Every spring, I have the privilege of calling eight high school seniors and telling them they're receiving a college scholarship.
It's one of the best parts of my job.
Our scholar-athlete program honors the best of the best from around the area, and the reactions from the scholarship winners are always genuine and heartwarming. Most are surprised. All are thankful and grateful.
But this year, there was a reaction like never before.
Evan Anderson didn't want his scholarship.
Oh, the baseball standout from Dale High School was as thankful and grateful as any winner I've ever talked to. But he wanted someone else to have the money from his scholarship.
We will celebrate our scholar-athletes on Sunday, and you will read about the accomplishments of some amazing young people. But the story of Evan Anderson's scholarship was one that we had to share, too.
On May 22, I started to call the scholarship winners. Anderson was my first one, but instead of reaching him, his dad picked up the phone.
Dan Anderson told me that Evan wasn't home, that he was actually out cleaning up storm damage. Only a few days had passed since tornadoes tore across our area. The need for help was great, and Evan was doing what he could.
His dad said that for all the things Evan had done in high school, he'd never been prouder of his son than he was for him volunteering.
That's saying something because Anderson has done plenty to make his parents proud.
Twice named the Little All-City player of the year, he played on three state championship baseball teams at Dale and earned a scholarship at Mississippi. He was also one of the best small-school basketball players in the metro.
In the classroom, he maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
But his parents have always stressed to him, his sister and his brother that they need to do more. Pitch in when people need help. Give back. Volunteer.
“He knows he's fortunate,” his dad said. “He's been blessed with abilities and a lot of things that other people don't have.”
When Evan was young, his dad showed him a picture of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese girl who'd collapsed. The photo had won the Pulitzer Prize, and it made an impression on Evan.
“If I ever make it big,” he told his dad, “I'm going to help people who need it.”
But he hasn't waited until hitting the big time.
After an EF4 tornado destroyed homes and killed two near Shawnee on May 19 — it missed his house by only a quarter mile — Anderson spent four or five days volunteering around the area. The hours were long. The work was tedious. One day, it was cool and rainy and pretty darn miserable.
But the reward was obvious.
“You could tell the people really appreciated it,” Anderson said.
So, when I called to tell Anderson about his scholarship, he had those people on his mind.
He told me he wanted to donate his scholarship money to tornado victims.
Never before had one of the scholar-athlete scholarship winners wanted to do anything like that.
Even though I thought it was one of the coolest gestures ever, I felt in necessary to tell him that the scholarship money could be deferred a few years. He has scholarships right now that will pay for everything at Ole Miss, but maybe there'd be a time when other scholarships he has will expire. Maybe he'd want to use the money for grad school.
Anderson wasn't swayed.
He wanted to donate the money.
After discussion at The Oklahoman and with our program partners at the Jim Thorpe Association, everyone signed off on Anderson's wishes. A $1,000 donation to the American Red Cross will be made in his name in the coming weeks.
Along the way, everyone said how neat they thought the whole thing was.
I couldn't agree more.
Even if I'm calling kids to tell them that they've won scholarships for many years to come, I'll never hear a reaction better than this.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.