Last year, longtime Cobb County resident Scott Pederson decided, in an effort to promote positivity among student-athletes, to begin Positive Athlete Georgia. The organization is a branch of a Philadelphia program started by former University of Georgia and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Hines Ward. “There have become more and more negative influences on our middle and high school aged kids the past few years,” Pederson says. “Often times, right or wrong, athletes are the most influential kids in the school, so we wanted to create a program that lifted up athletes, but not for their performance on the field, court or mat, but for their positive contributions to their teams, schools and communities. It’s changing culture in our schools as to what is really important in life.”
This program is an opportunity for parents, teachers, coaches and local residents to nominate a young man or woman in high school—public, private or homeschooled—to receive a scholarship and be recognized for his or her role as a positive student-athlete. Pederson says that the young person doesn’t necessarily have to be an exceptional football player or even the best cross-country runner in their school or throughout the state, but someone who exudes a positive demeanor, impacting those around them and influencing the best in people. “We are teaching kids the value of a positive attitude in life,” he adds. “99.9 percent of kids playing sports are not going to have a professional sports career like Hines Ward, but they can all learn what is valuable to prospective colleges and employers is that being a high-character, team oriented, selfless individual with a positive attitude will take you a long way in life.”
Ward, who now lives in metro Atlanta and has a multitude of jobs, including an NBC Sports’ analyst for NFL Sunday Night Football and Notre Dame football, pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl, some acting and public speaking, says that he hopes the program focuses the spotlight on how important positive attitude is, not only for sports but in life as well. “The most successful businessmen and women I’ve met in Pittsburgh and Georgia are positive individuals, so we’re using sports to help instill those characteristics at a young age,” he says. “Positivity is a life skill that will help any young person deal with relationships, obstacles and opportunities.” He went on to say that the organization symbolizes something for young people. “I wasn’t even the most talented guy on my football team—there were a lot of guys who had more talent. But I think what separated us was their negative attitude,” he continues. “I think that’s what the Positive Athlete in Pittsburgh and Georgia is all about.”
Community Jumping on Board
Pederson says the Cobb community is embracing Positive Athlete Georgia as well, specifically Star94, the Atlanta Hawks, the Georgia School Boards Association, Cobb County Schools and NorthStar Church. “I heard about Positive Athlete Georgia through a buddy at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta who had gotten to know [Pederson] and the organization,” recalls NorthStar Pastor Mike Linch. “He said to me, ‘You are going to love this,’ and boy was he right!” NorthStar hosted the first-ever awards ceremony last spring at its Kennesaw church.
Linch went on to say that the opportunity has been awesome for him. He works with student-athletes on a daily basis and has the privilege of being the football chaplain for Allatoona High School each fall. He is also the school’s varsity baseball pitching coach. “Positive Athlete Georgia reminds me daily of how many great young student-athletes there are playing on our school campuses,” he says. “Bad decisions by some may make the headlines but the reality is there are a lot more out there doing right than wrong.”
The inaugural program in Cobb began last year and focused on student-athletes in the Cobb County School District. That’s how Cobb Schools Athletic Director Steve Jones got involved, saying it was a “no brainer.” “It meant a great deal to have many of our athletes recognized by Positive Athlete,” he says. “So much of a student athlete’s success is measured by what they achieve on the field/court. However, we all know that what we are trying to teach young people is skills and attributes that will carry them through life and make them a successful and moral adult… The recognition and encouragement of these values is vital in their total development.” There are approximately 11,000 high school student-athletes in Cobb County Schools, participating in about 20 different sports within the system’s 16 high schools.
This year, Pederson has opened up the program to Marietta City Schools, private schools, as well as student-athletes who are homeschooled, and to date, Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw has already nominated three student-athletes, including Zach Strong, Graham Kingston and Carter Smith. These young men are just a handful of the 310 student-athletes in their high school. “This is great program and opportunity to honor student-athletes that make a difference off the playing field,” says Mitch Jordan, athletic director and head football coach of the 2014 state championship team. “Athletic success is important and a premium is placed on winning, however, winning off the field is critical to the development of student-athletes. The program and recognition from Positive Athlete Georgia is long overdue.” Smith, in particular, is a great example of a Positive Athlete nominee. The sophomore is a member of the Headmaster’s Honor Roll and 1st Team All-State Football, is a state wrestling finalist and summer camp counselor, recipient of the school’s Timothy Award – Outstanding Christian Character, volunteers at Walton Communities Adventure Center and leads a middle school small group at North Metro Church.
In addition to support from area schools, districts and community members, local companies are invited to sponsor a $500 scholarship and/or an award for a deserving student-athlete. Among those sponsoring an award for the April 23 ceremony in Cobb is Cobb EMC. The Positive Energy Award is given to the student-athlete who brings positive energy to every practice and competition. “Cobb EMC is proud to partner with Positive Athlete Georgia this year,” says Meredith Davis-Zonsius, external affairs manager with the local company. “We’re excited about the opportunity to recognize a positive student-athlete in Cobb County with the Positive Energy Award. It’s our priority to invest in the communities we serve to help build a brighter future.”
Other $500 awards include:
- Hope & Will Award (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta): A student-athlete who represents a hopeful attitude and strong will for their team, school and community.
- Bright Future Award (College Planning Institute): An underclassman student-athlete who is developing a bright future based on their volunteerism, academics and college planning.
- Academic Excellence Award (Chattahoochee Technical College): A student-athlete who achieves academic excellence in the classroom.
- Leadership Award (Northside Hospital): A student-athlete who shows exceptional leadership skills at their school and in their community.
- Extra Credit Award (LGE Community Credit Union): A student-athlete who goes above and beyond for their team, school and community to make the world a better place.
- LOUD Statement Award (LOUD Security Systems): A student-athlete whose positive attitude makes a loud statement about the importance of a positive attitude to their school and community.
Companies can also sponsor, or adopt, a Positive Athlete program in their high school for $1,500, which includes two $250 scholarships and presenting awards to the 25 most positive high school athletes at that school.
Nominations for deserving student-athletes in Cobb must be submitted by March 31. Parents, friends, coaches, teachers and fans may nominate male and female high school student-athletes in 26 different sports at georgia.positiveathlete.org. Coaches may also be nominated for the Positive Boys and Positive Girls Coaches of the Year for their school.