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THOMPSON AWARD FINALIST: Seth Crawford, Sullivan South

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Sullivan South's Seth Crawford

KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Before Seth Crawford could soar, he had to crash.

There was that time in the third grade when he was trying to impress his older brother Drake.

He lowered the basketball goal in his family’s front yard, set up a cooler in front of the structure to give himself an object to launch from and then began his attempt to throw down a LeBron James-like dunk.

Instead of a slam, he found himself in a jam as he tumbled to the pavement and broke his arm.

A couple of years later, he was playing football with some friends in the backyard and a violent collision resulted in a broken orbital bone.

Those two episodes made him both tougher and wiser.

These days he’s more studious than stuntman, more rational than reckless, more intellectual than daredevil.

Crawford has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout his four years at Sullivan South High School, all the while finding success in golf, basketball and tennis.

Walking through the hallways recently with graduation looming, students and teachers alike made sure to give Crawford a nod of the head or a wave of the hand as they passed.

There is no doubting this kid’s popularity.

“When you think of Seth, you think of nothing but positive things,” said South athletic director Anthony Richardson. “A quality kid and an awesome person in general. I don’t know what else you can say.”

Tennis coach Jim Smith was effusive in his praise as well.

“This is one of the best kids we’ve ever had,” Smith said. “He’s so intelligent, I don’t even know what he’s talking about half the time.”

The words hold meaning for Crawford and bring a sheepish smile to his face.

These are his coaches.

He cares about his peers.

Sullivan South is his home.

As his time at the school winds down, he will receive his diploma with no regrets.

They say that high school is the best four years of your life.

Crawford has certainly made the most of his time at Sullivan South, putting in the work to become a superb student-athlete.

He doesn’t take the credit, of course.

“I’d basically just sum it up as a blessing,” Crawford said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people collectively. It’s just been an all-around great experience.”

The numbers certainly add up and back up what Crawford is saying.

Along with that GPA, Crawford earned a perfect 36 superscore on the ACT, won a regional mathematics contest as a junior with pre-calculus being his specialty and has played in four state golf tournaments.

Golf and math do go hand in hand, you see.

“When I have scores in sports I always like to look at them and dive into the statistics,” Crawford said. “That’s a big part of my math background.”

Golf is a cerebral game and maybe that’s why Crawford is good at it.

What club do you use on this hole?

Do you go for broke or play it safe?

How fast are these greens?

How close is that hazard?

The strategic aspect is right in his wheelhouse.

“You can always improve and find somewhere where you can gain a few strokes,” Crawford said. “I enjoy the challenge of it.”

Yet, he’s just as comfortable when it comes to team sports as leadership is a word that carries some weight.

“[Leadership] is vital in sports and life in general,” Crawford said. “I was captain of the golf team my junior and senior years and I had to get my teammates to rally behind the ideas of what we needed to get done to get to state.”

He shifts from golf to basketball to tennis seasons seamlessly.

“He’s been a real positive role model on the tennis team and this is the first year he’s played,” Smith said.

Crawford was talked into playing tennis by Grant Phebus, a close friend.

“He’s a lot of fun and I like having him around,” Phebus said. “I knew he’d help us.”

It comes as no surprise then that South won the Three Rivers Conference title and Crawford has excelled.

His impact goes beyond the walls of his high school too.

Crawford has been a Sunday school superintendent, secretary/treasurer, youth song leader, usher and even led some children’s sermons at his church.

He doesn’t shy away from his faith either.

“It’s incredibly important,” Crawford said. “My parents basically raised me on the foundation of the principles that your faith comes first, along with your family.”

In neat way, Crawford’s story has come full circle.

After the hit to his eye while playing in that infamous backyard football game, Crawford endured headaches, double vision and required a few tense doctor visits.

“Being little, you’re scared,” Crawford said. “I had good doctors and my family was in there and they kept praying to the good Lord. Thankfully, I’ve been able to see normally ever since.”

A scar under his eye still exists, but something else left a lasting mark as Crawford came away with a new perspective.

The “reckless little kid” as he refers to himself grew up and came to a realization.

That ordeal made him want to become an orthopedic surgeon and that is his chosen career path.

“That experience allowed me to see that sports can come second,” Crawford said.

“What really comes first is academics. … I just started setting goals like going through middle school making all As, going through high school and trying to make all As. Trying to get into the best college I could get into.”

He’ll attend the University of Tennessee and major in biomedical engineering. Emory University and Vanderbilt were among the other schools he considered.

The courseload will be hard and the hours will be long.

However, nobody doubts that Crawford can conquer it.

After all this is a kid that says chemistry and calculus are his two favorite classes and recently finished a school project of building a solar-powered go-kart.

“He’s the most disciplined kid I know,” Phebus said.

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