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10th Annual Starlight Awards Winners Announced


Starlight Awards Gala

Maryville, Tenn. — The Maryville City Schools Foundation (MCSF) announced the winners of the Starlight Awards in the categories of distinguished alumni, distinguished service, outstanding young alumni, family partnership and community partnership.  All recipients will be honored at the Starlight Awards Gala on February 16, 2013 at the Clayton Center for the Arts.        

The distinguished alumni award is granted to Maryville High School (MHS) graduates who have made outstanding contributions to their professions or chosen fields of endeavor or for distinguished service to their community, state or nation. This year’s award recipient is Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, Class of 1973.  Buzz is currently President of Great Schools Partnership in Knoxville, Tenn., and is a columnist in USA Today.  Buzz has distinguished himself as a minister, lawyer, author, constitutional scholar, columnist, educational activist and reformer.   Locally he is involved with Blount Achieves, the Welcome Table, Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise, Community Food Connection, and First United Methodist Church.  His desire to focus his career entirely on the improvement of public education began several years ago when he served as chairman of the Maryville City Schools Board of Education. Not only has he been a leader in his community, but he is also recognized as a leader at the state, regional and national level.  This is evidenced through his active involvement as founding member and co-chair of the Public School Forum of East Tennessee, founding and current member of the steering committee of SCORE (State Collaborative On Reforming Education), founder of the Prospective Superintendents Academy in conjunction with the Tennessee School Board Association, and co-founder of the Niswonger Educational Foundation, a national model for public/private foundations devoted to reforming public education.   

The distinguished service award is granted to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding service and dedication to education in the City of Maryville.  This award can be presented to alumni or non-alumni of Maryville High School (MHS). This year’s award recipient is Tommy L. Stinnett, Class of 1974Tommy has dedicated his life to education and to service to others.  He has not only been a classroom teacher, but he has also coached MHS football for nine years and served as golf coach for 22 years for both boys and girls teams.  What makes Tommy distinguished is his vision to develop a unique partnership between MHS and the Habitat for Humanity organization.  He envisioned MHS students raising the money to build a Habitat house and then providing these students with the opportunity to build the house.  Through his leadership, students organized fundraisers and began a marketing campaign.  Soon the entire high school and community became engaged in the project.  It quickly became known as the “Maryville High School Habitat House.”  When he first started the project, Tommy had hopes of building just one home for a needy family.  In the last 10 years, he has been the driving force behind the creation of homes and security for 10 families and a successful collaboration between MHS students and our community.

The outstanding young alumni award is granted to Maryville High School graduates, age 35 or younger when nominated, for significant accomplishments in their professions or chosen fields of endeavor or for distinguished human service to their community, state or nation. This year’s award recipient is Sarah Elder Chabot, Class of 1999.  Sarah graduated with highest honors from Middle Tennessee State University in 2003 with a major in Public Relations.  Sarah began her career with Blackberry Farm immediately following college.  Today, she is the Director of Marketing responsible for all print and electronic marketing for Blackberry Farm.  She manages five websites; creates and produces newsletters and brochures; manages appearances on national TV shows like the Food Network and Martha Stewart; secures placements with publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Town & Country and Prevention.  She is also the team leader in creating the look for Farmstead Products sold in Williams-Sonoma and other fine retailers nationwide; she manages corporate partnerships with Lexus and Le Creuset; and she handles communications with all audiences and guests.

In her spare time, Sarah has received national acclaim in the horse show world.  While competing against hundreds of entrants, she has placed in the top 10 at the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) world and national shows in amateur hunt seat equitation; amateur working hunter; amateur equitation over fences; and amateur hunter hack. The Tennessee Quarter Horse Association (TQHA) named Sarah the top, all-around amateur in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010.  In the past, she has served on the TQHA Board and created their website and newsletter.

The community partnership award is granted to a business that serves as a sustaining partner through financial support for the Maryville City Schools and youth programs in the community.  This year’s award goes to Blount Excavating, Inc.  President of Blount Excavating, Inc. Steve Garner is a 1985 alumnus of Maryville High School.  Steve has grown a local business to a brand that is recognized throughout east and middle Tennessee.  He has used the resources of Blount Excavating to aid our schools when the use of heavy equipment is needed.  At Montgomery Ridge (formerly Maryville Intermediate School), he helped with an addition to a play field by providing material/labor at no cost to the school.  At Sam Houston, he removed old asphalt and fencing for the construction of a pavilion and took out the old flagpole and base as well.  He graded and applied crush and run down to create a parking area.  The back of the Sam Houston playground was also graded for the baseball area.  Steve consulted with and helped the school system with drainage issues at John Sevier Elementary and with bank erosion at Maryville Junior High School.  During September 2011, Blount Excavating provided the relocation and installation of the flagpole at MHS honoring the late Fred Forster.  

Steve not only provides assistance to Maryville City Schools but extends his reach into our community-at-large by helping all youth. He led the rebuilding of the Everett Field for kids who participate in the Parks & Recreation programs and has provided numerous enhancements to Maryville Little League Park.  

One letter said: “It’s great to have one of our own be successful and give back to the system he so dearly loves.”

The family partnership award is granted to a family or individual who exemplifies dedication to education in every aspect of his or her life.  Awardees deserve recognition for their spirit of giving, not only financially but also through their involvement with the students of Maryville City Schools. This year’s award recipient is the Phillips Family. This year the award honors Bill and Gwen Phillips along with their daughters, Sarah Phillips Shepherd, Susan Phillips Knoll, and Sharon Phillips Earley, all graduates of Maryville High School. 

Both Bill and Gwen graduated from Maryville High School in 1956.  They began their teaching careers in Powell, Tenn.  Bill later became head basketball coach at Maryville High School and taught Industrial Arts.  His life took a new direction when he began working for the Tennessee State Department of Education. Bill was part of an advisory and planning team that spearheaded the development, expansion, and promotion of vocational education across the state in the 1970’s.  With a budget supplied by the State Department of Education, vocational centers were built across Tennessee.   A partnership was created between Blount County and the City of Maryville to create the Vocational Center at William Blount.  Bill became the new principal and led the program from 1977-1983.  When he left education, he became self-employed and provided jobs for others.  He is a United Way volunteer and provides an operations building for the Food Connection.  He is also involved in the MHS Red to Black project.

Gwen taught math at Maryville Junior High School and Maryville Middle for 28 years where she invested in the academic success of many generations of students.

Eldest daughter Sarah graduated from MHS in 1983.  Today she is actively involved as troop leader, product sales manager and service unit team member with the Girl Scouts; with the Historic Zoning Commission (City of Maryville); and with the Downtown Design Review Board (City of Maryville).

Their daughter Sharon (MHS Class of 1985) is carrying on the family tradition. Sharon is a guidance counselor at John Sevier Elementary.  She recently created an innovative program for the school called Community Connections. The program brings a variety of people from many different professions and levels of expertise into contact with John Sevier students.  Like her mother, Sharon is creating a springboard for students to visualize a special future while feeling the love and support of a dedicated professional. 

The award honors Sharon’s twin sister Susan posthumously.  Susan lost a courageous battle to cancer in 2010. She was a member of Junior Service League of Maryville where she served as president; Toys for Tots, co-chair; and parent volunteer within the Maryville City Schools system.  She was also an art teacher at Wesley Day School in Maryville.

The Phillips family legacy is one of faith, love, and service to others.