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Norcross Volleyball Standout Looks Back on Winning Season



Maya Ballerstedt (center)with team mates (image courtesy of Maya Ballerstedt)

Athletics are just one facet of Maya Ballerstedt, a young woman whose passion for art, leadership may lead to a global future

Maya Ballerstedt is a senior volleyball player at Norcross High School who helped lead the Lady Blue Devils to a Region 7-7A title and a playoff appearance. Maya took time to talk with Peachtree Corners Magazine about how the Lady Blue Devils turned around a 3-10 start to the season with an 11-match winning streak. Maya also spoke about her love for art and what she’s doing to promote artists who are people of color.

How long have you been playing volleyball and how did you get into it?

I have been playing for five to six years, but I started Norcross volleyball my freshman year. I tried out for my middle school team, and I didn’t make it, but I tried out again in eighth grade and I made the team — and I’ve loved volleyball ever since.

Your senior season was pretty up and down, but you made it to the first round of the playoffs. What did you learn from this season?

We had a really great season, in my opinion. It started out rough. It was really hard and difficult, much more than any season in the past, but the entire team worked so hard, and we realized our potential. I think we ended up becoming a really good team. It’s sad that we got out so early, but we had a lot of potential.

We had a lot of players on Varsity who had been there for three years and were starters, and we also had a few freshmen who were really good, so it was a different team dynamic than other teams that I had been a part of in the past. We know how we can improve, and we like a challenge.

Lady Blue Devils

You guys started the season 3-10. How did you endure that?

We were losing a lot for a while. We knew that this team had a lot of potential at the beginning. Every day we just worked really hard, and I think we finally met our potential by the end of the season.

You turned it around with an 11-match winning streak.

It was awesome. So much fun. Just being a part of that team was a great experience.

What role would you say you played for your team this year?

I think as a senior, I stepped into more of a leadership role. When I was a freshman, I was very shy and intimidated by the seniors. But this year, we all cooperated with each other. I think because I stepped up into my role, I felt like I could help younger players. Even off the court, I like to think of myself as a mentor.

You had 128 kills on the season. What do you think contributed to that?

I think I became more aware of what I wanted to do and intentional with my play and my goals on and off the court.

What emotions were you feeling when you lost the playoff game knowing it would be your last game?

Even though we lost, it was a really great game, but I was crying after. It’s hard knowing that’s the last time you’re going to be playing competitive volleyball, especially because I’m not playing in college.

Have you played any other sports?

I played tennis my freshman year. I’ve been playing tennis my entire life. I picked up volleyball after tennis. I love tennis, but I like playing volleyball competitively. I love that it’s a team sport and it’s really dependent on your mindset. If you have a bad mindset that day, your team can’t win. I just liked having a team that I was with all the time and I had to depend on.

What are the memories you’re going to take away from your senior season?

I think just winning region, that was awesome. At the end of the game, our team had a big dogpile, and it was so fun.

What are your college plans?

I’m going to the University of Pennsylvania and I’m going to be studying philosophy, politics and economics. I’ve always wanted to go to a school in a city with students who are driven but also very social and outgoing. It’ll definitely be a change. I’ll be away from home, so I am nervous about that. The weather will be colder, but I’ll get a warm jacket.

What career field(s) are you interested in?

I was thinking maybe something to do with nonprofits. I’m really interested in something global.

When you’re not playing volleyball, what do you like to do?

I love art. I think art is really important. I’m in [International Baccalaureate (IB)] Art. I’m completing my gold award right now for Girl Scouts and I’m creating art curriculum for elementary schools with artists who are people of color so kids can better relate to those artists.

I love painting. Right now, my IB theme is seeing how people perceive nature depending on their culture and where they’re from.

You have any favorite shows or movies?

I like The Good Place. I like TV shows more.

What are your favorite foods?

I love sushi. It’s one of my favorite things. I love getting sushi with my friends. And mac n’ cheese.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

I’m very creative and I love to try new things and be adventurous.

What advice would you have for a young volleyball player?

Don’t give up. Try new things and if you think something feels awkward at first or it doesn’t feel natural, just keep on working at it and know that with hard work you will get results.

Freelance journalist and content marketer, author and aspiring Screenwriter. Nathan has written for Savannah Morning News, The Brunswick News and the Bayonet and Saber.

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Wesleyan School’s 25 Years in Peachtree Corners [Podcast]



Wesleyan School has been a huge facet in the community of Peachtree Corners for more than twenty years. On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico is joined by Chris Cleveland, Head of School at Wesleyan School, and Rob Binion, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Listen in, as they discuss the history of Wesleyan, how it became such an important part of Peachtree Corners, and the exciting future of this amazing school.


Website: https://www.wesleyanschool.org

“Our goal is to continue to attract families to the school, to attract families, to Peachtree Corners. And you do that by not standing still. You do that by pushing yourself and asking yourself the question, how can we make the school experience better so we draw more families. And for us, our mission it’s so more families can be exposed to the gospel and to learn more about their faith. And in the process we believe they’re going to get a great education and be a part of a community that extends beyond our campus.”

Chris Cleveland, Head of School

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of the Peachtree Corners Life. I want to welcome you all here today. Today’s special show follow-up to a feature story we had in Peachtree Corners Magazine in the latest issue, about the 25th anniversary of Wesleyan school here in Peachtree Corners. And today we have two guests, the Head of School Chris Cleveland and Rob Binion, who’s been an evergreen. Well, he says the kids have been evergreen. He’s been with the school for over 25 years, I believe going on 26 years. So let me, bring them on. And they’re you guys. Good morning, how are you?

[00:01:03] Chris: Morning.

 [00:01:03] Rob: Good morning.

[00:01:03] Rico: So Chris is on my right, and Rob Binion’s on my left. Chris has been head of schools probably, how long has it been now? 20 years, I think?

[00:01:12] Chris: No, this is my 20th year as an employee of Wesleyan school. It’s my eighth year as head of school.

[00:01:19] Rico: The head of school. Okay, cool. And then Rob Binion is not only a parent with three kids that have gone through school. I think all of them are out now if I understand correctly.

[00:01:29] Rob: Correct.

[00:01:29] Rico: But you also on the, you’re vice chairman currently on the board of trustees as well at the school.

[00:01:35] Rob: Correct? I’ve served on the board since 1995.

[00:01:39] Rico: Wow.

[00:01:39] Rob: And served as the chairman for about 20 years.

[00:01:42] Rico: Wow. It’s interesting history you all have. Because you started out, like many schools along this line to some degree started out as part of a church based school. And then grew out from there. So Wesleyan, most people may not know is pretty much a college preparatory, private college preparatory school. A non-denominational Christian school, christian values of course. And close to 1200 students now. I think when you guys first moved to Peachtree Corners and took over the original plot of land, whatever that was 56 plus acres I guess at the time, you were maybe a little over 500 students when you guys moved to Peachtree Corners. So who wants to start off telling us a little bit about that history? About the beginnings of that? Would it be Chris or would it be Rob?

[00:02:27] Chris: Rob was there to live it personally. I just know of it through hearing the story told, so I’ll let Rob go first.

[00:02:35] Rico: Okay.

[00:02:36] Rob: So we were in Sandy Springs, founded by Sandy Springs United Methodist Church. There was a shortage of desks and Christian schools back then, especially at the high school level. So when my wife, Cathy and I enrolled our first child in 1990, Wesleyan was a K through eight school. Or a preschool through grade school. And the conversation you immediately heard, and it was chatter everyday, all day about the expansion of Wesleyan into a high school. So as early as 1990, there were efforts to, along with the church to find land, expand the school somewhere in the Sandy Springs, North Buckhead area. And so those efforts proceeded along slowly and very frustrating because it was, as it would be now, it’s just very difficult to find a large enough plot of land to do that. And also there was, as you can imagine, there were amiable conflicts with the church. It means things as simple as parking spaces and telephone lines and who uses the gym on what night. So there was all sorts of reasons why Wesleyan needed to grow and expand. And hence the ventral location of the, at that time, 52 acres of land in Peachtree Corners. That happened in a very providential way with relationships coming together, including myself and Dan Cowart, who kind of met for the first time in 1995 and started discussing that piece of land as a place for Wesleyan to relocate. So that, that was the beginning of a church that needed to expand its school. And then a group of parents and educators that finally found a piece of land to do that.

[00:04:11] Rico: It’s interesting because most schools of this nature usually expand close by to the church that they’re growing out of, but you all decided to at the time. I moved here in 95, so in 95, there was not as much density if you will, as there is now. So you chose to move to Peachtree Corners. Far enough away from Sandy Springs, that that must have been a challenging subject. Because I’m sure there are students that were going there at the time where parents thought Sandy Springs would be a great place for that. So how did you attend to that?

[00:04:42] Rob: It was a huge challenge. The goal and the plan of the board was to stay as close to the current or Sandy Springs United Methodist church as we could. But things happened with educators that were helping us grow. And Dan Cowart was talking to other consultants about a new school and a new high school that finally convinced the board that they needed to move 10 miles away. But then presenting that to a parent body of about 500 at the time in Sandy Springs was contentious to say the least. But honestly, I was telling this to somebody the other day, there were parents who said, I’m not bringing my child from Buckhead to Peachtree Corners, but I will help you. I’ll volunteer my time. I’ll give you money. So they were convinced after the evidence was presented that this was the best site for Wesleyan to go to. Again, providential relationships. The site was zoned. That’s very hard to find, even though there was no buildings on it, there were utilities in place and the road in place. Just very unusual, positive circumstances that told the entire community that this was the right thing to do and God was pushing us in that direction.

[00:05:57] Rico: I mean, it’s certainly fortunate, Dan Cowart and the Cowart family were doing development here in Peachtree Corners. Building Technology Park and building homes. And it almost, I get the chills a little bit, because it’s almost like it all did fall together correctly. Great public school system, having a great private school coming here that was already established versus having to build up from it. So just a lot of good things and enough land, it seems for you guys to really expand on. And I think your land area now is actually 86 acres in Peachtree Corners.

[00:06:33] Rob: Yeah, we’ve grown from the original 52 to 86. And that was some vacant land and some houses and some other commercial buildings that we’ve acquired along the way.

[00:06:41] Rico: And phenomenal. You guys are just continuing to expand. Even now you’re expanding. I think the, if I remember correctly, you added in an athletic or you’ve shifted athletic fields. So that you can have a building now, the stem building. I think if that’s right, coming up. So just a lot of good movement there. So once you had parents on board and you were able to close the deal for the land, there was nothing here, right? It’s not like you took, repurposed the building. So how’d that work out?

[00:07:11] Chris: I’ll take a swing at that one Rico. You’re right, we had land, which was great that it solved one of our big problems. And as Rob so eloquently put it, that was not an easy proposition for the families who had been at Wesleyan Day School as it was called in Sandy Springs. And at the time Atlanta was a much different place in terms of traffic and geography 25 years ago. But to move 10 miles away from our, what had been our home was not a small thing. And so once we got that land, then we had to figure out the next set of challenges. You’re right, this land was completely undeveloped. There was nothing but woods and mud and red clay here.

[00:07:55] Rico: I’m going to put that picture back on as you’re speaking.

[00:07:56] Chris: Yeah. It was originally an extension of Technology Park and that’s where Dan Cowart had purchased the land. As you can see in this picture, we had a road and we had a pond. You can see a little bit of early site plan clearing of land in the upper left-hand corner of the picture that you’re showing right now. And that’s where we would begin to scratch out a campus. So we brought out 15 trailers. We didn’t call them trailers, of course. We called them modular educational units because we think that sounds better to people when we’re trying to convince them to send their children to school at Wesleyan. We started construction on our first building, which would be Marchman Gym. In the picture you’re showing now, you can see in the upper right-hand corner, the trailers as they were assembled. Marchman Gym is the structure that’s at the top center of the photo. That was our all purpose building. It had a stage at one end. It’s where we had chapel, it’s where we had plays and performances and the arts. It’s where we did assemblies, where we hosted parents night. It was the only building we had on campus where we could fit everyone. And so that spring and summer of 1996 was spent getting those trailers positioned and anchored down and building Marchman Gym. But it’s interesting that at the same time we were doing that, we were trying to get families to apply to the school. We really didn’t even have a school to let them tour. And we were trying to hire employees to work at this place and we couldn’t even show them what their classroom would look like. And so it was quite a scramble from January of 96 until labor day of 1996, just to get to a point where we could open the doors and have classrooms and bring children in. And that was a busy time, but a really encouraging time in the history of the school to see people rally around this vision and this idea of what Wesleyan could become one day. But to be a part of it from the ground floor, and we liked to call those people pioneer families. Rob and his family were a pioneer family. Not only as parents and students, but Rob is a member of the board of trustees. And it was a lot of flying by the seat of our pants. A lot of praying and a lot of trusting God that he would show up and fill in the blanks for us because there was probably a lot more blanks than there were answers in those early days.

[00:10:29] Rico: And at the time even you hired, or the board hired, the first headmaster of the school that’s in Peachtree Corners and that was a Zack Young. Graduated University of Virginia and Harvard University. And he was a master fundraiser, if I understand correctly. Did that come together? I guess that came together well, because when you have a building program, you have to have a fundraiser. So how beneficial was that to be able to have someone that was and had experienced in doing that?

[00:10:58] Chris: Yeah. Rob lived through that, so I’m going to let him talk about that.

[00:11:03] Rob: And that’s another miracle. I mean, the idea that Zach Young, who was born and raised in Buckhead, went to school himself at Westminster. Honestly, when we first talked to him, he had very little idea where Peachtree Corners was. It was outside of the perimeters of all he knew. He didn’t really understand the idea that that community would commit and support an independent Christian school. So he had to be convinced of that, but God was the only one that could convince him of that. We tried, and then he and his wife walked the site one Sunday afternoon and were just convinced that God was calling them there to help build the school. And so we, the board and most people that start some kind of enterprises, always think about banks and debt as the way to get going And one of our first meetings with Zach, when we first started talking to him in October, November of 1995, was that no. Debt will not build and sustain a school. So we need to start raising money now, which was his background. He knew how to do it. He knew where to do it and who to talk to. He was the connection, but he also had a heart and a mind for Christian education and hiring the right people to put in place to build the school and build the curriculum and build the Christian programs that are now part of our legacy. So Zack was the miracle of the personnel. And now we’re 200 strong and there are people that are all really descendants of Zach and his idea from the beginning. So he did help us push it to the next level.

[00:12:44] Rico: Amazing. You guys started with obviously the Marchman gymnasium, soccer field, 15 classrooms, module as they were. What were the next few buildings that you all thought you needed to start building to get that progression?

[00:12:58] Rob: Well, the key was the high school, because again, we had been talking about it. We being the parent community in Sandy Springs. We’ve been talking about this for years and people were tired of hearing about the high school. So it became evident that if we want to make it abundantly clear we’re going to be a high school, the first building needs to be the high school building. So what is now known as Cleghorn Hall, named after Gwen Cleghorn, who was a fantastic educator in metropolitan Atlanta area for decades. That became the first true building project that we started. And we started raising money for that. And it was a building that we could expand along the way. But as the fundraising was successful, we were able to build out the whole building and open that building, I think a year and a half later to our high school students. And then there were some amazing things. There was a man by the name of Malcolm Pile that lived in Peachtree Corners. He’s actually a developer himself along with Jim Cowart and Dan Cowart. And we were trying to raise the money for the high school building, and Malcolm comes to us and says well, if you’re going to have a high school building, you need a football field. And we’re kind of like, one step at a time now and we need the high school building first. So if you’re going to give us money, please give to the high school building. He says, no, you’ll raise the money for that. I want you to build a high school stadium. So now Robinson Field, Henderson Stadium exists because Malcolm’s insistence that you had to have the football field along with the high school building.

[00:14:26] Rico: Amazing. And at the time, Norcross high school, was Norcross high school there actually? At the time?

[00:14:32] Rob: No, it was still over on a Buford Highway and Beaver Ruin.

[00:14:35] Rico: That’s right. And then they moved across from Spalding drive from you all. That’s right in 95, it wasn’t there, 96. Amazing that both high schools are actually across from each other private and public and the things that go on. So even regulating the football, when the football games are running and stuff, the traffic on that road is, can be challenging. So you got the commitment for the football field. That wasn’t actually built before the high school though, I would imagine, or was it?

[00:15:02] Chris: They ended up overlapping, the building projects ended up overlapping with each other but certainly Rob’s right. The school was fully committed to building the high school building first. And just in that, in the course of that process providentially, Malcolm Powell came our way and with that strong desire to see the football stadium, we decided to go ahead and engage in that building project as well. But, Rob is right in that the whole impetus for the move from Sandy Springs to Peachtree Corners was to add a high school. And so in many ways that had to really be our first significant building project. I think if nothing else to maintain our credibility and our word that we had given to our families, that this was the direction we were heading. But I can’t tell you how unusual that is in most schools. Usually schools build their lower school first. And then as the school grows, they then build a middle school and then eventually build a high school. And so it’s unusual that we would do that first, but I also think it benefited our families because they felt like that they were a part of creating a building that their children would actually get to use. So you know our middle and high school families were fully invested in supporting with their sacrificial giving, the building of a high school building because they realized their children were going to be able to benefit from that. Versus I don’t know if their engagement would have been as high if they were building a lower school building that their children would never have the opportunity to actually go to school in. And so in a way that only we believe God could orchestrate, that fundraising strategy and that order of building the buildings really served the school well. And we had no idea that was going to be the case when we moved out here. There wasn’t a, I don’t think we sat down and created a ten-year strategy and said let’s start at the top and build our way back down to a lower school. We just felt like that was what we needed to do, because that was the whole reason why we made the move from the church property to begin with. And to go back to Zach Young, I can’t state strongly enough. He was the exact person we needed in just the right time. He was God’s man in God’s timing to do the job because if you had sat down and written a description of what do we need more than anything else you would have ended up writing a description of Zach Young. Somebody who brought credibility, who brought experience, who brought fundraising expertise, who had been a part of construction projects at a well-respected independent school in the Southeast. We couldn’t have had anybody better for the needs of the school at that time in the life of the school. And so when we look back on those early years, Zach Young coming to Wesleyan is really one of the miracles of the birth of this campus in Peachtree Corners. Is the, certainly the land was huge from Dan Cowart. But if we hadn’t had Zach, I’m not sure what that first decade would have looked like on this campus. He was just instrumental in getting this entity off the launchpad.

[00:18:36] Rico: And interestingly enough, from an outside perspective everything did fall right. Land, fundraising, the step towards creating the high school first. Because obviously your middle school, lower school was going to feed into that high school. And if had you not created that high school, it seems to me that those kids, those parents would have went to other schools instead. So rather than do that, it was a family, right? I mean, essentially a school is a family, right? When you’re all together like that, and you’re all facing the same challenges. You have the same goals, you have the same values. You want to be able to grow together. And I guess that’s where that phrase evergreen comes from. Where the kids go from kindergarten through high school and graduate and they go through the whole school system. Versus, where you’re going from Simpson to Pinckneyville to Norcross, it’s all within one system, one school structure. And you get to see your friends growing through it. And parents also, and the relationships you’ve made. Because some of the parents like Rob here, 25 plus years. Your kids have gone through, you have three kids that have gone through it. Plenty of parents like that too, that have done the same. And you lived in, did you, you lived in Buckhead or you lived outside Peachtree Corners, but then decided to move into Peachtree Corners, right?

[00:19:49] Rob: Well, I worked with a firm named Lavista Associates. When I started working with Lavista in 1983, we were headquartered in Peachtree Corners. Cathy and I lived in Rossville just across the river. So Peachtree Corners was my domain, I didn’t live there at the time. And that’s why I knew it. And that’s why I was able to present the benefits of Peachtree Corners to the board at that time. And again, it wasn’t easy, but eventually God convinced them that it was the right thing to do. So I knew it well. And then Cathy and I moved to Peachtree Corners in like 2001. And have loved it, stayed there ever since. My two older children started at Wesleyan in Sandy Springs and then my youngest daughter started in kindergarten at the Peachtree Corners campus. And yeah, I think that was from 99 to 2009. So it was for 29 years of being a parent.

[00:20:43] Rico: Wow. And I’ve known parents that have moved, that have brought their kids to Wesleyan, decided to buy homes here in Peachtree Corners. One of them, I knew from that bought a home in Riverview. Just past the river here. On this side of the river and they just, they had three kids and decided we’re going to move. Let’s just move and be there while the kids are going through Wesleyan. And then they would do something else after that. So it’s amazing to me, how parents have moved into Peachtree Corners because their kids were going to Wesleyan. They knew they would be going to Wesleyan for over 10 years. So they just decided to move to Peachtree Corners to do that.

[00:21:19] Rob: I’ll add to that Rico that because I’m in commercial real estate and work with companies looking to locate their businesses. The entire amenity base of Peachtree Corners is attractive to people. And they decide to bring their businesses there for a lot of reasons. And Wesleyan’s one of them, and the Forum’s one of them, Norcross high school is one of them. The churches, the nature trails, all of it’s part of it. And when they come to a place like Wesleyan and they see that and they say, yeah, I want to move here and also want to move my business here. It’s really been remarkable from all those perspectives, how the community has kind of grown together.

[00:21:53] Rico: Yeah, no doubt. And I foresee with companies like Intuitive are going to be expanding a five, six building campus with 1200 new employees, that some of those families may decide to have their kids attend Wesleyan or Norcross high school.

[00:22:07] Rob: That’s a good example. And that they already have. Some of the Intuitive, current Intuitive employee’s kids go to Wesleyan. So yeah, you’re right.

[00:22:14] Rico: And like you said before, the amenities of Peachtree Corners, the city of Peachtree Corners, we should say. Because beyond, before that, yes, we were considered Peachtree Corners. But now that we’re a city for the past decade, that provides so much backbone, I think to the things that are expanding here. Like you said, multi-use trails, the town center. Eventually I’m hoping an art center as well. And no doubt that we’re walking towards that as well. Schools, IB programs, run through Simpson middle, Pinckneyville, and Norcross. Norcross has some of the best sports teams in the state that have won state championships, as well as Wesleyan. And some of the other private schools. So there’s a lot going on here. So in the expansion of the campus, let me put on this picture. Growing from those modules in that one building to, to the campus that you are today and the sports fields. And the ability to have some of the administration actually live by the campus as well. All great stuff. Did you imagine at some point, did you think of it going this far? I guess that’s a question for Chris really, right? How did that go? What’s the vision at this point? Where are you going to go next?

[00:23:25] Chris: Rico, first of all when we look at that picture again, I’ve been at Wesleyan for 20 years. Rob’s been here 25 plus. It’s awe inspiring for us, not in a prideful way, but just it’s hard for us to believe what God has done at our school. And we’re humbled by that. And we’re so grateful for it. And I think there’s two things. One is, those of us who are in leadership positions at the school, feel a tremendous responsibility to be good stewards of what God has provided us. To make sure that we’re good stewards of what those early families did, their sacrifices, their sacrificial giving, and the leadership decisions that were made in the early years of the school. We want to honor that and make sure that the school always is growing and getting better. And when I say growing, it doesn’t necessarily mean in size. We like our enrollment. We’re not looking to get larger from a student perspective. But I also think from a stewardship standpoint, we have to always ask ourselves the question, what can we do to get better? Let’s never stop making the Wesleyan experience better for students and families. Sometimes that may mean purchasing additional land. Sometimes it may mean building a new building. It could be adding a new academic program or a new program in service, or in the arts, or in athletics. But we want to be committed to being a place that never stops getting better. And our hope is that in getting better, it’s not about saying to the world, look at us, look how good we are. But this is how we honor, first and foremost how we honor God, and how we honor the people who were here in the early years of the school who created this place. And, our goal is to continue to attract families to the school, to attract families, to Peachtree Corners. And you do that by not standing still. You do that by pushing yourself and asking yourself the question, how can we make the school experience better so we draw more families. And for us, for our mission it’s so more families can be exposed to the gospel and to learn more about their faith. And in the process we believe they’re going to get a great education and be a part of a community that extends beyond our campus.

[00:26:00] Rico: Cool. Have you, over the past two years now, just to shift a little bit. COVID has been a challenge for lots of schools. It’s been two years now, going on. It’s just like, everyone’s learning. Companies are learning. We’re doing remote video now where I was doing in-person podcasts, but doing the remote stuff is actually not a bad thing. Even past COVID I think. You had challenges. I know the school handled that well, because we covered some of that. But how did the school handle challenges of COVID over the last two years?

[00:26:30] Chris: It was tough Rico. You’re right. It was really difficult. And it felt like we were building the plane at the same time we were flying the plane. And it really stretched us as a school and as a community. But I think the Wesleyan community rose to the challenge. I really commend our students and our parents. They were, have been tremendous in doing what we’ve asked them to do in terms of COVID protocols. But my hat’s really off to our amazing faculty and our amazing administrative team that has just done a remarkable job of continuing to move the school forward and continuing to provide a great education and to meet the mission of the school. We’ve been through it, what everybody else has been through. When it first happened in March of 2020, we were right in line with other schools that shut down and did education completely remotely. And that’s not in our wheelhouse. We’re a place that wants to be all about personal relationships and building relationships with students. And it’s really hard to build and maintain relationships through a computer. And it felt really out of place for us. It felt like we were delivering instruction, but it was really hard on that relational piece. That summer of 2020, we regrouped. And came to realize pretty quickly that the upcoming school year, the 2021 school year was going to be unlike any other And we developed what we refer to as our hybrid plan where students were on campus every other day in our middle school and high school. Our lower school students were on campus every day. And again, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Those are challenging things for children, ages 5 to 18. It’s really hard to maintain those things, but our students did a remarkable job. And our teachers really hit a rhythm of this model of what I would call split instruction. Where half of their class was live in front of them in person, and the other half of their class was live online. And I’m just still amazed at how well our teachers adapted to that new system. And coming out of last school year into this summer, we were optimistic that we could hit the current school year with a little more normalcy. And that has been the case. We’ve been mask optional since the start of school, and that has worked for us. Our numbers have been relatively low within our community. And we’re so thankful that those numbers continue to decline in our state and in our county and certainly at our school. But I think it’s a little bit like Marine bootcamp. I can look back on it now and I can say that our school really grew as a result of that, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to go back and do it again. And so, I’m hoping that is behind us But my hope and prayer is that our families would say that we didn’t just survive that time period, but we were able to thrive throughout that difficulty. And I think it made our community stronger as a result of that.

[00:29:43] Rico: I would imagine you guys learn quite a bit too. When there are days where maybe because of storms or ice storms and stuff, it becomes a digital day, versus just a snow day. Although I know most kids probably would hate that. It’s, it’s not a snow day it’s a digital day.

[00:30:01] Chris: Yeah. I gotta be honest Rico. I’m a big believer in snow days. They’re rare enough in the south that I feel like if you really have snow, you have to let children go out and enjoy that. That’s a part of childhood, but I think you’re right. If we got into a situation where we had a prolonged weather related closure of school, we could pivot pretty quickly into a digital model that would allow students to continue to progress in their classes and not feel like we were losing time and had to make up for missed school days and encroach on summer vacation. And I think there’s some other things that we’ve learned from COVID that we’re going to maintain, even though we’re hopefully moving out of that type of educational setting. But now we’ve learned some valuable lessons about meetings and being more streamlined in our meetings. We still conduct a handful of meetings. We still have some online options. I think we’ve learned some things about orientation for new students and new parents that we experimented with during COVID. And we like some of the things that emerged from that. So we’re going to keep some of those things. But again it’s difficult because there’s no substitute for being in a classroom with all of your students and being able to focus exclusively on the people who are in front of you. And that’s really the bread and butter of our model. And we’re hoping and praying that we can continue with that throughout the course of this school year.

[00:31:28] Rico: And interestingly enough, I think it’s the same thing with business. Although some jobs can be done remotely, effectively. And probably even more effectively. But there are other jobs where obviously you want your staff in, where they can be. Because you learned from each other, right? It must be the same thing with teaching institutions as well. Teachers learn from each other different styles, different ways of doing things. If you’re introducing a new program, it’s easier to implement it, maybe if you’re in person versus everyone scattered. So you all have done well, obviously going through this. I know Gwinnett county schools have had their challenges. My son goes to Norcross and he had one digital day, which was Friday and a four day week that during that time became a five day digital week, essentially. So he was already doing and used to a digital day. So going for him, it was no different. And in fact, he learned, he felt he learned better most classes that way, although not math. So he would probably prefer it in person for that one. But otherwise, everyone’s a little different. All kids are a bit different also as in who learns better online. The fact that a lot of kids are online I think, also probably didn’t make it that much more difficult for them, at least the higher grades. The lower grades, I can see some challenges there. So what are you all planning over the next few years? Do you have any goals that you want to share? That Wesleyan school is looking to do over the next 5, 10 years.

[00:33:00] Chris: Sure. Thank you for asking. I think there are probably two academic programs that we are most focused on right now. One is our stem program. And really about four years ago, we identified stem as an area that we didn’t feel like we were serving our students and our families as well as we could. We had more of what you would describe as a traditional computer science model and not much focus at all on things like programming and robotics and coding and engineering and design. So we hired a director of Stem, four years ago. He’s in the start of his fourth year now. And we challenged him. We said we want to build a comprehensive K to 12 stem program. And we also had an idea that we might need to build a new building to house that program. But we felt that it was important to build the program first. And let the program dictate the space and not the other way around, where we built the space first and then tried to create a program that fit into the new space that we created. So we’ve seen tremendous growth in our stem program over the last three years. Every student from kindergarten through sixth grade is getting exposure to things like robotics and coding. And engineering in an age and developmentally appropriate way. And then starting in seventh grade, students have the option to, from seventh through 12th grade, to choose stem courses as an elective in their schedule. And we’ve seen a growth rate of 72% in enrollment in those elective stem courses over the last three and a half years. So there’s definitely a demand and there’s definitely an interest. We feel like we’re doing a much better job of meeting that demand and that interest. And now we are having discussions about adding a new academic building on campus that will house our stem program. We’ll also hopefully create some larger science labs for our science program. So that’s an area that we’re spending a lot of time right now, and a lot of energy. And we are in the fundraising process to raise money, to build that new building on campus. That we hope will take place in the next two to three years. We’ve also started an academic resource center at our school. This is another area that we identified about three years ago that we felt like there were students at Wesleyan who gained admission based on their own merit. They were not at all students who got here and couldn’t do the work. They were typically students who had above average IQs. But they struggled in keeping all the balls in the air at the same time. And so we felt like this was a group of students in our school that we could help more without compromising our academic standards or compromising our admission standards. And we created our academic resource center. We piloted the program last year in our middle school. This year it is continuing in our middle school. Parents do have to pay an additional fee for their children to be in the academic resource center. And it is an actual class that’s in their daily class schedule that they go to. And what we really concentrate on is what we call the executive functioning skills. Trying to teach children better time management, organization. To be better with their calendar to plan ahead. Looking at things like reading comprehension. So it’s not a, it’s not a tutoring program where students come in and they are tutored by somebody who’s an expert in science or math or English. It’s really a skills-based program in that our goal is to teach students the skills they need to be successful. So that they don’t need the program anymore. So we’re excited about that. I think we’ve got 22 students in our middle school who are in the arc program this year. And we’re looking to make a decision probably in the next couple of months as to whether or not we’re going to expand that program into the high school next year. So we feel like we’re meeting an academic need there that we weren’t previously meeting. And instead of parents having to seek assistance from tutors outside of school, they’re able to get the help that their children need during the course of the school day. So hopefully we’re making that more convenient for families. But ultimately we’re equipping students with what they need to be successful in the future. So those are two big academic programs. One of which is going to lead, we think to an expansion of facilities on campus in order to meet the needs. So those two things are occupying a lot of our time right now.

[00:37:47] Rico: With the next few minutes that we have left, Rob, you know, it’s been a journey for you and your family, your kids. As an involved parent, a business person. Where do you see yourself, you and Cathy your wife, as far as Wesleyan goes? Your kids are out of school. Obviously, you’re still on the board. Where do you find yourself being useful here? And what would you like to do?

[00:38:10] Rob: I mean, that’s a question a lot of people ask, because we have been there comparatively a long time. But it’s obviously a part of our life. It’s been a part of the journey or our lives and our children’s lives. But what it’s taught me is, it’s been proof of what God tells us to do and that’s to love others as he loved us. And that’s what Wesleyan trying to do, and that’s what our mission is trying to do. So we kind of hold that close to everything we do. And if we’re helping love others, then Wesleyan is a place that’s focused on that as well. We’re not having to fight daily battles on that task. It fits well within that, in how to go about living our lives, Wesleyan just fits into it. And it doesn’t mean we don’t do other things outside of Wesleyan, but obviously we have friends. We have family that are still there. It’s just part of our community. I believe Norcross is, I believe that the town center is. Just it’s all part of our lives in Peachtree Corners. And I hope other citizens of Peachtree Corners see it that way. It’s just a part of the community that we live in and we just happen to spend a lot more time there because of the efforts of the organization aligned with our own hearts and our own minds. So there’s no retirement date. If I just need to sit on the park bench in the quad and go pick up trash 20 years from now, that’s what I’ll do. It’s just, it’s part of our lives part of our community. We love it and we think it’s doing good things for all people. Both Peachtree Corners, Gwinnett county, the state, and our country. I’d love to see the kind of programs that we have at Wesleyan be at every school. The future is just to continue to lead our lives through Wesleyan and hope that the glorifies God in the way we do it.

[00:39:50] Rico: Well, I appreciate you guys being on the show with me and talking about the school. Chris, where can people go to find out more information about Wesleyan?

[00:39:59] Chris: Yeah, thank you Rico. The easiest way to do that is to go to our website, WesleyanSchool.org. It’s a great website. I invite people to go there to learn more about our school. If you’re a perspective family, there’s certainly a whole section of our website that’s dedicated to prospective parents and the admissions process. But certainly you can learn about every aspect of the school from the website. From our academic programs to arts and athletics. And really just the life of the school. We’re a community within a community. We’re very proud to be from Peachtree Corners and we love the Peachtree Corners community. We would like to believe that Wesleyan school has been good for Peachtree Corners and we certainly feel like Peachtree Corners has been good for us. And we’re always looking for ways to be more actively involved in the life of the Peachtree Corners community. And we certainly invite people to investigate Wesleyan school, to learn more about us and to be a part of our community as well.

[00:41:02] Rico: Great. Peachtree Corners Magazine is actually going to be a sponsor of the Wesleyan artists market. Another event that’s actually coming back in person. It seems for a 2022. So I’ll be meeting with team that’s handling that this year, this Friday. So I can’t wait to see that go on. Guys, thank you. Chris Cleveland, head of school. And Rob Binion a parent, longtime parent and also a member of the board of trustees of Wesleyan. I appreciate you guys being with me this morning. Thank you.

[00:41:30] Chris: Thank you, Rico.

[00:41:30] Rob: Thank you.

[00:41:31] Rico: Bye guys.

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Autumn Clark, Powering through to a Strong Comeback (podcast)



Autumn Clark, a student at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), is a gifted athlete who has worked tenaciously to develop her talents. More than a year ago, she suffered an injury that sidelined her for a while — but not for long. She powered through her rehab and had returned stronger and more determined than ever. This accompanies the article that appeared in our recent issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine.

Timstamp – Where to find it in the podcast:

[00:00:30] – Opening
[00:01:40] – Autumn’s Background
[00:02:57] – A Huge Setback
[00:05:33] – Physical Therapy and Coming Back
[00:08:23] – Balancing Sports, Life, and School
[00:11:24] – How COVID has Impacted Sports
[00:13:06] – How Autumn Plays
[00:15:41] – Moving on to College
[00:17:06] – Autumn’s Other Interests
[00:22:15] – Closing

“I think that it’s important to develop grit and work ethic from early stages. Because those who don’t need external motivation, such as your parents or your teachers to get you to do something.. Just those little things can help push you a little farther ahead in life. And you’ll find that it just is an exponential growth of success. Once you do the little things, they build on each other to where you can be more successful in anything you put your mind to.”

Autumn Clark

Podcast Transcript:

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life, the podcast that talks about the city of Peachtree Corners. News, community, happenings, people that are in this community, and the stories that you might see in Peachtree Corners Magazine expanded on a little bit more in a follow-up podcast. So hopefully you guys will be getting, by this point, the latest issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine in the mail, or you can pick it up at your nearest restaurant in the city or other businesses. Because in that issue, there’s a lot of things going on. Obviously you could see the kids breaking through in the film industry. But we also have an athlete, a student, a young lady, Autumn Clark from Greater Atlantic Christian. Let’s call her a comeback athlete, because of the things that have happened to her. And her comeback, not only in volleyball, but as well in track and field. And this is a great time to talk about this because the Olympics, we’re in the middle of that right now. Which is great. I’ve been watching every night. It’s cool to watch these young athletes from the skate parks that are 13 year olds doing skateboarding, street skateboarding and stuff, to swim, to track and field. So just excellent stuff. So let’s bring on Autumn Clark. Hey Autumn.

Autumn: [00:01:39] Hi, how are you?

Rico: [00:01:40] Good. Thanks for joining me. I appreciate you being on tonight. So let’s give our audience a little background about you. You’re a student at Greater Atlanta Christian, an athlete there. But not just there, you do club sports. So this, when we did a pre-interview, when I did the QA for the magazine, I didn’t realize how much time it takes for a young kid to put in to sports. Nevermind one sport, but two sports that you’re doing.  Let’s start back a little bit and tell us how you got into volleyball, which I believe was the first sport that you really got into.

Autumn: [00:02:12] Yeah. So I started volleyball spring of my eighth grade year. I was pretty much unaware of volleyball. And my friend at a local charity event was just like, Hey, you’re kind of tall. Maybe you should try out at volleyball. So I went in there and I tried out at A5 volleyball club over in Alpharetta and ended up making a team. And my volleyball career took off from there.

Rico: [00:02:37] And if I understand right, A5 volleyball is a national team, a national club?

Autumn: [00:02:41] Yes. There are number one ranked nationally for the last two years now.

Rico: [00:02:45] So making that really made you feel that you were talented enough to actually continue in it, I would imagine.

Autumn: [00:02:51] Yeah, definitely. Making a team there was stamping my place that I had potential for volleyball moving forward.

Rico: [00:02:57] So you’ve been playing volleyball since eighth grade going into high school. But tragedy happened back in October? That sounded bad from when you responded on that QA. So tell us a bit about that.

Autumn: [00:03:09] Yeah, so basically in October of 2020, my junior season, it was going super well. Then I believe it was October 1st. We were playing Mill Creek and in the fourth set, I landed really awkwardly. Ended up tearing my ACL, both my meniscuses, my MCL, and I fractured my tibia in that landing.

Rico: [00:03:27] That almost sounds like that would be the end of any athlete. Hearing that it’s just unbelievable. So how’d you feel?

Autumn: [00:03:33] Honestly it was pretty traumatizing. It was senior night, so there was a lot of people there. Thankfully it wasn’t my senior night. But ended up passing out on the floor, woke up briefly afterwards. Thankfully my parents were in attendance at the game, so they were there. Helped me up off the court.

Rico: [00:03:49] And ended up going to the hospital?

Autumn: [00:03:50] Yeah, I actually ended up going. My athletic trainer was basically on phone with Emory and they put me in a giant immobilizer and then I went. It was pretty late at night by then. It was already about 10:30.  I toughed out the night and then we went to an MRI in the morning.

Rico: [00:04:04] What was going through your mind when you were able to think about it?

Autumn: [00:04:08] The first couple of hours, I was trying to be optimistic. My trainer originally told me he was like, best case scenario, It’s just a hyperextension. But I’d never really experienced an injury to this degree. And I was like, I know something’s wrong. So later that night it definitely hit me more. I was like, I can’t walk. This is a huge change of lifestyle and I knew that it was probably going to be a serious injury.

Rico: [00:04:28] When these things happen, athletes, you’re working your way through it. And you’ve been doing it from eighth grade and all of a sudden, you’re hitting this. So recovery from that has to be torturesome almost, to do physical therapy because you got to keep doing it  even in pain, I would think. So what did you go through with that? And where did you go actually? Who was handling your case?

Autumn: [00:04:48] Yeah. So I got my surgery done at Resurgence Orthopedics. And then now I’m at rehab at advanced rehabilitation. My physical therapist is Evan. He’s awesome. He’s helped me through a lot. Honestly, the first couple of months were really, big change of lifestyle, honestly. For, since October, basically until the week after Thanksgiving. So late in November, I was unable to walk. I was in a wheelchair. I really didn’t like crutches. So I opted for a wheelchair. And that was probably the hardest time. And since then, I’ve been going to physical therapy three to four times per week even to today.

Rico: [00:05:19] Even until today. Wow. And you learned how to pop a wheelie I think?

Autumn: [00:05:23] I did. Yeah. I have a really large campus, so I would always have friends pushing me around and learned how pop a wheelie with all my lower spin the chair.

Rico: [00:05:33] That’s funny. There’s another sport altogether.  Alright, so you’re still doing physical therapy, but you know, at some point, I guess it was, I would imagine it was still difficult. Even going through it the first month or two, because you really didn’t get back to sports until mid year, I think this year. So how did that, did you go through, depression? What motivated you to keep going? To want to get back?

Autumn: [00:05:55] Yeah. The hardest part I definitely had to battle was kinda just being told no all the time. Like being so used to being able to do something and then suddenly someone’s like, hey, you can’t do that anymore. You’re used to your old kind of pre-injury self. And you’re just like, no, I can do that. So it’s just the big mental readjustment there. And then moving forward from that, coming back to the sport in mid spring. It did take a while and it was hard not having volleyball. I had to wait until, yeah about mid March to come back to the sport.

Rico: [00:06:23] And it sounded like you were watching volleyball on TV versus playing volleyball.

Autumn: [00:06:27] Yeah. I definitely had to rely on sports center to get through it. I had to really just kind of watch teammates get better. From an outsider’s perspective, get that.

Rico: [00:06:37] Did you visit some of the games or watch practices at school when you were there or?

Autumn: [00:06:42] Yeah so, the rest of high school season, I did attend all of the games. It was right after my injury. Basically the season ended four weeks post-injury for high school season. And then for club volleyball, I was able to attend all the tournaments. And so I was team manager in a sense, took stats, but could never actually participate.  That kind of helped a lot too.

Rico: [00:07:02] Yeah, I would think that would be motivating too. You’re still part of what’s going on. You’re still part of that team like that.

Autumn: [00:07:07] Definitely. Having the team bonding aspect really helped me get through.

Rico: [00:07:11] I would think so. And your parents, obviously I would think were a great help during that time.

Autumn: [00:07:16] Definitely. Especially the time period being in a wheelchair. I drive myself and my sister to school, so it was a big adjustment. Thankfully, my mom works at the school, so it wasn’t too big of a deal. Typically she will go about two hours prior to school starting. So we just had to work our schedules into going at the same time. She had to kind of go out of her way to drive me to physical therapy. And my dad was a big help at home. He was able to help me navigate the house, make dinner.

Rico: [00:07:44] How old is your sister?

Autumn: [00:07:45] My sister is 16 right now. She’s a rising sophomore at GAC this year.

Rico: [00:07:49] Is she in sports as well?

Autumn: [00:07:50] She does throw with me in the spring. I would peg her as the more artistic type. We’re pretty much day and night different. She really loves the arts. She takes two art classes currently this upcoming year. I can only draw stick figures. But she does enjoy the throws with me as well in the spring.

Rico: [00:08:06] Alright, cool. So that didn’t really affect her when she saw you injured. I’m sure she was scared too, but she’s throwing versus playing volleyball. I’m assuming there’s less, there might be less injuries in discus throwing, maybe? I don’t know.

Autumn: [00:08:18] Yeah. I think there’s less severe injuries probably in throwing than volleyball for sure.

Rico: [00:08:23] So when you were playing and even now I think, you’re not just playing school sports. So now you’re playing volleyball, right?

Autumn: [00:08:29] Yes.

Rico: [00:08:29] And you’re playing, you’re doing the discus on track and field. But that’s school sports, but you’re also playing club sports. Are you doing both of those?

Autumn: [00:08:37] Yeah, definitely, I do. So I technically I’m on four teams varsity high school volleyball, varsity high school track. And then I do club track with rock slingers over in Dunwoody. And then I play club volleyball with A5, as you know, in Alpharetta.

Rico: [00:08:50] Man, that’s demanding. Don’t they have their own trainings schedules and stuff?

Autumn: [00:08:54] Yeah, totally. Some nights I’m not home till about 11:30. So we’re just inching on the curfew for when I can legally drive. A lot of late nights for sure. But honestly, I love what I do and I don’t mind sacrificing another hour to stay up late doing my homework as a result of practice.

Rico: [00:09:12] And that hasn’t stressed you further physically, I would imagine? I mean, you’re still doing therapies you said before.

Autumn: [00:09:19] Yeah, definitely with constant athletic activity. It definitely, my parents do sometimes force me instead of weekends going out and going hiking with friends. They’re like, no, stay home. So my weekends are definitely my rest days. Friday nights are my hangout with friends night. I definitely do have to take breaks. But with being active so often I get in kind of a rhythm. So during the school day, I can relax. I can focus more on school and then my mental break comes with sports. So it’s kind of a nice balance.

Rico: [00:09:49] So that’s your mental break? The sports part?

Autumn: [00:09:51] I think it’s kind of like my freedom, like my release from stress. So I would say less mental stress.

Rico: [00:09:57] Interesting. I think when you do the things you love, it probably is less stress on that. And the fact that you’re doing two sports and you’re doing school and club. I think at one point, you’re doing weight training as well because you have to do weight training. And what was that three times a week? But during the season you doing it four times or five times. No, eight times a week, I think you said. Eight times a week. How do you split that up?

Autumn: [00:10:21] Basically I take a weight lifting class as one of my seven classes at GAC. So I take weightlifting class four times a week with my class. And then in the spring, during track season, we weightlift another four times per week.

Rico: [00:10:34] So wait, so you’re doing weightlifting obviously for volleyball, because that’s part of what you have to do. Different sets of weights, different sets for discuss throw?

Autumn: [00:10:42] Both really like to focus on the Olympic weights. So squat deadlift cleans are staples in both sports. Discuss is definitely more heavy on loading up heavier weights, trying to hit heavier reps while volleyball you definitely have more explosive. Like they want you a little bit lower weight. But more block jumps, more plyos, more sprints, I would say.

Rico: [00:11:03] So what’s the heaviest weight that you can dead lift?

Autumn: [00:11:06] I can dead lift 345 right now.

Rico: [00:11:08] 345. Wow. I can’t even do 100 I think. And you’re also running, I think as well? Or no. Any cardio activity?

Autumn: [00:11:16] Yeah. So I like, go for runs around my neighborhood. I’m not an invested long distance runner, but I do like to get the occasional jog in.

Rico: [00:11:24] Okay. Cool. So when you’re playing on club, you’re doing tournaments as well, just like school tournaments. Has anything come to a head with any of that this year? Probably not this year. I meant.

Autumn: [00:11:34] With COVID?

Rico: [00:11:36] Yeah. As far as how is it being handled? I know everyone’s, every school is doing it differently and things have changed again just this past week for Gwinnett county. Now they have to wear masks or at least all public schools have to. So how did that affect you? How’d you feel about that actually? Did that even change anything you were doing?

Autumn: [00:11:56] So for school it’s restricted people in the stands. So basically the only immediate family. So my grandparents couldn’t attend for most of it. So that was definitely disappointing. They love to attend the games. They love making a lot of noise, so a little bit lacking there. As far as the actual playing side they try to limit high fives, team huddles, closeness, and interaction with the other teams. So like traditionally in an average season, you would go up and high five or shake hands with your opponent. And then currently they like to keep us separated. Kinda just wave greet your opponent from a distance. Similar with club for traveling purposes we had, the only place we went this year, was Texas. Typically we’ll go sometimes up to Indiana, New York, et cetera for tournaments. This year, we kind of kept it close to home. And basically had COVID tests every tournament.

Rico: [00:12:43] Every tournament. Okay. And you were doing that, was that like a weekend thing or an overnight? Probably a weekend, I would imagine.

Autumn: [00:12:50] So there’s both. For club sometimes, when we had Texas overnight, tennessee it’s overnight, Alabama sometimes overnight. And then we have about five local tournaments, which will be typically at the World Congress Center. And those will just be weekend events probably about two to three days. And we’ll all commute.

Rico: [00:13:06] And what positions are you playing in volleyball?

Autumn: [00:13:09] I play outside hitter in rotation. So I never get off the court.

Rico: [00:13:13] And you like that I assume.

Autumn: [00:13:15] Oh, I love it. It’s awesome.

Rico: [00:13:17] Alright, cool. So obviously you started in volleyball you moved your way towards track with discuss. If you had your pick, if you had to pick, which one, which sport would you pick? One over the other.

Autumn: [00:13:29] They’re so different. I get this question actually a lot from my friends, because they’re like, you can’t have the same. So it’s very difficult to choose it obviously varies by the day on my mood. If I want to talk to people and hang out with others, I’ll choose volleyball. But if I’m angry and want to be alone, I will do track because track is such an individualistic sport. And your talent is more based off your numbers, and it’s easy to compare one another. Well volleyball, is such  subjective team sport, where it’s difficult to judge your talent level. Obviously there’s difference between extremes, but it’s so hard to tell. I would say I probably like track better just because I can focus on training specific parts. And it’s kind of all on me. But I really love both. I wouldn’t, I don’t have anything negative to say about either.

Rico: [00:14:15] Sure, yeah. And I would imagine it is difficult in volleyball. I was just watching the men’s and women’s volleyball over the last few weeks last, this past week and the Olympic sport. And you really can’t tell, I mean, it really depends on that team and how many times you get the ball and so many variables in that to see who’s really a good player and who’s not. And you know what? You can be a really good player and still miss things. Just because the way things come at you. When you’re doing discuss throw, what’s your best throw?

Autumn: [00:14:42] I’ve hit 140 in practice before, but this past year, because I was throwing in a giant brace, my official mark is 125. The 125 was able to break my school record this past year, but my practice marks would blow that out of the water.

Rico: [00:15:00] Right. Wow. That is unbelievable. One legged. Is that what the coach called you? A one legged thrower?

Autumn: [00:15:06] Yeah  at the awards banquet at the end of the season,  the record board, they announced that they were going to change it because I broke the record and they were going to consider putting an asterisk by it. Done with one leg, because honestly, I couldn’t really with the brace. It’s so restrictive. It only allows you to bend probably about 30 degrees. So it’s just a disadvantage because you can’t get any torque in the lift.

Rico: [00:15:29] So Autumn Clark could have done better, but for the brace.

Autumn: [00:15:33] Yes. I love the brace because it allows me to do what I love in this state. However, I hate the brace because it’s so restrictive.

Rico: [00:15:41] Yeah, I would think. Obviously you excel in sports and stuff. You have a great attitude. It sounds like. Even going through what you did and you’re coming back.  Are you a senior now?

Autumn: [00:15:49] Yes, I am.

Rico: [00:15:50] You’re a senior, right? Yeah. Because you’re being courted by Ivy league schools at this point, it sounds like. Any particular school that you’d like to go to? And we’re talking Northeast, are we talking Midwest? What are we talking?

Autumn: [00:16:02] Yeah. So I’m definitely gonna stay in the east coast. Just kinda for school preferences. Definitely have the Ivy leagues coming after me for track. A couple of the smaller ones as well. Both my parents were Auburn grads, so I potentially considered going to Auburn, just as student there and potentially try to walk onto their track team. Basically how their track team works there is you have to get into the school first and then maybe they’ll take you on the track team. They don’t really actively recruit.

Rico: [00:16:27] Oh, really. Wow. Okay. I didn’t know that. And I’ve had friends of friends, their kids go walk on for football and that’s a tough thing to do anywhere. So, alright. So there’s a lot of good local schools. So even though there might be some Ivy league schools you might stay in Georgia. What is it that you want in a school?

Autumn: [00:16:45] Yeah. So I look at my three personal pillars. Academics one, athletics two. Every morning I turn on sports center. So I just want some form of even like clubs for that I can go watch, like every day.  And then three, kind of social life. Clubs around campus things I can get involved on the weekend. So just those three pillars are what I want in a school.

Rico: [00:17:06] Cool. That’s strong things to want for sure. Now, academically speaking though it was surprising a little bit too. You and your dad, who’s a aerospace engineer, but flies for Delta decided that you guys were going to  build actually a 3D printer yourself. That was 2019, during COVID?

Autumn: [00:17:23] Actually the year prior, before COVID we built it. And then during COVID this past year, we ended up adding some more. We made a laser printer as well. We added onto it. It was an addition to the original plastic filament of the printer.

Rico: [00:17:38] Interesting. That was fun. That was something that you and your dad did. Obviously you have some scientific, science bent or interest there with that.

Autumn: [00:17:46] Definitely.

Rico: [00:17:48] Does that run in the family? Maybe that runs in the family?

Autumn: [00:17:50] Yeah so, my dad’s dad is also an engineer. And my dad’s an aerospace engineer. So I would defer a little bit, probably going the bioengineering realm with hopes to end up in medical field, pre-med.

Rico: [00:18:02] Oh, that would be cool. Biofabrication is the future of science. So you want to do that, right? What’s your favorite subject now in science?

Autumn: [00:18:09] Currently chemistry. But right now I am enrolled to take AP bio and dual credit physics. This will be my first year of exposure to physics. I’m really excited to take that course this year. My dad and I always liked talking about Newton’s laws and studying him. So it should be interesting to dabble in that this year. And so my favorite subject might change we’ll see.

Rico: [00:18:27] Interesting. Where are you going to be doing that dual enrollment?

Autumn: [00:18:30] Colorado christian is the college that my school associates duel credit with.

Rico: [00:18:35] Okay, cool. So eventually when you do pick a school, though you’re looking. What’s ultimately your goal for your degree and what you want to do in the future?

Autumn: [00:18:44] Yeah. So my ultimate goal would be to be a surgeon. However, I have to dabble in the surgery field too. But I lean probably more orthopedic. My surgeon who works at orthopedic or sorry, Resurgence orthopedics has offered once I turned 18 in October to potentially shadow him and see what he does. And so I think I’m going to do that this coming year, come October.

Rico: [00:19:09] What an excellent opportunity. Now you got interested because I think if I remember right, it was because you dissected a frog in science class and you thought that was cool to be able to see that.

Autumn: [00:19:19] Definitely. It was honestly, it was the anatomy and like kind of the bone structure that really struck me as interesting. They had to pull it away from me. We only had a 45 minute slot and I was like, doing a little skin graft. And I was like, I can see it’s bone. And cause we were only supposed to do the gut to see the basic anatomy of the frog, but I wanted to see more. Definitely that sparked my interest.

Rico: [00:19:42] Excellent. That’s great. Going a little further than what they wanted you to do and pushing the envelope there a little bit. I would go through your day in the life of Autumn Clark but it’s so packed with stuff. When you guys listen to this, you should either pick up the magazine and go online and check out the digital edition. Because her school day, it’s just unbelievable. I asked the question, when do you rest? And the weekend. Yeah. I could see that, but like you said, you go until 11:30 at night sometimes. That’s, when do you eat? Do you eat dinner? That’s funny. Yeah, you have so many hours that you’re putting into this and it’s good  that you’re passionate about it. What is your favorite meal? What would you say your favorite meal is going through that?

Autumn: [00:20:30] If I want it to be like fancy, I’d always go steak and baked potato at Outback steakhouse or something. That would be like, that’s like my birthday dinner meal. But I would say like more of a common meal that I have more often is a lemon peppered wings and Mac and cheese from buffalo wild wings. Like I said, my parents both attended Auburn. So football day is pretty big in my house. So we usually do wings on Saturday.

Rico: [00:20:54] Oh, that’s funny. Okay, cool.  What’s on your playlist currently?

Autumn: [00:20:58] Ooh. My mom calls me a boy band fan. So definitely all of the one directions, all of the five seconds of summer, got some Taylor stuff on there. I got some Camila Cabello on there. Very pop. And then of course I have my country playlist as well, a big Jason Aldean fan, big Thomas Wright fan as well.

Rico: [00:21:13] Cool. Do you listen to any of that as you’re training or is it?

Autumn: [00:21:15] Yeah, county’s like my car ride and then pop will be my workout slash sports playlist.

Rico: [00:21:22] Cool. You skateboard as well?

Autumn: [00:21:24] Yeah, I like to skateboard and rip stick with my friends. When I have free time, a big parking garage is  at a town center  across the way from Peachtree or sorry from the forum, is a really great spot to skate in the summertime.

Rico: [00:21:38] That’s cool. I think the city at some point should probably get a nice big skate park. There is one at Pinckneyville middle, but it’s small I’m told. So a lot of kids do Brooke run, which is way bigger. It’s a nicer place. Favorite book? Movie genre?

Autumn: [00:21:51] Definitely Harry Potter. Loved the series, even though Voldemort scares me every time in book four. Especially in the movie. It’s so well put together. Yeah, that’s definitely my favorite series. And I also love the Hunger Games as well. So kind of action, fiction books are definitely my favorite.

Rico: [00:22:07] What was your favorite Harry Potter book?

Autumn: [00:22:10] Ooh, tough one. I’ve gotta go four. It’s just so much, so action packed.

Rico: [00:22:15] Alright, cool. We’re at the tail end of what we’re doing here, a podcast with you. And I do appreciate the time you’ve given us. Is there anything you want to share with maybe young athletes that are younger than you? Athletes that might’ve faced the same type of you know, injuries and having to come back. Anything you want to share with them?

Autumn: [00:22:31] Yeah, so definitely from the injury side really quick, I think it is important to take your time to rehab, but coming back too quick, can extend your injury farther. Kind of prolong it. Especially at the beginning stages when you’re told no that you can’t do anything. I think is really important to focus on being able to understand that it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just that you are still healing. And that’s still something I struggle with even, it’s been nearly, it’s coming up on 11 months post-injury. And I still struggle with that. So with knee injuries, it’s a really long timeline. And then I guess for just student athletes in general or any younger high school students, honestly, I think that it’s important to develop grit and work ethic from early stages. Because those who don’t need an external motivation, such as your parents or your teachers to get you to do something. Going out of your way to ask the coach, Hey, what can I work on after practice or going to the teacher after class and asking what you should study, how you can do  an assignment better. Just those little things can help push you a little farther ahead in life. And you’ll find that it just is an exponential growth of success. Once you do the little things, they build on each other to where you can be more successful in anything you put your mind to.

Rico: [00:23:54] Well said. We’ve been with Autumn Clark student at greater Atlantic Christian, a volleyball player, a discus thrower at track and field. The young lady that has come back from injuries. And is doing really  well. And has broken her school record on discus as a one legged thrower because of her brace. I appreciate you coming on with us. Thank you Autumn.

Autumn: [00:24:14] Thank you for having me.

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Wesleyan Senior Jada Richardson Talks about Golf and her Journey [Podcast]



Jada Richardson, a senior golfer at Wesleyan School was recently named one of Gwinnett Daily Post’s “Super Six”. Listen in to this episode of Peachtree Corners Life to hear all about her incredible journey, the impact of COVID-19, her family and where she draws her inspiration.

Resources: Instagram: @jadarichardson1

Timestamp, where to find it in the interview:

[00:00:30​] – Intro
[00:00:42​] – How Jada got into Golf
[00:03:36​] – Becoming a Successful Golfer
[00:04:42​] – The Impact of COVID on Golfing
[00:05:38​] – Family and Golfing
[00:06:52​] – Drawing Inspiration
[00:08:40​] – Jada’s Hobbies and Interests
[00:11:00​] – Closing

“I’m really there just to get better, to better myself. So I’m really just playing the course and then whatever everyone else shoots, you know, it’s kind of there. And I think that’s helped me stay focused on just me and allowed me to compete at a higher level without being too stressed about what everyone else is doing.”

Jada Richardson

Podcast Transcript

Rico: [00:00:30] Hey, this is Rico Figliolini, host of  Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you guys joining me. Today we have a special guest. Her name is Jada Richardson, senior at Wesleyan high school. Hey Jada.

Jada: [00:00:40] Hi, how are you?

Rico: [00:00:42] Good, good. I appreciate you joining me. So we, you know, Jada is a golfer. She started at a younger age than she is now obviously. And the first time she started, it seems like she didn’t like the game. It was a summer camp at a young age. But she came back to it later. And now she is what Gwinnett daily post has put together as one of the super six in golf in the County. And she plays for Wesleyan school. So, you know, I appreciate you coming on and talking about it because golf is not like soccer, baseball, softball, a lot of kids in those types of sports, basketball. Golf is a really intense type of sport and takes a lot of practice. Just like any sport, I’m sure. But it’s a different type of practice, right? So tell us, tell us actually, when you first got into it and how you felt about it. And then when you came back to it and why you came back to it.

Jada: [00:01:37] Yeah. So my dad originally like signed us up, well, me for a summer camp around like age six or seven-ish at the local golf course around here. So I went there and did like a summer camp. I didn’t really enjoy it too much. I thought it was a little slow paced. I think that was the thing, like, I just kinda wanted to run around a little bit more than golf allowed you to. So I would like go out with him a little bit, but not much. So I didn’t really practice much. And then around seventh grade actually, I moved schools. I moved from the school over here to Wesleyan school. And I knew in high school that I was going to want to play a sport, mostly because I liked the letter jackets. And so I was like, Oh, I want a like letter jacket when I get to high school. So I was like, okay, what can I do? And at that point I knew running was not going to be a thing for me because I like don’t really enjoy running that much. I do for workout stuff, but like, I don’t really enjoy running that much. And then I was going to swim, but I like, that was like, I was just average at that. So I was like, okay, like I could do golf. And so I started taking golf lessons and like going out to practice and I started to really enjoy it. And I loved like getting better and improving and like getting to travel to different golf courses and stuff. I pretty much just stuck it out from there.

Rico: [00:02:49] So you came back to golf, at what you said about 12 or 13?

Jada: [00:02:53] Yeah, probably like 12 or 13 ish.

Rico: [00:02:55] And it’s interesting what you said before about that. It’s a slow paced game. It’s not, I mean, it’s not like soccer certainly or lacrosse where you’re constantly running and you have to keep up. Basketball, same way. I remember when my kids did baseball. I mean, if they were in the outfield, that was slow paced. You’re lucky if you got a ball out there. So, you know, when they were younger, five or six or seven, they were digging in the fields and stuff versus paying attention. So I’m sure that they would not have taken to golf at a young age too. So you’ve, been playing with Wesleyan. You’ve been successful at doing it. Are there certain traits or skills that you think make you successful at it? Or help you to be successful?

Jada: [00:03:36] Yeah, I think probably, I’m really there just to get better. Like better myself. So I’m really just playing the course and then whatever everyone else shoots, you know, it’s kind of there. But I’m always there just trying to like better myself and get better. And I think that’s helped me stay focused on just me and allowed me to like compete at a higher level without being too stressed about what everyone else is doing.

Rico: [00:03:58] Does it matter what, coming not from a golf side because I’m not a golfer, but does it matter what course you’re on? Do you have preferences as far as that goes out there?

Jada: [00:04:09] I like some courses more than I like others. I really like my home course. I play at Laurel Springs, I like that course a lot. And there’s a lot of courses I like. Some of them are just harder than others though, but it doesn’t make too big of a difference.

Rico: [00:04:21] Okay. Do you, when you’re practicing, I mean, mainly it’s on the golf course I would imagine versus anywhere else, right?

Jada: [00:04:28] Yes.

Rico: [00:04:29] But you do running, you do other, do you do other exercises besides that? Do you workout  in the gym?

Jada: [00:04:34] I try to, I’ve been trying to work out a little bit more in the gym. So I try to get up in the morning, go to the gym and then come back and go to practice.

Rico: [00:04:42] So during COVID, has it, has anything changed? Has, certainly competition I’m sure at some point changed. But tell us a little bit about that experience.

Jada: [00:04:50] Yeah, at the beginning, when it was like completely shut down and it was a little bit chaotic to say the least. I was supposed to play a tournament actually like, the week everything shut down. And so I was like, I don’t know what’s going on. And then at that time I was trying to be recruited. So like, not being able to play was a little bit stressful because I wasn’t getting to post any tournament scores or anything like that. But I think COVID was actually pretty good for my golf game if I’m being really honest. Like every evening, so I’d get up in the morning and go work out, come back home, take a shower, then I’d go practice. And then in the evening, I’d go out and play with my dad. Like I’d go play nine holes with him in the evening until the sun went down and stuff like that. I thought it was really good for my golf game. Got a lot of practice in. A lot more than I usually would have, especially with me being online for school, because then I can do my schoolwork kind of whenever. So it was kind of helpful, honestly.

Rico: [00:05:38] Interesting. So playing with your dad, how was that? Was he, was he like a good coach or was he a hands-off or how was that?

Jada: [00:05:47] He’s a good coach, yeah. He just normally walks with me. He doesn’t really play that much himself. He would just like walk with me look at things. He goes to a lot of my golf lessons with me, so he’s kind of able to recognize like things in my swing and then short game stuff.

Rico: [00:06:00] Oh, cool. How long is practice usually on golf? I know golf games can go two or three hours. I mean, how long were those practices on the nine hole?

Jada: [00:06:10] Nine hole is only like maybe, it would take us like two hours maybe. I don’t even know if it would take us two, maybe two and a half sometimes if the course was super busy.

Rico: [00:06:19] Do you think your sister, your younger sister wants to get involved in golf now that she’s seen her older sister doing it?

Jada: [00:06:25] No. I don’t think so, no. I think it’s like, like I was saying earlier for me when it was like a little bit slow paced, I think that’s her thing. It’s a little bit slower. And then she just got interested in other things. She’s a lot more artistic than I am. So she’s kinda in that stuff.

Rico: [00:06:41] Okay. Do you have any mentors, or do you, where do you draw your inspiration from? You know, when things are tough or challenging for what you’re doing?

Jada: [00:06:52] Yeah. Probably just like the women on the LPGA. I think they’re super inspiring. A lot of them have different stories about struggles and stuff. So it’s always nice, like, here that they’re not perfect and like their golf journey wasn’t perfect either. So I really enjoy like looking up to them and I love watching the women on the LPGA.

Rico: [00:07:09] Do you listen to any podcasts or watch golf TV or anything?

Jada: [00:07:13] No. I normally watch like golf on the weekend, like Saturday and Sunday I’ll watch. But other than that, no. I’ve listened to actually, I listened to a podcast with Cheyenne Woods and I can’t remember who else. It was like Birdie something. I can’t remember the name of it, but she had one that I listened to for a little bit.

Rico: [00:07:29] Cool.  What do you find as one of your biggest accomplishments today?

Jada: [00:07:33] Well, probably right now, just being able to commit to play golf. Do more golf at Howard university. That’s been like super exciting for me. My family and I are like, super excited about that. So that’s been a big accomplishment so far.

Rico: [00:07:46] So signing on to, with Howard university. What are you looking forward to doing there?

Jada: [00:07:51] I’m looking forward to competing against some high level competition and then also just learning from a coach per year and then my teammates as well.

Rico: [00:07:59] Okay. Do you draw from your teammates. Golf is not necessarily a team sport you would think off the bat, but how do you feel about that?

Jada: [00:08:07] Yeah, I think having teammates is awesome, especially during the school season. Cause typically during the summer, I’m just by myself. So it’s great to have teammates during the school season. They’re super encouraging. So I love like getting to hang out with them and then just like simple things like the bus rides are super fun. It just makes golf a little bit more fun and entertaining.

Rico: [00:08:24] Do, do you guys trade tips or advice with each other?

Jada: [00:08:29] A little bit during like practice rounds and we’re going to go walk a course or something and just play before tournament. We might be like, Oh, like, this seems like a smart hole to like lay up here or do different things like that.

Rico: [00:08:40] If you were going to play another sport or if you were gonna play something else more like recreational, what would that be?

Jada: [00:08:46] I really want to learn tennis. That’s like the next thing I want to learn. Yeah. I like really, really want to learn it. I’m trying to get some of my friends to teach me.

Rico: [00:08:54] Yeah, that’s a tough one. I play on and I’m at the lowest scale of talent. Getting that top spin is a little tough.

Jada: [00:09:02] I can imagine.

Rico: [00:09:05] But yeah, that’s cool. That’s and you’re still swinging. You’re still swinging something. What was the toughest swing that you probably, that you had to  make sure you did well in golf. You know, versus, let’s say putting or something. Is that, what’s the toughest one of those?

Jada: [00:09:23] Probably, I’m trying to think. Maybe like originally trying to learn to swing my driver was a little bit tougher. It’s just a little bit different cause the motions more up rather than down. So that was a little bit different, but now it’s like one of my favorite clubs, so it’s not too bad. But I think originally trying to learn how to hit my driver was a decent struggle.

Rico: [00:09:40] Right, okay. Do you have I know, you know, in your spare time you do other things like, you like listening to music. Do you have a favorite song or two you want to share?

Jada: [00:09:50] Like my favorite song?

Rico: [00:09:52] Well, who you listen to and what songs are your favorite right now?

Jada: [00:09:56] I really like Adele. And then right now, though, this is not Adele, but I’ve been listening to Levitating by Dua Lipa. And I’ve been kind of obsessed with that song. I probably listen to it every time I get in the car right now.

Rico: [00:10:08] What about reading? Any particular authors or type of genres that you like reading?

Jada: [00:10:12] Not really. I just kinda, whatever people hand me is kind of what I’ll read. I like nonfiction sometimes but fiction’s good as well. Like my favorite book is probably the Catcher in the Rye or or something like that.

Rico: [00:10:23] Cool. And are there any these are just like tidbit things that I ask sometimes about favorite foods.

Jada: [00:10:30] Oh, I really like like Caesar salad and salmon. That’s my favorite.

Rico: [00:10:34] Do you do any protein stuff, anything special diet for athletic?

Jada: [00:10:38] Not really just try not to eat too many sweets and sugars, but no.

Rico: [00:10:43] Any particular movies or streaming services?

Jada: [00:10:45] Probably Netflix, but I honestly don’t watch movies that much, but I use Netflix. We have Netflix.

Rico: [00:10:51] Are you on social media? I’m assuming you’re out there. I mean, do people follow you for the sport and stuff?

Jada: [00:10:56] Yeah, I have an Instagram  account. It’s JadaRichardson1.

Rico: [00:11:00] Great. Do, do you have other things you want to share? Do you have something you want to share to any other young athletes? Not necessarily golf, but other athletes that are, you know, young. 12, 13, 14, getting into a sport that you want to share with them? Some advice you want to give them as a mentor, let’s say.

Jada: [00:11:16] Yeah, I think it’s just important to make sure you’re having fun at whatever you’re doing. And I know everyone says that, but like, if you’re not having fun, it’s going to be miserable. So just try to keep it fun and lighthearted. And remember at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

Rico: [00:11:29] You practice, how many hours a week do you practice Jada?

Jada: [00:11:32] Probably like 25 ish, I guess, maybe.

Rico: [00:11:36] So it’s almost like a job. So, you know, you don’t really, you don’t have a part-time job. This is it, right?

Jada: [00:11:42] Yeah. This is, this is a little bit of my part time job right now. Yeah.

Rico: [00:11:46] Do you want to eventually go pro at some point?

Jada: [00:11:49] I’d love to do that, yeah.

Rico: [00:11:51] Okay. So Howard university as far as the school and being part of their team and stuff, what is it that you know, that, that you want to do as far as coursework there? What major, what career path do you think you’d want to go besides pro. In case you can’t get to pro or even people that do pro I mean, what coursework are you doing?

Jada: [00:12:13] So I’ll be majoring in international business. So after that it’d be able to work kind of, I guess, a little bit all over the place. Travel a little bit in business. But my real goal hopefully, is to be able to get that degree and then go to law school after that. So that’s kind of what my focus is. Like, get really good grades and undergrad and then be able to go to a good law school.

Rico: [00:12:32] Excellent. Do you speak a language by the way?

Jada: [00:12:35] No, no. I want to learn Spanish, but no.

Rico: [00:12:38] Alright, cool. Great. Anything else you want to share with us? Anything before we end off this interview?

Jada: [00:12:45] I think that’s it.

Rico: [00:12:46] Alright, good. We’ve been spending time with Jada Richardson with Wesleyan school heading towards Howard university. So we want to wish you well. Wish you good luck, stay safe and be successful. Thank you.

Jada: [00:13:00] Thank you.

Rico: [00:13:01] Alright, bye.

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