Old stereotypes are hard to eradicate. Debunking myths and false labels can be a laborious burden at times. But the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award, given annually to the top scholar-athlete in the country, is the perfect antidote to break down all of those mythic barriers of achievement by African American young men. The Watkins Award is about high achievement in the classroom as it is about being the best of the best on the football field.
Every year, a group of African American high school athletes and their parents come to Los Angeles to be recognized as leaders on campus as well as being saluted for their athletic prowess. Since 1992, the first year of the Watkins Award, celebration of the players’ academic excellence has proven to knock down the rap about black athletes as it serves as a promotional tool of the success they are making in hitting the books more than their standard of greatness on the football field.
This isn’t a gimmick. It is no dog-and-pony show. Most of the scholar-athletes chosen as regional and national finalists for the Watkins Award go on to higher heights in both their athletic and academic careers. Former Florida State All-American defensive back Myron Rolle is a Rhodes Scholar. The rest of the best have gone on to NFL fame, including Justin Blalock of the Atlanta Falcons; Gerald McCoy & Arrelious Benn of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ben Tate & DeVier Posey of the Houston Texans; Ted Ginn Jr. of the San Francisco 49ers; Marcedes Lewis of Jacksonville Jaguars and Mohammed Massaquoi of the Cleveland Browns,
At a time when only 52 percent of black male students graduate from high school in four years, the individuals chosen by The National Alliance of African American Athletes (The Alliance), serve as a reminder that there still high achievers out there if we choose to look and find them. According to The Urgency of Now: The Schott Foundation 50 State Report on Black Males and Public Education, there are 13 states where the graduation rate of black male high school students is below 50 percent. New York (37 percent) and the District of Columbia (38 percent) have the poorest rates of graduating black males.
When considering those alarming and disturbing statistics, applauding and supporting the efforts and classroom success of the Watkins Award honorees is even more pertinent and noteworthy.
Joshua Dobbs, one of the more highly recruited high school quarterbacks in the country before signing a letter of intent with the University of Tennessee, was given the distinction of being the 2013 Watkins Award winner. A member of the National Honor Society and National Society of High School Scholars, Dobbs carries a 4.0 G.P.A. as a student at Alpharetta High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Dobbs was in good company at the yearly ceremonial event, beating out four other heralded scholar-athletes.
Jordan Cunningham, an Under Armour All-American, maintains a 3.8 G.P.A. at University High School in Ft. Lauderdale. Florida. Cunningham is the Florida Scholar Athlete of the Year, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Corey Robinson, an Army All-American, carries a 4.4 G.P.A as a student at San Antonio Christian High School in San Antonio, Texas. He is a National Merit Scholar and made the Academic All-State team. An academic All-American and Under Armour All-American at Millbrook High School in Tampa, Florida, Leon McQuay III is no slouch himself in the classroom, boasting a 4.7 G.P.A.
Rounding out the five finalists for the coveted award was Kendall Beckwith, who maintains a 3.4 G.P.A as a student at East Feliciana High School in Clinton, Louisiana. Beckwith was picked as the ESPN Radio Player of the Year and is Under Armour All-American. Not too bad of a crop representing outstanding work in studies and on the gridiron.
“The 2013 Watkins Award features an incredible year of fine student athletes,” Everette Pearsall, Executive Director of The Alliance, said in a released statement prior to this year’s Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award ceremony, which was held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. “Each of these young men are well equipped for success academically. We have continued to recognize and honor the premier African American Scholar Athletes in the United States.”