Best In Class: Jacob Cooper named valedictorian, Kelsey Evans salutatorian at SSHS

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

May 8, 2008 - When Sulphur Springs High School announced Jacob Cooper as its 2007-2008 valedictorian and Kelsey Evans as salutatorian on Wednesday, the students' parents were naturally excited and proud.

But Jacobs' mom and dad, Carrie and Jeff Cooper, and Kelsey's parents, Doug and Sharla Evans, said following the announcement that they weren't that surprised at their child's success.

Neither were the students themselves.

Most high school classes have a pretty good idea who their top students will be each year. But Cooper and Evans said they decided years ago they would be the top two seniors when they graduated high school.

Cooper and Evans decided upon completing fourth grade at Lamar Elementary School they each wanted to be at the head of the class this May. Back then, Evans was ranked first and Cooper second in a class that was to quintuple in size the next year when fourth graders from the four other elementary schools (Houston Elementary was still open then) graduated to one big fifth grade class at Douglas Intermediate school.

Eight years later, in spite of the odds, Cooper has been named valedictorian and Evans salutatorian of the 2008 Graduating Class of SSHS.

"It was a tight race all four years of high school," Evans said. "It's a great blessing. My goal, like Jacob's, was to finish in the top two.

"It's great to finish in the top two. It took a lot of commitment, determination and sticking to the goal to succeed. I'm always on the go, go, go," she added, laughing.

But don't be fooled into thinking it was an easy task for either. The seniors, their teachers and parents will tell you that they have worked very hard to reach the pinnacle of high school success.

"It's not always about who's the smartest, but who works the hardest," Evans said.

Cooper agrees.

"It takes a lot of hard work. You have to stay at it, always working. There's no slacking off," he noted.

And apparently, all of their work -- and prayer -- paid off. Cooper topped out with a 5.4140 weighted grade point average, while Evans came in a close second at 5.2916.

Their advanced placement and concurrent enrollment activities helped. Both took AP biology and calculus, honors English III and IV, and pre-AP world history and U.S. history. They also each receive both high school and college credit for concurrent physics, and government/economics classes. Cooper also took AP chemistry, and Evans took Spanish III.

High School Principal John McCullough noted both to be very well-rounded students, each active in a number of school clubs and sports in addition to their academic accomplishments, which make them a "tribute to Sulphur Springs."

Or as Evans put it, "we're involved in about everything."

Their church and club activities lend themselves to a variety of community projects as well, which they say is also important to them.

Cooper, vice president of the National Honor Society, is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Hopkins County High School Leadership Class and Spanish Club. He also takes part in Health Science Technology Education classes, designed for students planning to enter health occupations. In HSTE he has been job shadowing at Hopkins County Memorial Hospital. He also volunteers once a week at a local nursing home. He competed in UIL on the school's math and science teams, and played golf.

Evans serves as president of the senior class and Key Club, is vice president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is treasurer for the National Honor Society, and is on the Student Council and the Hopkins County High School Leadership Class. She participated in four varsity sports -- softball, volleyball, cross country and track. She also travels with a select softball team outside of school.

They balance their academics with sports and other extracurricular academics, and are grounded in their faith, which "speaks highly of their character" and "really helped in getting them here and their accomplishments," the principal noted. (Having a stubborn streak didn't hurt, both students mothers, Carrie Cooper and Sharla Evans noted.)

While Cooper -- usually by listening carefully -- doesn't have to do a lot of studying, Evans isn't quite as lucky. But despite her busy schedule, she's become adept at time management by finding time to study and do homework "here and there" between activities. Her mom notes that there have been many times she's pored over her school books using a flashlight in the back seat while they drove from a sporting event.

Cooper and Evans also learned to utilize their lunch hours to get in a few extra study sessions or catch up on homework, project, etc.... and neither is familiar with the concept of a full night's sleep. They're just too busy.

Both Cooper and Evans, who say they are also very community-minded, plan to go into health professions. Each said faith, and the support of family and educators, were pivotal in their accomplishments.

"There's a bunch of them --all of them really," Evans said of the many Sulphur Springs educators who have played an important role in her life, including her parents, Doug and Sharla Evans. "I couldn't say a couple because I'd be leaving so many out. My parents are both teachers, so education is important in my family. We are blessed to have such wonderful teachers in Sulphur Springs."

"We definitely appreciate all of the teachers," Cooper concurred. "We're up here early and late studying and doing things at the school. We appreciate everyone."

They also noted the support of their parents and family. Cooper is the son of retails sales manager Carrie Cooper and Jeff Cooper, cooperator of a welding business and cattleman, and the brother of 11-year-old Douglas Intermediate student Caitlin. Evans is the daughter of 31-year history teacher and coach Doug Evans and 18-year English teacher Sharla Evans. Interestingly enough, Evans recalls having Cooper's parents in class quite a few years ago.

Her aunt and uncle, Sheri and Lance Looney, have also played a big role in Evans life as her ever-present "cheering section."

"They are her biggest fans. They have traveled every mile with her," Sharla Evans said of the Looneys.

Evans plans to double-major in biology and exercise science at Hardin Simmons University, and eventually earn a doctorate degree in physical therapy, which she will use treating sports injuries. The SSHS salutatorian plans to play softball with the HSU Cowgirls.

"It's God's plan. I just give it over to Him," Evans said.

"God keeps me focused," said Cooper.

"Sometimes I just have to stop and pray, like today. I just finished a calculus exam before we did this," he added, saying his decision to major in biology and possibly also mathematics at Baylor University in the fall, then later to go to medical school so he can become a pediatric surgeon, is God's plan for his life.

Doug Evans, who also has taught both his daughter and Cooper in history, said it's gratifying to see both hard-working kids achieve their goals.

Cooper and Evans have spent their entire school careers in Sulphur Springs, taking most of the same classes and being involved in many of the same activities. They at one time lived a short distance from the other, have competed against the other in contests and for grades, and also spur each other on, cheering for each other to do well while challenging one another to excel. They have helped each other as well as many other members of their class, which, for a group their size -- about 230 at last count -- are admittedly all pretty close.

Or as Cooper put it simply, they are friends, too.

Each admits to having a passion for missions, and is involved in various church activities, as well.

Cooper is an usher and has preached twice at The Way bible church, and has been spending all of the time he's able to help finish out the new church building. He has gone with the church group on mission in Juarez. In fact, Cooper plans to dedicate his services to mission work after he is able to retire following a full career in pediatric surgery, dedicating his expertise to the mission field. He said if it works out that he is able to retire early, so much the better. But that's still a ways off.

Evans is active in First Baptist Church Youth group and choirs, and has gone with the church group on a mission trip to Honduras. She also participates in church sports.

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