This month, for the 36th year, the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Scholarship Program rewarded high school senior student-athletes from every corner of Alabama for a job well done.
Learn more about the scholarship program named in honor of the late coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama and Ralph “Shug” Jordan of Auburn, which has given $11,155,000 to 3,326 student athletes since 1986.
A Flyer at the School
Sam Shade tells the story like it was yesterday.
Over 30 years ago, he was in the ninth grade at Wenonah High School on Birmingham’s west side.
“Back then, they had flyers hanging up in the school and stuff like that. I saw a flyer one day about the Bryant-Jordan Award. It described what it was about and what it was for. I thought it was pretty cool. I had always been a good student and athlete. I thought man, if I worked hard it might be something I could win. It was something to set my sights on.”
Focused on that goal, during his senior year he earned the Bryant-Jordan Scholar-Athlete of the Year award in 1991, becoming the first African American to do so.
“My mother was a teacher and a principal in Birmingham City Schools. This was a big deal not only for me but for her and the rest of my family. To be recognized, not just for athletics but also for academics. It was also important for my community, the west side of Birmingham.”
According to Shade, the Bryant-Jordan award gave him confidence. Empowered, he went on to earn a scholarship to play football for the University of Alabama, starting as a freshman defensive back on the 1992 National Championship team.
After a storied career with the Crimson Tide, Shade played eight years in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins before his career as a football player was cut short by a neck injury.
The following years, he coached high school and collegiate football. He even had a brief stint as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns before he landed his first head-coaching job at Pinson Valley High School in 2020. In his debut season, during the COVID pandemic, he led the Indians to the Class 6A state football title.
“The Bryant-Jordan award showed me I was capable of going on to do bigger and better things, academically and athletically, It definitely gave me a boost, a push, to move forward and try to accomplish even more.”
No Other Program Like It in the Nation
The Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program was established in 1986 by the Board of Directors of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF) in partnership with the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA). At the time, there were no other programs like it in the nation, according to Scott Myers, the Executive Director of ASHOF.
The scholarship program is uniquely Alabama.
Larry Striplin, a renowned Birmingham philanthropist and businessman, was the ASHOF board member who led the effort—both raising money for this scholarship foundation, and getting the program started. Herman L. “Bubba” Scott, the AHSAA Executive Director at the time, also played a significant role getting the member schools on board.
“He (Striplin) had the foresight to build the program around Coach Bryant and Coach Jordan, who had a significant impact on the state of Alabama. They also had a tremendous following, fan base and people that played for them and loved them. That’s what enabled the scholarship program to continue to thrive and grow. AHSAA’s current Executive Director Coach Savarese has shared this model with the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) and it is being used and spoken about in other states,” said Myers.
In recent years, the number of scholarships given to students has grown significantly through the leadership of current ASHOF and scholarship program Chairman Edgar Welden.
“Under his leadership and guidance, the program provides more scholarships to more students. We have also partnered with community colleges and four-year institutions in a much larger way,” added Myers.
How the Scholarship Program Works
Currently, the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program honors 104 AHSAA senior student-athletes annually from 1A to 7A, the smallest high schools to the largest. Seniors in every high school in the AHSAA are eligible. Last year the program awarded $380,000.
Scholarships recognize student-athletes not solely on their athletic accomplishments but also for their academic excellence, extracurricular activities, community involvement and character.
“It’s always an encouraging time for me,” Myers told Bham Now. “Each year when we read through the profiles and the stories of these young women and men, we know that the future of our state is in good hands. They’re just amazing young men and women.”
The program is divided into two categories of winners — one based on balancing academics and athletics (Scholar-Athlete Award), the other based on achievement overcoming adversity, other difficulties and obstacles (Achievement Award). These student-athletes have overcome some significant adversity — an illness, injury, poverty, family crisis, etc.
A total of 52 students are honored annually in each category – eight region winners in each classification 1A through 6A and four region winners in Class 7A.
Schools are only allowed to nominate one scholar-athlete and one achievement award winner each year.
The 2021 Winners
At the April 12th Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Awards Banquet held in Birmingham, Linden High School’s Josh Williams and Sulligent High School’s John Corbell were selected the overall state winners for 2021.
Williams, a multi-sport standout at Linden, the smallest city school system in Alabama located in Marengo County, was the recipient of the Larry D. Striplin, Jr., Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. Corbell was selected for the Ken and Betty Joy Blankenship Student Achievement Athlete of the Year Award. For additional information about the winners visit AHSAA News.
“These student-athletes, who are receiving these awards, didn’t get here by accident. They’d be the first to tell you that they’re receiving these awards because of the care, love and support and guidance of their parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, administrators and teammates. I want to thank each of those individuals for helping these student athletes reach this pinnacle in their life.”AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese
Opportunity to Serve and a Life Lesson
Both Scott Myers and Sam Shade recognize the importance of the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program and the thousands of lives it has touched.
“The opportunity to serve in this capacity and to recognize the young women and men across the state in such a fashion is just really an honor. To hear their stories and to see their successes and to read about what they’ve been able to accomplish at this point in their life — for all of us involved it is a privilege to engage and to help,” concluded Myers.
Coach Shade summed it up best.
“I tell the kids all the time that the thing I like about athletics, particularly football, is that it teaches so many life lessons. You say what type of life lessons? It teaches hard work, a work ethic, dedication, perseverance, discipline. Over the years, it has really been special to see the way the program has grown and how many lives have changed because young scholar-athletes have been recognized through the Bryant-Jordan Scholar-Athlete Program.”
To learn more about Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program, visit: http://bryantjordan.org