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Athletes of Distinction

Lea Plarski Award
2011 NJCAA Lea Plarski Award - Abby Barnett

 The National Junior College Athletic Association is pleased to honor Abby Barnett of Bevill State Community College (Ala.) with the 2011 NJCAA Lea Plarski Award. The Plarski Award is awarded annually by NJCAA Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the student-athlete who exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, and community service and academic excellence, coupled with athletic ability and achievement.

Barnett was a leader on and off the cross country course while attending Bevill State the past two years and made quite an impact on the Hamilton, Ala., campus. 

Out of high school she did not consider attending a community college until the financial realities of higher education caught her attention. Her athletic talents caught the eye of Bevill State track and cross country head coach Chad Balentine and Barnett was offered an athletic scholarship despite never participating in track or cross country in high school. 

“When a scholarship offer to run cross country came along from Bevill State I then reconsidered attending a community college,” said Barnett. “My high school didn’t even offer those programs. I had participated in other sports and was captain of both my volleyball and basketball teams. This (scholarship offer) opened my eyes to how important community colleges really are to students in many different situations. I was attracted not only to the low cost but to the athletic opportunity too.” 

Despite being a novice in the sport, Barnett excelled in cross country from the moment she put on a Bevill State uniform. As a freshman she won the Region 22 Women’s Cross Country individual title and then placed seventh as a sophomore, which helped Bevill State a to a runner-up finish in 2010.

Barnett also qualified and competed in both the 800 meters and one mile run at the 2010 and 2011 NJCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships. 

Away from athletics, Barnett played key roles within Bevill State campus organizations and outside community groups. Shortly after her arrival on campus she formed a bible study group in her dorm that soon turned into an academic support and peer mentoring network. Group members, through shared experiences and discussions, soon helped each other achieve their goals in and outside the classroom. 

“A huge benefit of the group was that first generation college students received motivation to achieve academically,” said Barnett. “As everyone shared their academic difficulties, I set up tutoring sessions and group study times. This was more critical after an established tutoring program on campus lost funding. When they (group members) saw that others were willing to give up their time to help them they began to care more about their academic performance.” 

Barnett also incorporated trips to various ministry and volunteer events into the bible study group that helped encourage fellowship and positive experiences. 

“Our togetherness, in spite of our different backgrounds, was tremendous,” she added. “I have learned so much through this experience and as a result I am now planning a career in health and wellness and it is my desire to continue to positively impact the physical and spiritual aspects of life for others.”  

While maintaining a 4.0 GPA in General Studies, Barnett also played a vital role in the local community by assisting in the building of a wheel chair ramp in addition to providing lawn care service to a local disabled family in Jasper. She also served as a volunteer swim coach for the Jasper Sharks, which is a swim program that caters to the needs of disabled individuals. 

In late April of 2011 the state of Alabama suffered tremendous damage from a tornado outbreak and the storms particularly affected communities which are part of the Bevill State service area. Within days of the disaster, Barnett organized a team of volunteers who aided families in Cordova with debris removal. She not only hauled trees to the road for cleanup crews but also assisted families in collecting displaced valuables after their homes were destroyed. 

“Abby has a tremendous heart for the well-being of others regardless of age or physical abilities,” explained Bevill State Athletic Director Dr. Russell Howton. “She also displays a sense of giving back for the betterment of the community. She has been an outstanding ambassador for our college and athletic program the past two years and truly exemplifies the outstanding characteristics on which the Lea Plarski Award is based. She is the epitome of what every NJCAA student-athlete should strive to be.” 

In May of 2011, Barnett received here Associates in Science degree with a 4.0 GPA and gave the commencement address during the BVCC graduation ceremonies. She was named to the 2011 All-Alabama Academic Team by the Alabama Region Phi Theta Kappa and also earned the NJCAA Pinnacle Award for Academic Excellence this June. 

Barnett will continue her academic endeavors at Troy University where she will pursue a degree in the school’s exercise, health and nutrition management program. She will also continue competing in the sport of cross country at Troy. 

The NJCAA’s Lea Plarski Award is handed out annually in the name of former NJCAA President Lea Plarski as recognition of her tremendous service to the NJCAA and two-year college athletics. The former director of athletics at St. Louis Community College/Florissant Valley, Plarski helped to establish the Women’s Division of the NJCAA in 1975.  She served as Vice-President for Women from 1975 to 1990 when she made NJCAA history as the first female ever elected to the office of President, a position she held from 1990 through 1996. In honor of her numerous accomplishments, as well as her undeniable dedication to the student-athlete, the NJCAA Lea Plarski Award was created.  Since 1995, the award has been presented to an NJCAA student-athlete who exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, academic excellence, athletic ability and achievements – qualities that were the cornerstones of the Plarski “era”.





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Melanie Mendrop


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Theresa Berry


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2010-2011 Abby Barnett Cross Country/Track Bevill State Community College, Ala.



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