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Academics and Basketball – An Appropriate Partnership

By Sue Curry Jones

Character traits are important –– they define personality, underlying values and beliefs. These attributes not only form our inner thoughts, but also direct our outward actions of honesty, loyalty, devotion and faith. They form the core of our outlook.

Today when famous athletes are discussed in the mainstream media, character traits are rarely the topic –it’s quite the contrary. Instead, the discussions focus around dexterity, physical prowess, talent and skills.

However, in Ava schools, athletes and students are taught respectable character.  Our athletes possess outstanding skills and abilities, but in addition, they strive for good sportsmanship.  And, for Ava alum Aaron Dalton, top-notch basketball player and new assistant principal in the high school, having sound character is key, whether on or off the court.

Aaron is noted as a high school basketball player who attained many outstanding accomplishments during his career at Ava High.  A member of the graduating Class of 1996, he also achieved academic success as well and ranked as salutatorian.  He learned early in life, that success is not limited to a game.

Many area residents may still remember watching the basketball team of Dalton and seniors Mike Harvill, Heath Turner, Matt Wade, Shannon Pruiett, Jared Coberly, and Aaron’s younger brother, Josh, a sophomore.  The team was tagged as the squad that ‘probably wouldn’t win a game’, and yet, the team succeeded and provided an exciting basketball season for parents and spectators of the Ava Bears.

During season play, the team managed to not only regain a playing position in the Blue & Gold Tournament, but took second place overall.  The Springfield newspaper referred to the team as a “Cinderella Story”.

The squad also won the district championship –– a feat that had not been accomplished in Ava for 23 years –– and that win occurred in 1973, when Dalton’s uncle, Terry Ewing, was a senior member of the team.

As an Ava senior, Dalton was also selected as an Academic All-State Basketball player, an honor for top scholar athletes.

Aaron grew up on the family farm where he attended elementary and middle school in Thornfield, Mo.  He comes from a family of teachers, and eagerly acknowledges his grandmother, Imogene Ewing, who retired with 30-plus years; Nancy Ewing, his aunt, who teaches at Ava Elementary, and Terry Ewing, a teacher and coach.  In addition, Dalton can name at least seven other family members who are educators.

And, Aaron’s wife, Melissa, who grew up in West Plains, is also a teacher.

Aaron and Melissa met while attending College of the Ozarks in Hollister, and as students, they both played basketball.  In college, Aaron continued to find success in the game and played all fours years.

His senior year, Dalton was the first-ever CofO basketball player to be selected to the All-American First Team.

He also garnered recognition as a Scholar Athlete at the conclusion of his junior and senior years.

In 2000, Dalton and teammates vied for the national championship, but finished second after losing the final tournament game to Embry Riddle University of Florida.

Dalton graduated from College of the Ozarks, magna cum laude, with a Bachelor of Science in Math and Education.

After graduation, Dalton accepted employment with a banking facility in Forsyth.  He readily admits it was a good position, and he enjoyed the people, but after two years, he came to realize his heart was centered on teaching and working with students. Subsequently, he accepted a position at Branson High School for the fall.

That summer, Aaron and Melissa married before school started.

Aaron acknowledges Branson was an ideal situation; he was assistant basketball coach and high school math teacher, while Melissa taught at Forsyth.  But after four years, and two children, the couple decided to move closer to family, and Aaron accepted a job at Gainesville.

He taught high school math, and served as high school basketball coach for five years, and in his sixth year, he took the job of high school principal.  He was also curriculum director for two years.

Aaron received a Masters in Educational Administration from Southwest Baptist College in 2005, and today, he continues to work toward a Specialist in Educational Admin­istration from Missouri State University, a goal to be completed mid-year 2014.

Aaron says he has two main goals this year –– to focus on supporting staff and duties, and to concentrate on students and develop strong ties and relationships.  He embraces the mindset “it is most important for me to do whatever I can to help students be successful”.

As a successful basketball player and coach, Dalton has a keen grasp on how to support and lead others. Through athletics, he has learned the significance of character traits, such as, hard work, sharing, willingness, coach-ability, strengths, setting and completing goals, accepting defeat and molding into productivity, self-discipline, trust, respect, and faith.

Aaron credits his strong faith, and devotion to family as key essentials in his life.  His wife, Melissa, and three children, Andrew, Isaac and Abigail, are truly his main focus.

But, he also acknowledges that after spending numerous hours at his job, students and staff develop into family as well, and as an adminis­trator, he becomes invested in their future and well-being.

If, by chance, you see Aaron at the conclusion of a school day, and he appears pensive, it is likely he is ruminating over a game strategy he still uses. The question goes something like this:  “Today was a good game day. But, how can I make (the game) tomorrow even better?”

An excellent game strategy that is applicable to life as well, and lends support to the reality that character, academics and sports can be a fitting partnership.   Just ask the assistant high school principal, Aaron Dalton.

Aaron is the son of Randy and Gail Dalton of Ava, and Jane Ewing of Hollister.

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