The Robert Davidson Scholar Athlete Awards program, sponsored by the Columbia Rotary club, is entering its 30th year. Since its inception, the program has rewarded student athletes in Howard County who have managed to excel both on the field and in the classroom.

The program is open to any high school senior residing in Howard County. Two seniors, one male and one female, win the first prize award of $2,000 each year, and two more win the $1,000 runner-up prize.

The scholar-athlete focus came about as a response to an existing student athlete program which the founders, Stan Ber, Robert Davidson (for whom the program is named) and Steven Sachs felt was too focused on athletics and did not place enough emphasis on excellence in the classroom.

The Scholar Athlete Award takes a balanced look at a student athlete’s career, equally weighing academic prowess and athletic accomplishment. However, the founders of the program did not develop the judgment criteria by themselves. They spoke to teachers, guidance counselors and athletic directors to arrive at reasonable criteria.

The program encourages students, through financial incentives, to strive to be the best they can be, whether it is competing on the field or learning in the classroom. According to Sachs, “We see the best we have and reward that.”

Award Requisites

To apply for the Scholar Athlete Awards, a student must maintain several minimum academic requirements. To start, the student must have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.4, although according to Sachs, most winners in the past have had a GPA of around 4.0. The program also takes into account the difficulty and workload the students have; students with more difficult course schedules generally have a better chance of winning the award.

Another factor taken into consideration is how many advanced placement (AP) classes a student is taking or has taken, and more importantly, how well the student did on the AP exams for those classes.

Academics are not the only consideration; to win, a student also must be an exceptional athlete and must have at least four varsity letters to be considered. The program also looks for consistent success: A student cannot simply have played the sport, s/he must have excelled in it.

Winners also are generally team captains in at least one of the sports they play and have demonstrated to their coaches and teammates consistent displays of leadership above and beyond what is required of them.

Students also must present recommendation letters from some of their teachers and coaches to be considered for the award. Even with these selective requirements, dozens of Howard County’s best and brightest apply for the award each year.

Funding the Scholarship

When the program was still young, it was funded by both the Columbia Rotary club and Patuxent Publishing Company, but as time went on, the Rotary club took over full funding responsibilities. The program, which to date has awarded more than $120,000 to the numerous winners, is funded by another event the Columbia Rotary club hosts, the Final Four Fundraiser.

The fundraiser is a pool for the NCAA Basketball Final Four tournament in which participants buy $100 squares on a 100-square board for a chance to win up to $1,250. The remaining proceeds fund the Scholar Athlete Awards.

The basketball pool regularly raises about $6,000 — enough to fund the program each year.

Future of the Scholarship

Looking forward, the club anticipates that the goals of the program will not change; however, they hope to tweak it to help better fulfill its goals. According to Sachs, in the future, the club will try to create a structure of succession, one that ensures the continuation of the program for years to come. Sachs also wants to increase the amount of money given out for the first prize awards from $2,000 to $5,000, to better reward the scholar athletes.

The scholarship always has had a simple goal: Reward Howard County’s best. As Steve Sachs said, “It makes you feel good about the place you live.”

Christian Hwang formerly was an intern at The Business Monthly. He currently is a freshman at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.