Andrews' Savannah Horton will be featured on CNN sometime this fall. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY

SCOUTING AROUND: CNN taps local student as 'positive athlete'

   Savannah Horton may seem like the average Andrews High School student, but last week she had an extraordinary day that everyone will get to see on CNN in a few weeks.
   It all started about three weeks ago, when Lance Bristol, the school’s athletic director, got an email from Jeff York, a sports producer from CNN. York said he had read about Horton and was interested in learning more about her.
   Hines Ward, a former pro football player and CNN sports contributor, was working on a new series called “Positive Athlete,” which features student-athletes and the impact they make on and off the field. They had 18 candidates and were going through a vetting process to bring the number down to six.
   “I’ll be honest, I was skeptical about it,” Bristol said.
   His first thought was to protect his student, so he looked into information about York and verified that CNN was really interested in doing a story about Horton. He told York what makes Horton special, and York said they’d call back the next day to let Bristol know if she made the cut.
   “About an hour later, he called me back,” Bristol said.
   He called Horton into his office and told her the news. CNN was coming Sept. 19 to film her first report to the Region 8 N.C. High School Athletic Association meeting in Asheville as the only Student Athlete Advisory Council representative for the area, interview her back at the school, then film her volleyball game that night.
   Horton, her parents Phil and Gayle Horton, Bristol and Principal Lisa Fletcher knew CNN selected Horton and kept it a secret for two weeks. After Monday night’s game, Horton encouraged her teammates to a better job than usual of cleaning up the locker room without telling them why.
   “My concern was on the game,” Horton said, adding that she didn’t want her teammates to have time to think about the camera and national spotlight. They did “freak out at first” when she finally told them as they met the producer and camera operator.
   York said he learned about Horton through a Google search for student-athletes. He came across an article in the Cherokee Scout about her trip to Indiana as one of seven students representing North Carolina at the National Federation of State High School Associations National Student Leadership Summit.
   “What really made her stand out is she has really big dreams and really big goals,” York said.
   Horton said she was more nervous about making her first speech to a room of adults than being filmed for CNN. She told herself it was “just another performance, like out on the court.” The nerves didn’t show to those watching.
   “She did a great job with her speech,” Bristol said.
   “She killed it,” York added. “She was great.”
   Horton talked about her community service project, which is starting a unified sports program in the area. She recently got certified in coaching unified sport, and will kick off her project at Friday night’s football game against Murphy by having Special Olympic athletes walk football players onto the field.
   Once they returned to Andrews, York interviewed Horton, Fletcher, teacher Mary White and volleyball coach Kimberly Bozeman. York also presented Horton with a personal congratulatory video from Ward.
   “Continue on the positive attitude, and good luck on the volleyball year,” Ward said in the video.
   “I’m on cloud nine right now,” Horton said.
   During the interview, Horton was asked what Andrews is like.
   “I let him know Andrews has a big heart,” she said. “I told him at this time in my life, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. … I spoke from the heart.”
   “I just think it is so exciting that this little town of Andrews is going to have this notoriety,” said her mother, Gayle, who also is president of the Andrews Chamber of Commerce.
   Fletcher was happy to give permission to CNN to film at the school and interview her.
   “It was a way to showcase our school and our students. Anything that will show what great students and school we have here, I’m in,” she said. “I hope they saw her leadership capabilities, how she cares for humanity as a whole. I hope they saw the heart that she has.”
   While the camera was surprising to most people at the school’s gym, no one was surprised it was for Horton.
   “Savannah deserves it,” said Piper Alexander, one of her teammates.
   Bozeman, even though she’s new to the school, saw it in Horton from the start.
   “She believes in herself, and she knows what she’s capable of,” Bozeman said.
   Both Bozeman and Horton saw the recognition from CNN as a way to motivate the team.
   “It’s really going to drive us,” Bozeman said.
   Bristol added that what York and CNN saw in Horton could be said about many students at Andrews High.
   “All of our students stand out,” Bristol said. “It just so happens he saw something about her.”
   York said an air date had not been scheduled yet, but the series starts in October.
   “I can’t wait to see it when it comes out,” Horton said with a smile.
   Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.