After 36 years of being involved with the Page One Awards, Debbie King can use one word to define the program’s significance:
“Excellence — excellence in every concept of what a student and teacher can be,” said King, the executive assistant to the Ledger-Enquirer’s publisher for 37 years. “I see amazing students and amazing teachers.”
She has seen most of the approximately 8,400 students and teachers who’ve been honored through the 43-year-old Page One Awards program.
“The one thing that I always hear from some former winners is that was the highlight for them,” King said.
And for others, it has given them confidence to achieve even more.
“Some of them still keep that Page One trophy,” she said. “… It gives them proof that all those hours and all that hard work pays off.”
King’s hard work at the L-E will end this year. She plans to retire Aug. 31. So the 7 p.m. Tuesday ceremony – free and open to the public – will be her final time leading the annual effort that culminates on the Bill Heard Theatre stage at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
She has been part of Page One since 1982, first as a volunteer. In 1990, then-publisher Billy Watson asked her to help retired photographer Lawrence Smith and artist Carol Bunn coordinate the L-E’s awards program recognizing outstanding high school seniors and teachers in the Chattahoochee Valley. Several years later, King became the program’s leader, aided by newsroom assistant Jenny Chandler, now retired.
Thinking about how she will feel during her last Page One Awards ceremony, King said, “It’s going to be bittersweet. I’m glad to pass this on to someone else, but it’s really kind of sad in a lot of ways because I’ve been so totally involved with it. … I think it’s one of the best things we do in the community. I look forward to Page One continuing forever.”
Looking back, King said she is “in awe of and amazed at all these young people have accomplished at such a young age. As I have handled their applications over these many years, I have tried to put it together about what has driven them, what has been their impetus to strive for excellence. Where did they find the time to excel and also give back to the community with all their charitable works? What a great honor it has been to work with a program that gives them the recognition that is so well deserved.”
King also is grateful for the community leaders who are the Page One judges and the volunteers who conduct the program.
“We have judges who ask to come back every year,” she said. “… It takes a lot of volunteers to make this show run.”
This year’s Page One Awards will honor 183 high school seniors and 17 high school teachers in the Chattahoochee Valley.
The student applications and interviews are judged in 13 student categories and one teacher category. The student categories are art, athletics, career and technology, citizenship, drama, English and literature, foreign language, general scholarship, journalism, mathematics, music, science and social studies.
A total of $19,000 in awards will be presented, bringing the 43-year total to $591,000.
In addition to trophies, the student and teacher award winners receive $1,000, except the journalism category winner, who receives $1,500 for winning the Tucker-Wilder Scholarship, named after three former Ledger or Enquirer editors: W.H. Tucker, W.C. Tucker and Bruce Wilder. The student and teacher runners-up receive $300 along with plaques.
The Sara Spano Top Teacher Award is named after the late L-E food editor, who retired in 1985. Early in life, she was a teacher. Later, she was a Muscogee County School Board member.