By Michelle Chance
Over a dozen Maricopa High School students were recognized Wednesday at the Maricopa Unified School District Board Meeting for excelling in community service, academics and athletics.
Sophomore Evan Grace, who serves as an Arizona Governor’s Youth Commissioner, was honored for receiving the Prudential Spirit of the Community Local Honoree award, as well as the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was signed by former President Barack Obama. This is the second time Grace has won both awards.
Evan’s mother, Merry Grace, said the awards are in recognition for Evan’s fund-raising efforts with Relay for Life, which raises money for the American Cancer Society.
Merry said Evan plans to participate in future Relay for Life events in Maricopa for the rest of his high school career, and will further his participation with the cause when he transfers to college.
Junior Diamond Sims was later approved by the Board to graduate early after completing all of the necessary coursework required to receive her high school diploma.
Sims’ guidance counselor, Rebecca Collins said she is “impressed with Diamond’s determination, eagerness and positive attitude.”
Sims originally set her goal to graduate early when she was just a freshman at MHS.
“Being approved to graduate early on Wednesday night made me feel as if I could accomplish anything,”
Sims said. “That night made me realize that as long as you put forth the effort and realize what you really want in life you will achieve any goal with minimum obstacles. One of my favorite motivational quotes is, ‘To be average is to be the best of the worst and the worst of the best…who wants to be average?’”
Collins met Sims this school year and said that she has had weekly contact with her via email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
“She has taken above and beyond the courses that are required for graduation,” Collins said. “Diamond works as well and attends very demanding and challenging classes at Maricopa High School.”
The young go-getter will have the opportunity to walk adorned in a cap and gown with seniors in May.
A parade of exceptional MHS athletes were also featured during the meeting.
Girls’ high school basketball coach Melvin Mitchell, who himself was recognized at the meeting for receiving the 5A Metro Region Coach of the Year, highlighted three outstanding players.
First up was Jayla Johnson who received Second Team All-Conference in 5A Metro.
Johnson is the youngest member of an academic-athletic family dynasty at MHS.
Next, Mitchell recognized senior Tyra Williams who has earned a variety of awards during her time playing for MHS.
“She’s been Pinal County Player of the Year as well as Metro Region 5A Conference Player of the year and, frankly, I’m sad to see her go,” Mitchell said.
The coach then recognized Junior Sydni Callis, adding, “She is definitely someone who is going to carry us in our future.”
MHS boys’ basketball players Darrell Handy-Johnson and Josh Johnson were honored by Chestnut at the meeting.
“(The) team qualified and participated in the state tournament this year and had a good season,” Chestnut said.
Senior Handy-Johnson was given honorable mention in 5A Metro. Johnson, a junior, received First Team All-Region recognition.
Three MHS girls’ soccer players were recognized during the meeting as well.
Coach Pedro Olivares said he was “very proud of these girls for what they’ve done this year.”
Hitting close to home for MUSD Board President Patti Coutré was the honoring of Shannon Coutré, who received Second Team 5A Metro Region honors.
The president’s daughter and an “up-and-coming leader of the team,” Coutré was further described by her coach as “the fastest girl I’ve ever seen.”
Two players leaving the team this year are seniors Amanda Maciel and Lauren Davis.
Maciel scored an impressive 25 goals this season and received First Team Metro Region Honors.
Olivares described Davis, team captain, as having a great attitude and a determined sprit who went “above and beyond” for her team.
MHS boys’ soccer coach Cortney Kellenaers honored four players from his team Wednesday night.
“Our success on the field this year – making playoffs – was the first time since we were a 3A team. It was really all because of our defense,” Kellenaers said.
Defense was led in part by seniors Elijah Aviles and Jacob Padilla.
Aviles, who served as team captain, was named First Team All-Region and his coach said he hopes Aviles will win 5A Honors as well after voting concludes.
“Elijah is the most vocal guy on the field,” Kellenaers said. “He leads by more example than you could ever ask for.”
Padilla was voted Pinal County Player of the Year and received First Team All-Conference honors.
“His rock-solid defense in the middle really held everything together – and with Elijah screaming behind him, it was hard to get shots on goals,” Kellenaers said.
Two other players who were not present at the meeting were also recognized.
Freshman Taylor Russo won Second Team All Region, First Team Pinal County and he was voted by his team as Rookie of the Year.
Diego Castro, a junior at MHS, received Second Team All Region, “as our leading goal scorer this year,” Kellenaers said.