It was two years ago when she was selected as the Cleveland, Tennessee and national award winner and she later visited with President Barack Obama at the White House. Last summer she visited Europe as a spokesperson for the organization, and she is expecting to travel again this summer ... possibly to Japan.
In Cleveland, it’s time to select another Youth of the Year at the Boys & Girls Club.
Meeri Shinn, a student at Walker Valley High School where Hernandez also graduated, is the reigning Youth of the Year. Just a junior at Walker Valley, she will not compete this year.
Event organizer Carl Porter and Shinn have decided to delay her competition until next year when she is a senior in high school. Porter believes she will have an excellent chance to advance in the competition during her final year of high school.
There will be five participants in the Youth of the Year competition this year, scheduled for after school on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
One of the five competitors will have a very familiar profile. She is Maria Hernandez’s younger sister, Nanette.
The daughter of Veronica and Benjamin Hernandez, and a junior at Walker Valley, resembles her older sister. But the comparison should end there, she says.
Nanette Hernandez says she followed her sister’s quest to the national title, but emphasized she doesn’t need any coaching. “I want to do it on my own,” she said with deliberation this week. “I’m more competitive and I’m into sports,” she said as she waited for a basketball game to begin (with the boys) at the Cleveland Boys & Girls Club.
The other four candidates in this year’s competition will be Matthew Pell, son of Barbara and Hoyt Pell and a junior at Bradley Central High School; Crystalyn Johnson, daughter of Tonya and Bobby Johnson and a senior at Cleveland High School; Maria Abeyta, a Cleveland High student and daughter of Jennifer Burke; and Clifton Biddwell, son of Jennifer and Gene Biddwell and a sophomore at Cleveland High.
Johnson competed in the event a year ago when Meeri Shinn was named Cleveland’s Youth of the Year.
All five competitors have filled out entry applications, written an essay, and are looking forward to next Tuesday’s competition.
The evening will begin with an interview by the eight community judges, and the contestants will then deliver their essays for consideration.
The local Youth of the Year will advance to state competition in March, with the Tennessee Youth of the Year advancing to regional competition this summer in Atlanta.
Porter, teen unit director at the Boys & Girls Club, is coordinating the event. “I’m pleased with our entries,” he said this week. “They’ve been working very hard in preparing for the competition.”
The deadline for local entries was last Friday.
A panel of local residents will serve as judges. They include Stephen Crass, Dr. Martin Ringstaff, William “Bill” Varnell, Leigh Ann Boyd, Wanda Evans, Reggie Law, Flavis Casson and Randy Parris.