February 1, 2017
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
On the final offensive play of the 2016 season, Drew Harris and Gavin White walked into the huddle, smiled and gave each of their Red Hawk teammates a hug.
For the seniors, it was the realization of a four-year goal.
It was also the shared culmination of a high school football career that provided them with important life-lessons they’ll take with them when they graduate from Stewarts Creek High School in May.
They learned the value of hard work.
They learned what it meant to be one team.
They trailed 41-7 and eventually lost to Hillsboro High School in a Division I Class 5A football tournament for the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association. When they broke the huddle and stepped up to the line of scrimmage – Harris plays right guard, while White is the left guard – it wasn’t about winning or losing.
“It was like, ‘This is it guys,’” White recalled. “We bonded in that moment. We weren’t going to win, but it was a special moment.”
“We did it,” added Harris. “We did what we set out to do.”
In four years, they went from being a one-win team to making the Playoffs and together as a team they helped to change the attitude of an entire school.
That last huddle – 11 boys coming together as young men – was a microcosm of the past four years at Stewarts Creek, and, as the first graduating class to attend the school all four years, they proudly refer to themselves as “full-blooded Creek.”
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Stewarts Creek High School opened in the fall of 2013.
The student body was originally a collection of students who would have otherwise attended Smyrna, LaVergne and Blackman High Schools. Stewarts Creek is located in Smyrna and completes a campus that also includes an elementary and middle school.
Now in its fourth year, Stewarts Creek has created its own students-first attitude.
In addition to the traditional academic studies – math, science, social studies, English and foreign languages – the school also boasts a robust fine arts program as well as an impressive career and technical education department.
Students can choose from pathways that include everything from athletic training, health science and dental science to agriculture and animal science as well as culinary arts, auto collision repair and cosmetology.
Dr. Clark Harrell, who was previously an assistant principal at nearby Blackman before being named principal at Stewarts Creek prior to the school’s opening, recently arranged for 11 “full-blooded Creek” seniors – Tucker Darden, Brent Liles, Alexis Seilkop, Lydia Farthing, Darwin Visan, Corey Perkins, Katie Bain, Jared Martin, Faith Marable, White and Harris – to take part in an hour-long roundtable discussion.
What makes your school unique?
Tucker Darden: We’re all a family.
Brent Liles: We bring the community together. We have the elementary and middle school and we have the high school right here. You bring in all of those plus the family and just all the people who see what’s going on here and they want to be a part of that, and I think it’s cool to see the community come out to be part of what we have to offer.
My firsthand experience with Stewarts Creek was a play this past fall and it felt like everyone was either involved or came out in support of it. You’re shaking your head yes. Are you part of the drama department?
Alexis Seilkop: I’m not, but I can feel what you feel.
Drew Harris: Our director Mr. (Donald) Fann has this way of including everyone. Even from the schools across the street. He’ll pull in kids from the middle school and elementary school. They can participate and look forward to that and look forward to being a big part of these things in the future.
Is there a sense of pride whenever you invite the public in and showcase your school?
Lydia Farthing: It’s interesting that this school – where others might not – fine arts and the drama department are just as important as sports. We look forward to coming in and seeing all the hard work they do.
Darwin Visan: We have a great facility with so many different rooms. You have the auto shop, a broadcasting studio. We even have an animal department, where you can groom dogs.
Corey Perkins: Along with what Lydia said, we really feed off of each other. Whether it’s a sport or a fine art or any program that is excelling, we’re all proud and in return we all desire to be the best in our own program. We came together all from different backgrounds and now we are full-blooded Creek.
What does it mean to be full-blooded Creek?
Harris: I had just moved here so it was nice to have everybody being new. … It presented a lot of opportunities and all those cliques you would find in middle school, they just basically all disappeared and people were allowed to become friends with so many other people.
Gavin White: I was homeschooled until ninth grade, so coming from that background and not knowing anybody, the school opened up and everybody in this room really brought me in … as if I was with them all the through elementary school. We’re a family here. It’s not like we’re just going to school to go to school, but we actually care about one another … and how we’re doing and how we’re going to succeed in life.
Katie Bain: We all had mixed emotions about coming to … a brand new school and there was nothing to live up to so we were all pretty nervous, but over the past four years I’ve definitely realized being at a new school is the best thing that could have happened. We had a chance to make history. We had a chance to make things the way we want them to be and not have to conform to what was there before us so we were able to create our own traditions.
Talk about those traditions.
Liles: We are one team.
Jared Martin: Kind of going off what Brent said, we try to include everyone and we try to make everyone feel like they’re a part. For example, last year, we had a group of 30 students leave school early to come watch the cross country team race. … Everybody just feels like they’re bringing something to the table.
Farthing: Another tradition is that it’s very student-led. There’s a lot of student participation.
Harris: Speaking about the theater department and it being student-led, we are one of the only programs that has students doing everything. Backstage stage managing or upstairs running the lights, students are doing everything besides the directing and even this fall we had a student direct a production. Seeing the practicality of that play out, it helps everyone look forward to the future. It’s a practical way of showing people what they could be doing in a job setting.
What do you want to talk about?
Darden: I’d like to talk about all the opportunities we have at this school starting with college prep to career prep. We have so many opportunities with clubs and CTE courses and it prepares (us) for real life. It’s not just a high school learning curriculum. You can learn how to go fix a car. You can go learn how to fix a computer. You can go learn how to groom a dog. If that’s what you want to do in life then you’re going to learn how to do that in high school.
You mentioned the vet program and the auto shop. There’s also a pre-dental program. How thankful are you for CTE opportunities like that?
White: I’m going through the medical pathway so this will be my fourth year going to a medical classroom, and it’s really connected me to the medical field and how much I do want to go into it. It showed me from the basics to the class I’m in now learning how to tape ankles (like an) athletic trainer. There are other classes you can take like the dental pathway and you can graduate and become a dental assistant and that’s a decent paying job.
Perkins: I went into my pathway freshmen year thinking I wanted to be in the medical field, but maybe without going into that pathway I would have never learned that I don’t want to go into the medical field. … You can see what you want to do, but you can also see what you don’t want to do.
Faith Marable: I came from a lot of different schools and a lot of these opportunities I never had. … I’m in choir and I could sing, but my voice hadn’t really developed. … I’m really thankful for Dr. (Brian) Russell, my choir teacher, and he’s helped my voice develop.
We’ve talked a lot about courses and pathways, but what about your instructors?
Darden: My mom, (Teresa Darden), is a teacher here. … The time and commitment she puts into her students is incredible. When she’s at home she’s committed to her cheer team or her students. We maybe get a weekend a month that we actually get to hang out and do stuff. I can make a movie about her. She’s so involved.
Martin: This morning I actually met with Tucker (Darden’s) mom for extra help. Normally I would just go to the classroom, but she had bus duty so she was in the cafeteria and she still offered to give me extra help.
Bain: His mom is just one example of a teacher who goes above and beyond to help us. Looking back on my high school years, so many teachers – not just teachers, but other faculty members like Dr. Harrell and Ms. Kristy (Smith) in the front office – they’ve all had such an influence on my life because of how much they care and how much time and effort they put into not just our education but getting to know us as people and actually caring about teaching us life lessons.
Darden: One person who has influenced all of us is Dr. Harrell. He’s our principal first and foremost, but he’s also our friend. Anything we need we can come and talk to him. He was in the Air Force and he was the chaplain of a church so he always has something good to say and he always has the right words.
Farthing: He’s not afraid to show his humility.
Perkins: When he walked in [the conference room prior to the roundtable discussion, which he did not take part in], he said you can say anything. He said, ‘Just don’t say anything about me.’ That shows the humility he has. Nothing is about him. Everything is about us.
Bain: Last year, the girl’s soccer team made it to the district semi-finals for the first time, and Dr. Harrell had a parade. He had the whole school in the hallways and he led the soccer team through the hallways and everyone cheered.
Perkins: As a man, we can all agree he’s one the greatest role models we can have. Trickling down from that, you have a bunch of teachers and faculty, who along with him, are our role models.
White: This staff is very relatable. Students make mistakes. Teachers make mistakes. We all go through things.
Marable: What really motivated me was my ACT score. … My junior year I had a 17 and I was not really happy with this score. My goal was 21 or higher, so I went to Coach (Todd) Harris and he helped me and motivated me to keep trying. … I took it again in September and I still made a 17, and I said I was going to keep striving for it. Then I took it in October … and I made a 26. When I told him that, he hugged me and it was truly inspiring.
Farthing: There was a time last year I was going through a lot of stuff and I busted out in tears during third period. My teacher, at the time, was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘I just need to go to the bathroom’ and I ended up actually going to Ms. (Morgan) Evans’ class and talking with her. She helped me out a lot. I kind of call her my mom at school because she is. … She’s always there for me and I appreciate that.
Liles: There was a student last semester, who wasn’t coming to school that much and I’m friends with him. Mr. (Bart) Dement was like, ‘I want you to call him every morning and tell him to come to school.’ Ever since then, I call him every morning. … I just think that Mr. Dement, by using me, shows he cares about the other student. He’s not the only one here who cares about students like that.
Seilkop: It’s easy to take for granted how much they do for us because we don’t always think about all the work they’re doing. They’re doing all they can for us and it really means a lot to us that they would give so much.
Harris: They want every student to have an opportunity to be successful.
Clayton Ledford, Stewarts Creek graduation coach: One common question we ask our valedictorians is what you’ll remember most about your journey from freshmen to seniors?
Harris: Something that I’ll definitely remember is the culture that we created. Coming in here as freshmen, I don’t think any of us saw what we were capable of. … We created a culture of positivity and that’s what I’m going to remember — the friendships.
Farthing: I’m going to remember freshmen year when they told us what the motto of this school was – One Team. I remember laughing so hard at that because I just didn’t really get it. We all came from different schools … but as years went on we’re all one team. It doesn’t matter what your past was or what school you came from, we’re all in this together.
Perkins: One thing our baseball coach, Coach (Michael) Bartlett, has always stressed to us is that years from now you’re not going to remember the homerun you hit, you’re not going to remember going to state, you’re going to remember the relationships and the people you were with. I’m starting to see that more and more. … I can truly say that I will never forget the relationships that I formed here. Whether that be with the principal, the teachers, the students, and I’ll more than likely keep those relationships forever.
High school is that time when you grow up and start to become who you’re really going to be as people. Do you feel like you’ve grown up in that way?
Bain: I feel like over these past four years I really found who I am and who I want to be. Everything around me and everything I’ve learned here has inspired me to be the best that I can be.
Seilkop: When we all come in as freshmen it’s hard to not care what people think about you. You’re always thinking, ‘What is this person going to say about me if I do this?’
Martin: We have a core group from the cross country team that started sophomore year. We didn’t all know each other and we definitely didn’t all like each other, but now we consider each other family and we call each other brothers.
This is a unique situation where many of you would not have gone to high school together had Stewarts Creek not been built. It takes time to come together and feel comfortable.
Liles: Something that’s really cool to see – last year and this year – is the rise of leadership, as you can see in this room. Student leadership in this school is something that has been a key element. It’s cool to see how people have developed into these young adults.
Perkins: A challenge outside of the classroom that we don’t think of much, but is engrained, is the character we display outside of school. … We’re holding our whole school accountable when we wear our Stewarts Creek colors.
Do you feel like you’re prepared for whatever the future holds?
Liles: Mr. Dement is an English teacher here, and one of the things he brought to my attention is he opens your mind to the world and what the future is going to be like. He also makes you evaluate yourself. That’s something you can’t get out of a textbook.
Visan: I think this school has definitely prepared us for what’s next. In life, you’re going to go through a lot of adversity and with us being a new school … we went through a lot of adversity and to get through it, it was unity and the care that everybody had. … That shows you’re going to take some hits in life, but you have to get back up.
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
First Two Photos: Nearly 500 seniors gather in front of Stewarts Creek High School. The Class of 2017 is the first graduating class to have attended the school all four years. They affectionately refer to themselves as “full-blooded Creek.”
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
Senior Caitlin Schabacker performs a dental procedure on fellow senior Taylor Wagner in Alonna Smith’s dental science class.
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
While his classmates spend Wednesday morning grooming dogs in their animal science class, junior Marco Watkins, tends to Simon.
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
Sophomores Toni McCrary and Shelbie Warner groom Carley with the assistance of animal science instructor Amy Olt in Wednesday morning’s animal class.
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
Information technology instructor Patrick Vest talks about Talon Technology, the student-run electronics repair and recycle business that is open to the public. The $50 computer repairs are used to pay the student fees for their professional IT certifications.