Norris tabbed tops

LUMBERTON — “Attitude determines altitude.”

That was Roger Marino’s message to 10 student-athletes being honored at the annual Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards banquet on Thursday night at Pinecrest Country Club in Lumberton.

“It’s how you live your life and how you approach the adversity when it comes,” said Marino, the community relations director for Mountaire Farms. “How you handle that adversity determines your future. Your attitude is what sets you apart and your overall prowess is why you’re here.”

Each of the student-athletes in attendance had the attitude — and accolades — to reach new heights this school year both athletically and academically.

Marino presented each of them with $1,000 scholarship checks. The night was capped off with Alec Dent, of Lumberton High School, and Abby Norris, of East Bladen, receiving the Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards and an additional $1,500 in scholarship money.

“It feels pretty great,” Dent said. “I’m the middle of five children so my older brother and sister definitely inspired me to follow in their footsteps … they were very active academically and athletically so I wanted to inspire my two younger siblings to do the same.”

Dent has a 5.10 weighted GPA, good enough to be the salutatorian of his class, and was a multi-time regional qualifier in cross country, swimming and tennis. He was also the Science Olympiad captain and the NHS president.

“Hard work really pays off,” he said. “Entering high school as a freshman I wasn’t what you would call athletic. Tennis was my favorite sport and I fell in love with it. I practiced hard, played all the time, and when I got to my senior year I was No. 1 on the team.”

The scholar-athlete program highlights male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.

Norris, who was the March monthly winner, wasn’t too shabby herself. The senior is set to be the valedictorian of her class at East Bladen with a 4.9 weighted GPA and earned numerous awards in volleyball, basketball and softball while also serving in multiple clubs. Norris is also a winner of the NCHSAA’s Wilburn Clary Medal Award and is one of 20 finalists nationally for Pro Football Hall of Fame/U.S. Army Award of Excellence.

As busy as she was, Norris said it didn’t bother her. It was all a part of her plan upon entering high school.

“My biggest goal was to get in at (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), which is basically the reason I did everything I did,” Norris said. “I wanted to increase my chances of getting in there and, once I got in, I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to be the best I could be.”

Norris plans to major in biology at UNC and Dent will be joining her in the fall. He plans on pursuing a career in journalism and just recently started a daily online tennis newsletter.

“I just really love the sport of tennis and I’m trying to get as many other people interested in it as possible,” Dent said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

For Norris, seeing her name etched on the annual scholar-athlete award was the perfect ending to a four-year career.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” she said. “Of all these great athletes here, it feels pretty good to be on top.”

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or on Twitter @RoddBaxley.