in Hot Springs. There, she’s kept a straight-A record in classes like biomedical physics and astronomy while taking an active role in student government (she’s senior class president) and Junior Civitan, a community service club.

She’ll attend Harvard University this fall, but beyond that, her future’s somewhat uncertain.

“My entire high school career I’ve been leaning toward medicine, but this is a time in my life where I’m ready to try a lot of things,” she said.

She does know she’ll minor in Chinese, in honor of her maternal family heritage.

Before that, though, there’s one more overseas trip to take: Andrea will spend a month in Spain this summer, taking classes to improve her Spanish language skills.

Age: 18
Hometown: Osceola
School: Rivercrest
Parents: Bill and Sharon Coburn
College plans: Notre Dame, Vanderbilt or Duke, business

Hard worker

Thomas Bennett, an assistant principal at Rivercrest High School and an assistant football coach, says football tells Will Coburn’s story.

“He wasn’t blessed with a lot of athletic ability. But with sheer determination and hard work, he made himself into a person who as a senior started every ball game and was a key to our making the state playoffs,” says Bennett.

Though his dogged work made him a two-way starter, Will isn’t in our list because of football. The No. 2-ranked student in his class of 85, he’s a semi-finalist in the National Merit Scholarship program. He’s a chess player, a Math Club member and has been offered a chancellor’s scholarship to the University of Arkansas. He takes the top courses his school has to offer, from physics to Advanced Placement calculus, English literature and art.

He’s also a student who’s tried to broaden his horizons. He found volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to work on housing in Jonesboro a “cool and rewarding experience.”

Identified as a seventh-grader as a high scorer on standardized tests, he was offered a chance last summer to attend a summer leadership program at Duke University. He got a scholarship for part of the costs and mowed yards to pay for the rest. It was an exhilarating experience to be thrown together with top students from all over town. Will’s group was tested by a stern supervisor of a community service project to rehabilitate housing for homeless people. “We couldn’t decide if he was trying to test us by giving us no help or just a jerk. ” The students ultimately decided to do the project the best way they knew how. “Everyone loved it,” Will remembers. Lesson learned.

Age: 15
Hometown: Little Rock
School: Catholic High School for Boys
Parents: James and Elissa DeWinter
College plans: Duke University, biomedical engineering.


Read David DeWinter’s all-star nomination form and it seems, well, a touch routine. Sure he’s third in his class of 135 at the competitive Catholic High School for Boys. Sure, his standardized test scores are high — 32 ACT, 1400s on the SAT.

But then there’s this. David was born Oct. 30, 1989. When he graduates from high school this spring, he’ll be the ripe old age of 15. He’s three years ahead of schedule, in other words.

“It’s been tough.” he said. He started school a year early for his age, skipped the first and third grades and then, in the fourth grade, moved to a new school. “I was 6 and everybody else was 10. That was a big difference back then.” But he has mixed easily at Catholic High.

Brother Richard Sanker, who nominated David, says, “He’s just a genuinely humble and good person. That’s why he’s accepted so easily and well by his classmates – for his dedication and work.”

And work David does, particularly in the ROTC program. He’s not only a member of the drill team, which does precision marching and rifle drills, he’s also a member of the color guard, a higher level of competition. All told, there’s more than two hours of drilling a day – marching, spinning rifles, doing improvised drills, displaying the flag with the proper military bearing. David said he had a thirst to learn about the military and found it taught him, besides military protocol, leadership. “It helped open me up as a person.”

The future? His main interests are science and math. He’d like to research artificial organs and new medical technology. If he’s not accepted to Duke, he plans to earn an accelerated degree from a college in Utah, putting him yet more years ahead of his age group peers. No one who knows him will bet against him.

Age: 18
Hometown: El Dorado
School: El Dorado High School
Parents: John and Laurie Eckart
College plans: Notre Dame

An all-around good guy

Stephen Eckart typifies the ideal of the well-rounded young man. In addition to his academic accomplishment, which includes a 4.68 G.P.A. and a 33 ACT score, he is a four-year letterman on the varsity soccer team and has been playing piano since the first grade.

Besides that, he is a nice guy.

“I would say that he stands out as one of the best all-around students I’ve ever had,” said Becky Ward, Stephen’s guidance counselor. “And he’s just a nice kid.”

Stephen says he is “definitely a math and science guy,” and while he is not sure what his major will be at Notre Dame, he is leaning toward a career in medical research. That interest may have been handed down from his mother, Laurie, who is a radiological technologist at an outpatient clinic. His father, John, is an accountant at Murphy Oil’s headquarters.

El Dorado is “not the biggest town in the world,” according to Stephen, but he stayed plenty busy. His piano-playing ability earned him top honors at the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association’s piano festival, and he studied genetics at Vanderbilt University last summer. Plus he volunteered at his church and the Boys and Girls Club, and served as quiz bowl captain and class treasurer.

Indeed, even Stephen’s passion for soccer reflects his active lifestyle.

“In a soccer game, there are no timeouts, and there is always action on the field,” he wrote in an essay. “Similarly, my life is fast-paced, and there is never a dull moment.”

Stephen credits his parents for his success. “From a young age, my parents told me I had to do my homework before I could do anything else,” he said.

To Ward, that is vintage Stephen Eckart.

“He is a very humble young man, in spite of all of his talents, and the fact he excels in so many things,” she said.

Age: 17
Hometown: Lonoke
School: Lonoke High School
Parents: Wayne and Terrie Ellington
College plans: Northwestern University, communications/theater

Taking charge in Lonoke

Angela Ellington says that being black in Lonoke has been “easy.”

“It’s all I’ve known, growing up here,” she adds. “There was no big transition. I just got into crowds and fit right in.”

However, she also knew that others might think her race was a bigger issue. When she told her friends she wanted to run for Student Council president, they were speechless.

“They didn’t have to speak, though, because I could tell by the looks on their faces what they were thinking: There will never be a black Student Council president at Lonoke High School,” Angela wrote in an essay. “I realized that Lonoke had a predominantly white student body, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from running.”

Sure enough, Angela won. But that didn’t surprise her guidance counselor, Carol Rudder, who rates Ellington among the “top one percent of all the students I’ve ever encountered in 25 years of doing this.”

A brief look at Angela’s record justifies Rudder’s enthusiasm. Angela is ranked second in her class with a G.P.A. over 4.0, and she scored a 30 on the ACT. She has won awards for excellence in drama, band and English, was a state finalist in forensics and debate competitions, and was a Coca-Cola Scholarship semi-finalist.

Angela said she enjoys “anything where I hold office”, and she has applied her leadership skills as co-captain of the cheerleading squad, a Girls State delegate and vice president of the National Honor Society chapter

“I really want to be an actress,” Angela said, crediting her experience at Governor’s School and summer theater academies. She is following her passion to Northwestern University.

If things don’t work out with her acting, Angela thinks she will be able to make a career in public relations.

“It’s a take-charge field,” she explains.

Age: 17
Hometown: Searcy
School: Searcy High School
Parents: Joseph and Kathleen Giezeman
College plans: Notre Dame

Giving back

Laura Giezeman does it all. She maintained a 4.21 G.P.A. and scored 34 on the ACT on her way to being a National Merit Finalist. She lettered for three years on a soccer team that won the state championship in 2004. She’s held leadership positions in numerous clubs and attended Girls State.

But her most important accomplishment occurred outside of school. Last year Laura created “Bags for Kids.” It provides foster children with essentials like clothes and toiletries as well as comfort items like stuffed animals and toys. She got the idea from listening to a close friend whose family has taken in foster children, often placed in homes at a moment’s notice without personal possessions.

Laura raised $2,000 for the program, which already reaches all of the foster children in White County. She has trained several younger students, including her sister, to carry on after she goes to college.

It is no wonder that her guidance counselor, Brenda Gregory, called Laura a “rare gem” who is distinguished by “her love for humanity.”

Earlier this year, Laura tore her ACL playing basketball, costing her the basketball season and a final season of soccer. She still attends every practice and every game, cheering from the bench.

“I didn’t want to quit the team and leave the girls I was playing with,” she explains.

Laura’s father is originally from Holland, and as a result, she has traveled extensively through Europe. Having seen the world outside Arkansas, she is looking forward to leaving the state for college, although she calls Searcy a “good place to grow up.”

Not sure what she will study at Notre Dame, Laura says she is leaning toward business.

“I want to do something worthwhile, and be above-average,” Laura said. “I try hard to get to a place where I can have a chance to do that.”

Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
School: North Little Rock – West Campus
Parents: Matthew and Debbie Greene
College plans: College uncertain; probably will major in political science

Student broadcaster

Television is one of many areas in which Natalie Greene has distinguished herself. She is the director of her school’s television production crew and has won many awards for her TV work (newscast directing, music video, etc.). She won a Superior Award in Broadcast News Reporting from the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association.

Academically, Natalie ranks first in her class of 462. She participates in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program and has been the IB biology student of the year and the IB History of the Americas student of the year.

“Natalie is a master at ‘academic juggling,’ ” writes counselor Sharon Davis. “She has a desire to do it all, and if it can be done, she will do it. This has led her to carry a full International Baccalaureate schedule and blend it with those elective courses that mean the most to her. This requires her to come to school an hour early and still meet a full regular-day schedule. She never thinks of this as a burden. Rather, Natalie considers it a privilege to have the opportunity to explore as many academic roads as possible.”

Natalie is a member of the Student Council, the Senior Cabinet, the National Honor Society, the Beta Club and the National Spanish Honor Society, and has participated in numerous plays and speech tournaments. As a member of the Central Arkansas Youth Diversity Council, “I served on the planning committee for the Diversity Kick-off Bash, an event for over 300 students in the area. The goal was to bring high school students together to plan action against prejudice and hate.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Fort Smith
School: Southside
Parents: Greg and Sherri Karber
College plans: Undecided

Writer and actor

Recalling his role as the Wizard in a production of “The Wizard of Oz,” Greg Karber writes:

“Acting is something I love. Piano and writing are as well. Something magic exists in the arts. The creation of something new and original, be it the unique performance of a play or the writing of a song or story, wields a power hard to find in math or science, things I also enjoy, but in different ways.

“I don’t know what my college major will be. I don’t know if I’ll decide to go into psychology or chemistry or even law or politics, but I do know that whatever my degree is in, whatever career I choose, I want to continue to create and act in whatever ways I’m able to do so.”

Greg is editor of his high school newspaper; president of Quill and Scroll journalism honor society; president of Mu Alpha Theta math honor society; a member of the National Honor Society, and a National Merit semi-finalist. He won two Quill and Scroll gold keys for editorial cartoons, and was on the Arkansas honor roll for the American Mathematics Competition in 2003 and 2004. His community contributions include organizing and co-founding Dodge for Dollars, a charity dodgeball tournament, and participating in Quill and Scroll’s Operation Bookworm, in which books were donated and distributed to needy children.

David Cagle, a counselor at Southside, writes: “Greg’s love to learn is a unique trait for someone his age. His teachers say he is a joy in class, and he always goes beyond what is expected or needed for him to succeed.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Searcy
School: Harding Academy
Parents: Mike and Pam Keese
College plans: Harding University; pre-med

Teacher of orphans

Sarah Keese was first in her class academically and a National Merit semi-finalist. She also was a member of THREE state champion athletic teams — basketball, track and cross-country. Neither her academic nor her athletic accomplishments are what she’s most proud of.

Under a program sponsored by her church, Sarah worked three weeks in an orphanage in Ghana. “I taught children in first through sixth grade, in subjects that ranged from Bible to computer skills. Their favorite part of class, though, was learning about America. The questions they asked about our country made me realize how richly blessed I am. The luxuries, such as air conditioning and clean water, that I take for granted every day are nonexistent for them. It was amazing to see how content these children were, even though they had so little materially. My only regret of my time spent in Africa is that I couldn’t stay longer. However, I will be going back this June for three more weeks. If someone asked me what I was most proud of doing in my life, I would tell them about Africa.”

Besides her athletic pursuits (she played softball, too), Sarah was editor of the yearbook, and a member of the Beta Club, the Quiz Bowl, the chorus, the pep club, the art club and the water education team, among other activities. Outside school, she was a member of the Searcy Youth Council and participated in community service projects such as yard work, mending and cleaning. She won a state Future Business Leaders of America contest in “Introduction to Business Communications” and competed in the national contest.

Age: 18
Hometown: Greenwood
School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Stan Komander and Donna Komander
College plans: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engineering

To infinity, and beyond

Johann Komander’s paper about his work last summer at Cal-Tech in Pasadena on the reflectivity variation in Saturn’s rings A, B and C won him a berth in the International Science Fair in Phoenix, Ariz. But the experience taught him something more than how water-ice becomes purifies as it travels away from the rings: It taught him that pure research is not his thing. He wants to build, and he wants to build something that flies, and he wants to do it in the private sector, unconstrained by the limits of government funding. The son of a mechanical engineer who immigrated to the United States from Poland in only 1981, Johann grew up shooting off model rockets into the October skies of North Carolina and then Northwest Arkansas. He called the opportunity to attend the state’s science-based school in Hot Springs “a godsend for me.” He said his professors have taught him the interconnectedness of math, chemistry and history in an “intellectually stimulating environment” unlike any other in the state. Now, he’s outgrown model rocketry; as he heads toward a degree in aeronautical engineering, it’s technology like SpaceShipOne’s that sends him into orbit. SpaceShipOne was the first private manned spacecraft to zoom to a height over 100 kilometers when it was launched in October 2004, winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for the feat. Johann wants in on the so-called Private Spaceflight Revolution action, predicting that by the time he’s got his doctorate eight or nine years from now, the private spaceflight industry will be booming with possibilities for space tourism and what he called “rapid point-to-point passenger travel.” If in 30 years there’s a vehicle that will fly you from New York to Tokyo in only a half-hour, it might be called a Komander.

Age: 16
Hometown: Searcy
School: Searcy High
Parents: Warren and Cheri Lipscomb
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, political science, business, music

Paganini and politics

This teen, two years younger than most graduating seniors, manages to ace his AP classes while fiddling around. Marc, who began listening to the classics while still in his crib, began learning the violin at the age of 8. Now he’s teaching the instrument to young musicians in the White County Youth Orchestra he created and playing at weddings and other community events. He’s passionate about making a good sound — expressing something beyond “just the notes.” But at the tender age of 16 his desires are in conflict: Should he pursue a career in music … or as a politician? At the Governor’s School last summer, a program for the state’s top students, Marc said he began “thinking about political things, how this country could use some good leaders. I think could give it a shot.” So while he adores Paganini — “I wish I could play like that guy,” he says — he likes the president, too, and thinks he’d make a good “moderate right wing” candidate for office. Wisely, he’s composing a course of study that will prepare him for both — classes in music and political science and business. What could tip the balance away from strings and toward the stump? A Lamborghini, that’s what. His father — who wears two hats himself as a State Police investigator and an interdenominational minister — promised he buy him the famous sports car if he was elected to the nation’s highest office. What if he’s elected governor instead? A 1965 convertible Mustang would be nice, though Marc added he’d just like to get the one he has already fixed for now.

Age: 18
Hometown: Van Buren
School: Van Buren High
Parents: Charles and Carol Parks
College plans: University of Arkansas, biological engineering

Plant detective

When middle-class American teen-agers go on mission trips south, they come back with eyes opened to poverty and suffering. When the daughter of one of Arkansas’s largest greenhouse owners returns from a month-long visit to Nicaragua, she comes back changed, too — but she’s also inspired to make change, and she’s thinking of using plants to do it.

On her many trips to Central America for her church, Shaina, who speaks Spanish and a smattering of the Indian dialect Miskito, has helped medical personnel treat afflictions like malaria and dengue fever, diseases that cost dearly to treat. Now, with her fellowship to the UA’s Honors College in hand, she envisions a future of fieldwork seeking medicinal plants in the tropical forest that will offer cures to these diseases. She’ll also do laboratory research as a UA’s Honors College fellow, and study abroad — a perk of the fellowship — perhaps in Thailand, the home of the foreign exchange student her family is now hosting in Van Buren.

Van Buren High’s top student is always scaling the heights, figuratively and literally: the self-described tomboy likes to climb and go bouldering on the cliff outcrops near Fern (north of Mulberry). But while she enjoys such ventures, the troubles of the world’s poor weigh heavily on her. The outgoing teen told her parents in December that if she were a couple of years older, she’d be in Indonesia helping the victims of the tsunami. This is not a young woman worried about getting a bid from the Greek system, but about how much she’s learned about Greece and the other near Eastern civilizations her Academic Decathlon team — no. 1 in Arkansas — knows when it competes this week in Chicago. One can only wonder at her lowest grade ever: an A- in marching band. It surely wasn’t for a misstep.

Nicholas Roland
Age: 18
Hometown: Springdale
School: Springdale High
Parents: David and Cathy Roland
College plans: University of Arkansas

A real leader

Not only does Nicholas Roland lead by example, he leads in so many different areas: on the football field, as the school’s top-ranked student and even as the lead in the upcoming school musical, “Grease,” as Danny Zuko.

“I get to do three solo songs,” Nicholas said. “The rough part for me will be the dancing.”

He perhaps could incorporate some of the moves he learned on the football field as a defender for the powerful Springdale Bulldogs last season. Nicholas’ forte on the field was covering passing teams as an outside linebacker, his coach said, but his biggest impact was as a mentor to other players.

“It was really unique, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player that kids were so open with as they were with him,” Coach Gus Malzahn said. “A lot of times, kids don’t feel comfortable telling things to coaches, and a lot of ours looked up to Nick for advice.”

His counselor, Connie Williams, said, “He’s just incredible. I don’t know how to say it any other way. He is musically talented, he’s an athlete, he has the grades that go with that. And plus he’s just a fine human being. He mentors youths at his church. He’s just one of those people you meet once in your lifetime.”

Nicholas credits his parents with pushing him into a variety of activities early, and he continues to search out new ones such as recently taking up piano. Nicholas said he reads a lot about theology and philosophy, and particularly works by C.S. Lewis.

He has a chancellor’s scholarship as well as an Honors College fellowship to the University of Arkansas, where engineering and music figure in his studies. “Hopefully I’ll be going somewhere else for graduate school but I’m excited about staying here for college,” Nicholas said. “I love Northwest Arkansas.”

Amanda K. Verma
Age: 18
Hometown: North Little Rock
School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Dr. Virendar and Neelam Verma
College plans: Undecided (Duke, Georgetown, Rice, Wellesley)

Laboratory work for most high school students would involve a Bunsen burner, the periodic chart and getting a kick at a primitive reaction spilling out of test tubes. But Amanda Verma’s lab work has been at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she has assisted Thomas J. Kelly, Ph.D., in breast cancer research.

“I basically helped him out with his experiments,” said Amanda, who also volunteers at the Arkansas Cancer Research Center a few hours a week. “We’ve been looking at an enzyme to stop breast cancer from spreading in the body.”

Her science research paper on the project led her to the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Baltimore last spring, where she was one of six first-place winners in the medical category and awarded a $16,000 scholarship. She later presented the research at the London International Youth Science Forum.

Linda Porter, her counselor at Little Rock Central, says, “One of the things about Amanda that has impressed me so is that she truly feels honored at being engaged in this research at this age. You don’t find that feeling in somebody as young as she is. It shows a lot of maturity on her part and the commitment and understanding of the enormity of the research on breast cancer and the impact it has.”

Born in North Carolina to parents from India, Amanda and her family moved to Arkansas when she was starting school. Her career ambitions include being a physician, like her father, while still working in a lab.

Amanda says she likes art and drawing in her spare time, and at Central she’s also been involved in the Young Democrats. She says a future involvement in politics is possible.

“She is just lovely,” Porter said, “and dedicated. And she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers. She’s thoroughly trustworthy and honest in all of her dealings.”

Lawrence Watts Jr.
Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Larry and Elizabeth Watts
College plans: Princeton

Competitive nature

Dare to engage Lawrence Watts in any kind of competition, from class work to friendly games of Ultimate Frisbee, and you’d better plan for a long day.

“I love to compete at anything,” says Central High School’s top-ranked student, who’s never made a semester grade lower than an A. “I love basketball, soccer, sports, anything to compete at. My competitive nature is probably what drives me.”

But he plays with grace, his Central counselor, Linda Porter, says. “He’s such a gentleman about it, about everything. He is so nice to everyone.”

Lawrence is one of thousands around the world who log on to an Internet PC strategy game called Warcraft III, where a player oversees and guides entire armies. He ranked first in his classification in the United States at one point last year.

“Lately, I haven’t had as much time to play, and if you don’t play you drop, so my ranking has fallen to 10 to 15,” he said. “But I like to play whenever I’ve got the time.”

Lawrence says he was reading when he was 2 years old. He credits his parents’ efforts as well as those of his late grandmother, Carol Holcomb. “My grandmother would always help me along,” he said. “She was just always there in support of me.”

Watts says he’ll likely blend math and philosophy at college “and probably end up teaching at the university level. That’s what you end up doing with math and philosophy degrees. But I enjoy [teaching].” He volunteers one to two days a week teaching MathCounts math contest teams at Pulaski Heights Middle School.

He also captained Central’s quiz bowl team this year. “We finished third in the state tournament,” Watts said. “It was kind of upsetting, but third in the state is not bad.”

He didn’t sound completely convincing that he enjoyed settling for third.

Age: 17
Hometown: Walnut Ridge
School: Walnut Ridge High School
Parents: Fred and Susan Weeks
College plans: University of Arkansas; Mechanical Engineering.

For kicks

When it comes to going the distance, not many would be able to keep pace with Walnut Ridge High’s Chance Weeks. And though he’s a whiz in the classroom — a National Merit Finalist, first in his class of fifty, with a G.P.A. of 4.16 — we’re not just talking about his prowess before the chalkboard.

Since the age of 16, Weeks has been a black belt in Tang Soo Do — a Korean martial art whose name means “Art of the Knife Hand.” After studying the fighting style since he was 5 years old (his father, Fred, is an instructor), Chance received his first-degree black belt in September 2003.

In addition to being tested on the details by a panel of nine Tang Soo Do masters (“It was more like a roast than an interview,” he said. “They raked me over the coals, made me double-cross myself, just making sure I had the mental capacity and strength to be a black belt.”) the endurance portion of his certification meant he had to spar with eight opponents in a row, five minutes per match, with virtually no rest in between.

With drive like that, college should be a walk in the park. After weighing offers from several institutions, Chance has accepted a chancellor’s scholarship at the University of Arkansas, where he plans to study mechanical engineering. In addition, Chance recently found out that he’s been accepted to the university’s marching band, where he will continue his passion for the trumpet. When the reporter chuckled at the thought of a black belt in the marching band, Chance said there’s nothing unmanly about pursuing the arts. Singing in the choir, he said, took as much fortitude as taking on any high-kicking opponent.

“I do it all,” he laughed. “I don’t think singing in the choir is sissy at all. It takes some guts to get up there and sing.”

John F. “Jack” Willems
Age: 18
Hometown: Searcy
School: Subiaco Academy
Parents: Cathy and Michael Willems
College plans: University of Arkansas; journalism and political science

The news that Subiaco Academy’s Jack Willems might be in the market for a newspaper job in a couple of years is enough to make us a little nervous. If he’s as good at writing as he has been at making the grade, one of us crusty old pencil pushers is bound to find himself put out to pasture.

If we’re lucky, Jack will follow one of his myriad other passions (he plays trumpet in the school jazz band, and he’s leaning toward making a go at life as a novelist as well). A soon-to-be third-generation Subiaco alumnus, Jack is first in his class of 40, with a 4.0 G.P.A. and an S.A.T score of 1530 (his first stab at the SAT— taken on a morning when he woke up with only ten minutes to make the test — netted him a paltry “1300-something” he said). A National Merit Finalist, he’s been accepted to the University of Arkansas with a full scholarship.

While living at boarding school has been difficult in some respects, Jack said he can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. “Sometimes it’s hard because there aren’t any girls there, and I’m away from my parents,” he said. “On the other hand, I do get to live with my friends. Another thing is that I think I’m prepared to go to college because I know how to live in a dorm situation.”

While he won’t say he’s a perfectionist, when it comes to academics, Jack admits he’s the kind of guy who does it right or not at all. “There’s lots of things I don’t mind not being perfect about,” he said. “It’s just that when it comes to grades, it’s clear that I’m good at academics and not much anything else. I try to be good at that, because at least that means I’m good at something.”

Teryin Wixson
Age: 18
Hometown: Fisher
School: Weiner High School
Parents: Terry and Gayle Wixon
College plans: University of Arkansas, Oklahoma State University; University of Oklahoma or Texas A&M; pre-veterinary medicine.

While many all-stars are workhorses in the classroom, Teryin Wixson might be the first to ever admit consorting with swine. Though her nomination form sported such highlights as a 4.0 G.P.A., an SAT score of 1360, and a number one ranking in her high school class, the city slicker in us just had to know about the one agrarian detail buried under all those academic accomplishments: “County Reserve Grand Champion Premium Pig.” Yes, like many youngsters at her rural school, Teryin reared a prize-winning hog in the 10th grade. But for asymmetrical hams, it might have been a state champion.

“I actually raised it in the yard outside my house,” she said. “And then later on, I took it up to the school and raised it there with some other pigs that were there, that some other kids were raising.”

Her forebears have farmed the same land in Poinsett County for going on five generations. Teryin plans to leave the family legacy up to her brothers, focusing instead on a career as a veterinarian.

While academics have always come easy to her, getting out of bed some mornings has been hard, thanks to the migraines she has suffered since early childhood. She never shirked school, however. “I’d turn down going out and doing something or going to the movies,” she said. “But I’d always go to school. There was no way I was staying home.” Partially due to the fact that doctors think her headaches might have something to do with her being born premature, Teryin has volunteered extensively with the March of Dimes, now serving in her fourth year as a member of her local March of Dimes youth council. And while it might be pigheaded of us to use such a ham-handed cliché, we think that makes her a real pearl. We’ll keep the “before swine” part to ourselves.