He has won eight trophy saddles and 45 trophy belt buckles. He has been named the best cowboy in Pennsylvania High School Rodeo for the past three years. For two consecutive years he captained the Wrangler all-stars, which represent the commonwealth, after being voted to the position by his peers. This week's Sun Ledger Male Athlete of the Week is AJ Williams.
AJ, a 17-year-old senior at Solanco High School, is the son of Ralph and Diana Williams and resides in Providence Township with his parents and brothers, Brad, 19, and Tim, 15. He has several pets including three Australian Blue Heelers (cattle dogs), and of course his horses, Banshee, RT and Tex.
Rodeo is his hobby. "I live and breathe rodeo. I used to wrestle with the Solanco team, but it interfered with rodeo, so I had to give it up," said AJ.
A four-year member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), AJ has been involved with rodeo since the age of three. "I actually started competing in sheep riding ("mutton bustin") at that age."
AJ's favorite rodeo competitor is Billy Etbauer, a five-time world champion saddle bronc rider. When it comes to local competition, he has no favorites. "At a high school rodeo, you cheer for everybody, even though they really are competing against you." The senior athlete says that as a youthful cowboy you know there is always a bull or bucking horse that will be more challenging than the one you last climbed on.
AJ said he prepares for competition by practicing as much as possible. "I am either swinging a rope, riding a horse or watching my competition tapes to see where I made mistakes." To train on bulls and broncs AJ travels to Annville, Pa.
The Solanco senior is convinced he is a more "seasoned" competition veteran this year and he's ready for the challenge. "I know what it will take to get me out to the National High School Rodeo Finals, and I know what it is like out there."
Pennsylvania weather sometimes hinders the cowboy. "It is too cold in the winters around here to practice at times, or even compete. You can't rodeo year around in Pennsylvania."
When asked what he had to suggest to the younger student-athlete, AJ offered. "Set your goals high. Never quit. Keep believing in yourself."
Agriculture subjects are AJ's favorite and Barb Wagner, a Providence Elementary teacher, is his favorite. "She has always been my favorite teacher. She still supports me."
His parents are the role models in his life. "They have taught me how to be a good person."
AJ also has a spiritual life. "I attend Cowboy Church every Sunday morning during rodeo season and attend a Bible study group conducted by one of the older cowboys."
Winning the first round of steer wrestling during a National competition ranks as the most memorable sports moment. "For a fleeting moment I was set to win a National title. Things didn't work out for me in the second round."
AJ listed "Super Troopers" and "8 Seconds" as his favorite movies and he enjoys viewing "Family Guy" on TV.
Chris Ledoux, a country western singer who made "One Less Tornado" popular, is his favorite recording artist. The song is about the passing of a rodeo champ.
Following his 2006 high school graduation, AJ plans to attend a Texas college or university and compete on their collegiate rodeo team. His goal in life is to compete on the professional level. He wants the rodeo to be more than simply a weekend hobby.
Our congratulations to AJ Williams, this week's Sun Ledger Male Athlete of the Week.
This 16-year-old Solanco sophomore was an Athlete of the Week as a Bart-Colerain Elementary student several years ago. At that time she was an aspiring gymnast who at the ages of 10 and 11 won the Level 5 and 6 floor and beam state championship. As Solanco has yet to add gymnastics to their sports program, she has now concentrated her athleticism into field hockey, track and cheerleading. Currently it is cheerleading that has brought her the most success. The Solanco sophomore has been cheering in the Solanco program for eight years. She has been on a competition team, known as Sunergy, a 7-time National championship team, for the past five years. A Sunergy all-star, she has been named the jump-a-thon winner during four consecutive seasons. For the past two years she has been a member of the Solanco varsity cheerleading squad. Her acrobatic feats at the Solanco boys' basketball games are worth the price of admission. This week's Sun Ledger Female Athlete of the Week is Whitney Hawkins.
Whitney is the daughter of Wesley and Sharon Hawkins. She resides in Bart Township with her parents and twin brother, Wes. The family has an assortment of pets that include Midnight and Mojo, cats, and Blue and Belle, a pair of Beagles.
In addition to cheerleading, field hockey and track, Whitney is a member of the Solanco band, secretary of the Student Senate (Class of 2008), a member of the Newspaper Club, and works at Dutch Wonderland.
Whitney said she doesn't have a particular favorite collegiate or professional cheerleading team. "But the Ravens (Baltimore) cheerleaders are pretty good and I like their uniforms."
Preparing for competition has become a routine. "I first make sure I have all the right uniform pieces, makeup, and bow the night before. I don't want to become stressed before cheering competition. I run the routine through my head two or three times and attempt to get a feel for how it should appear. I want to know what my job is, so as not to let the team down."
Whitney loves learning new cheers and stunts, but is disappointed she won't be able to attend as many competitions as she hoped this year.
Her advice to other athletes is, "If you do or try something once and it doesn't work out how you expected or wanted it to, that doesn't mean you can't do it or that it can't be done. You can do it. It simply takes work."
English and Physics are her favorite subjects and Paul Gladfelter and Joe Pearson are her favorite teachers, along with someone known as Nova.
Her mother has been the most influential person in her life. "She pushes me hard and I get mad sometimes, but her advice only makes me a better person." In addition her tumbling coach, Alex Molinari, has been a strong influence. "He helps me remain calm during competition and is also there to talk with me when I need help with issues other than cheerleading and tumbling."
Whitney said her most memorable sports moment occurred when she landed properly and safely after performing a full 360-degree twisted back flip. "And when I win the jump-a-thon."
Besides Kayla Huyett and the lunch table gang there are a host of friends. "I have a lot."
Tacos and potatoes are Whitney's favorite foods and she loves horror films. "I also love Alice in Wonderland." Television programs such as "8 Simple Rules" and "Will and Grace" are favorites as well. Jim Carey and Martin Lawrence are her favorite entertainment personalities.
Following her 2008 high school graduation Whitney plans to attend college. "Hopefully Maryland." She wants to major in journalism and someday write for a big newspaper publication and perhaps coach a sport team as an aside.
Her goal in life is to take her time growing up, learn from her mistakes and achievements, and live a good life. Our congratulations to Whitney Hawkins this week's Sun Ledger Female Athlete of the Week.