Heart of the Arts

About Heart of the Arts

The National High School Heart of the Arts Award is annually conferred to eight section recipients as well as one national recipient. The recipient must be an individual from a high school that is a member of an NFHS-member athletic or activity association.

Heart of the Arts Awards

  • Cecelia Egan

    At age five, Egan was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia – a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that limits the individual’s mobility. Although confined to a wheelchair, Egan hasn’t let that prevent her from pursuing participation in theatre.

    A freshman at St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Riverside, Rhode Island, Egan first joined The Bay View Players as a sixth-grader. Since that time, she has performed in countless theatrical productions. In many ways, she integrates herself into the cast without calling attention to her need for assisted mobility. Adding to her seamless integration into all aspects of the productions is the tremendous vision exhibited by director Christine Kavanaugh to incorporate her needs on stage.

    While at first Egan’s chair seems like an extension of a character she’s playing, she often abandons it in favor of propping herself upon a variety of set pieces, such as a piano, a sleigh or a collection of trunks. To accomplish that, she is assisted by fellow castmates and a voluntary alumna aide. It is physically intensive work, but the focus is never on the equipment. In fact, only when the chair resurfaces later in a performance does the audience begin to appreciate the monumental coordination it takes for Egan to make costume changes, entrances and exits alongside fellow cast members. Egan’s smile, combined with creative choreography, helps to effortlessly integrate her wheelchair into the productions.

    • Cecelia Egan Student
      Section 1 Riverside St. Mary Academy-Bay View Rhode Island
    • Joshua St. Hill Student
      Section 2 Charlottesville Monticello Virginia
    • LaFrancis Davis Director of Bands
      Section 3 Montgomery Carver Alabama
    • Kevin Ferry Teacher
      Section 4 Monmouth-Roseville Illinois
    • Georgina Simon Former Student
      Section 5 St. Cloud Technical Minnesota
    • The Seguin High School Marching Band Band
      Section 6 Seguin Texas
    • Kenzie Hutchings Student
      Section 7 Richfield Utah
    • Emma Dobesh Student
      Section 8 Gresham Centennial Oregon
  • In addition to her exemplary 3.96 grade-point average and membership in the National Honor Society, Josephine Ross has been involved in many activities and clubs. Ross has participated in numerous performing arts activities, including debate, speech and choir. Among her many awards in this area are the Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award and the Benilde-St. Margaret’s School Outstanding Character Award. However, it is the realm of theatre that could accurately be described as her true passion. Among her theatre accomplishments, she’s a four-year cast member of the One-Act Play, a performer in multiple school musicals and plays, and has received several Hennepin Theatre Trust Spotlight Theatre Awards. While those experiences and recognitions are significant, her unyielding desire to selflessly help others and to fight for their causes has been extraordinary. Following are three examples of Ross’ desire to help others. Several years ago, Ross met Rachel Olson when they were cast in the Chaska Valley Family Theatre’s (CVFT) production of “Sound of Music.” Olson’s parents – Chuck and Debra Olson – were born with hearing, but each lost their hearing as young children. While they always attended Rachel’s performances, they were never able to fully enjoy them due to their hearing disabilities. When Rachel performed in the CVFT’s production of “Seussical, the Musical,” Ross arranged for an American Sign Language interpreter to sign for the audience, thereby enabling Olson’s parents to truly enjoy their daughter’s theatre performance. During her freshman year, Ross read a news story about seventh-grader Jake Ross (no relation) of Forest Lake (Minnesota) High School who was bullied at school. A year later, as Josie thought about the CVFT’s upcoming “Shrek: The Musical” from her position of co-director with her father, Randy, it occurred to her that the show’s theme was partially about being bullied. That caused her to wonder if they could produce a show for elementary-aged kids that would not only entertain them, but would also raise their awareness of bullying. With those thoughts in mind, the CVFT put on a special show on March 4, 2015 for elementary-aged kids from Minnetonka and District 112 elementary schools in which they also invited Jake.

    • Lindsay Daugherty Student
      Section 1 Barrington Rhode Island
    • Christian Ellis Student
      Section 2 Woodbridge Virginia
    • RaKavius Chambers Student
      Section 3 Opelika Alabama
    • Sabrina Kenoun Student
      Section 4 Buffalo Grove Illinois
    • Josephine Ross Student
      Section 5 Benilde-St. Margaret's Minnesota
    • The Premont Mighty Cowboy Band and Mariachi Estrella Band
      Section 6 Premont Texas
    • Susan Seep Instructor
      Section 7 Scottsdale Horizon Arizona
    • Abby Kellems Student
      Section 8 Corvallis Oregon
  • Under the guidance of Band Director Sherri Miller, the Dale County High School Marching Band selflessly supported rival neighboring school Skipperville G.W. Long High School by performing at its 2015 AHSAA (Alabama) football playoff games.

    “Our band kids are very special,” Miller said. “They wanted to share their love for music – wanted to give back.”

    During the past eight years, both high schools have endured numerous tragic losses.

    Among them, Dale County Head Football Coach Todd Horne was killed in a car accident, and the school’s then-new band director Sean Miller (Sherri’s husband) was killed in a car accident on the same highway where Horne was killed.

    Sherri – who had been Sean’s band assistant – was asked in February 2015 to take over the position of band director. Sherri and Sean had one child at the time and were expecting their second child in July. Her band students immediately showered her with love and continue to do so today.

    • Kayleigh Hunt Student
      Section 1 Ellicottville High School New York
    • Marisa DeFranco Student
      Section 2 Arlington Wakefield High School Virginia
    • Sherri Miller Band Director
      Section 3 Midland City Dale County High School Alabama
    • Gabe Stanforth Student
      Section 4 Taylor Ridge Rockridge Illinois
    • Ethan Och & Gina Christopherson Student & Band Director
      Section 5 Swanville High School Minnesota
    • Academics Team
      Section 6 Van High School Texas
    • Kelsie Albee Student
      Section 7 Manti High School Utah
    • Mikayla Heston Student
      Section 8 Gresham Sam Barlow High School Oregon
  • Ethan Gray, who was the embodiment of the ideal high school performing arts person while a student at Chicago (Illinois) St. Rita of Cascia High School as he is self-taught in 11 different musical instruments, has faced health challenges his entire life.

    Among those, he endured a stroke in April 2014 and has genetically inherited sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which among other things necessitates undergoing a monthly blood transfusion for the rest of his life. In addition, he experiences debilitating episodes known as “pain crisis” that can occur at any time when parts of his body are deprived of blood and oxygen due the sickling of his blood cells.

    While music will always be a part of Gray’s life, his long-term goal is to establish a career with his other artistic abilities. He plans to pursue collegiate studies in game design illustration and animation, with the ultimate goal of one day drawing comic books for Marvel or D.C.”

    • Molly Parker Student
      Section 1 Hinesburg Champlain Valley Union Vermont
    • Rachel Johnson Student
      Section 2 Roanoke Patrick Henry Virginia
    • Brian Evans Student
      Section 3 Hattiesburg Oak Grove Mississippi
    • Ethan Gray Student
      Section 4 Chicago St. Rita of Cascia Illinois
    • Danielle Medrano Student
      Section 5 Wichita The Independent High School Kansas
    • Elizabeth-Helen Martin Student
      Section 6 Ponca City Oklahoma
    • Kevin Berlat English Teacher and Speech/Debate Coach
      Section 7 Phoenix Central Arizona
    • Cory Bergh Student
      Section 8 Deming Mount Baker Washington
  • Leia Schwartz

    Despite almost dying from a collapsed lung at age six and dealing with medical issues her entire life, Leia Schwartz of Miami (Section 3 Florida) Coral Reef High School has excelled in the performing arts, athletics and academics. Schwartz was also selected the national recipient of the “National High School Heart of the Arts Award”



    • Derrick Hopkins Theatre
      Section 1 Willsboro Central School New York
    • Jennifer Moore Theatre
      Section 1 Willsboro Central School New York
    • Abby Leonard Music, Debate, & Theatre
      Section 2 Gate City High School Virginia
    • Lydia Dawley Theatre
      Section 4 Decorah High School Iowa
    • Justin Speck Theatre
      Section 5 Rapid City Central High School South Dakota
    • Frank Sferra Speech
      Section 6 Denver Mullen High School Colorado
    • Clin Eaton Music & Theatre
      Section 7 Riverton High School Utah
    • Aubrie Lucas Music
      Section 8 Anchorage Dimond High Schoo Alaska