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Holton wins national award


Hayden Holton, a former student-athlete at Elmore County High School in Eclectic, won honored Tuesday at the 102nd National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) Summer Meeting as the 2021 national recipient of the National High School Spirit of Sport Award. Elmore County High School principal Wes Rogers accepted the award on behalf of Holton, who was unable to attend the event held at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

Holton was also selected as the NFHS Section 3 Spirit of Sport Award recipient (including the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee).

The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics. Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members.

“Hayden’s journey exemplifies exactly what the NFHS “Spirit of Sport” Award is all about,” said retiring AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese, who also took part in the presentation Tuesday. “We are very proud Hayden, his school and community family are being recognized for their unflinching love and spirit.”

Holton, graduated from Elmore County High School in 2020 as an accomplished four-sport student-athlete, earning academic and athletic honors. It was a remarkable ending to a high school career that began with an unspeakable tragedy.

In September 2016, during the first semester of Hayden’s freshman year, his parents died in a double shooting putting Hayden and his siblings into the national spotlight. A family member was charged with the murders but charges were later dismissed.

Hayden’s life as he knew it was gone. He moved to live with relatives in Alexander City following the tragedy but returned to Eclectic and Elmore County High School as a sophomore where his coaches, teammates and the community became his extended family, providing him structure and support.

“They wrapped their arms around him and embraced him, and helped him through this situation as much as you could,” Rogers said. “In his first year back at Elmore County, Hayden could not compete in football and basketball but he could practice and never missed a session or workout, and he often served as a team manager, statistician or water boy just to keep close to his extended athletic family.”

NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff (left) and retiring AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese (right), present the 2021 NFHS National Spirit of Sport Award to Elmore County High School principal Wes Rogers at the 102nd NFHS Summer Meeting being held at Orlando’s World Center Marriott Tuesday. Rogers accepted the award on behalf of Hayden Holton. The 2020 Elmore County senior who was unable to attend.

“I loved the family part of sports, most definitely,” Hayden told in a 2020 article. “That seriously helped the most. It’s always something to fall back on. If you break down, there’s always somebody there for you no matter what, and you’re there for them the same way. It’s one big family, a huge family.”

Hayden not only played four sports, basketball, football, baseball and soccer, bur was active in the Future Farmers of America and his church community, participating in a mission trip to Guatemala in 2019.

As a senior, Hayden was named the Bryant-Jordan Foundation’s Ken and Betty Joy Blankenship Student- Achievement Award State Co-Recipient (with Kamyn Sparks of Pleasant Valley High School), which recognizes students statewide who face and overcome difficult obstacles.