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Terrance Armstard/News-Times Smackover's Tessa Watson is a finalist for 2017 Nexans AmerCable/News-Times Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Watson played softball for the Lady Bucks while maintaining a 4.163 grade point average. The Nexans AmerCable/News-Times Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet will be held May 25.

Terrance Armstard/News-Times Smackover's Tessa Watson is a finalist for 2017 Nexans AmerCable/News-Times Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Watson played softball for the Lady Bucks while maintaining a 4.163 grade point average. The Nexans AmerCable/News-Times Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet will be held May 25.

Setting The Table

Watson spurs Lady Bucks while shining in classroom

This article was published May 19, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

By Tony Burns

Sports Editor

On Smackover’s 33-3 softball team this season, Tessa Watson was the fire starter, the igniter, the fuse. Whenever the Lady Bucks exploded offensively, the diminutive dynamo was somewhere around the rubble.

Watson played centerfield and was Smackover’s lead-off hitter during the school’s best-ever season. She led the team with more than 30 stolen bases yet when asked if she was a fast runner, she answered demurely, “A little bit, yeah. Coach (Dennis) Steele thinks I am.”

Watson enjoyed her best season at Smackover. It didn’t happen without sacrifices. In the past, she also played golf, ran track and was a cheerleader. She gave up the other sports as a senior.

“I wanted to focus mostly on softball. It got to be a hassle playing all those sports,” she said. “I got to focus on my weaknesses. I got to strengthen my arm more in throwing. I got to run bases better. I hit better. Overall, I got to focus more in practice because I wasn’t worried about practicing for another sport.

“Most of my success is probably because of that. I’m not worried about my golf swing messing up my softball swing. Or, having torn muscles - I had a torn hamstring one time in cheerleading.”

Watson’s focus on softball didn’t hamper her in the classroom. She was class salutatorian with a 4.163 grade point average. She also scored an impressive 27 on the ACT.

“I am proud of the 27. It took a long time to get that,” said Watson, who said her father inspired her to do well academically.

“My dad makes me get good grades. I also like to make them myself. But, he really pushes me to do it.”

Watson said her plan is to attend Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and study both psychology and biology.

“I want to be a psychiatrist and you have to focus on both fields. I want to help with mental illnesses and people who suffer from those,” she said. “That’s always interested me. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, ADHD/ADD. Those things that affect people but you can’t see it.

“I’ve met people like that. I’ve see some kids with ADHD and ADD. A lot have behavioral problems. They might have temper problems. Medicine really does help.

“That’s one reason I want to go to medical school.”

When asked if she had the patience for that type of work, she answered quickly, “I’m very patient. That comes from having a kid sister.”

Although she was perpetual motion and energy on the field, it took time and patience for her to develop into that role.

Norphlet’s merger into the Smackover School District two years ago increased the competition level both on the field and in the classroom.

“I didn’t know a lot of the kids at first. So, that was kind of new. But, once I got to know everybody, it was all good. Sports was better. I thought class was better. I have more friends in there, more people that I knew. It’s just easier to get along with everybody,” said Watson, who said she preferred small schools.

“If anything, it might’ve been more the parents who were concerned. But, the students got along.

“Coach Steele started some other girl in centerfield over me one time and he moved me to left. I mean, it worked out. We were all fine with it. Nobody had a fit about anything the coaches did or said.”

The result this season was a powerhouse lineup that even exceeded her expectations.

“I mean, I figured we’d be good this year but I didn’t know we’d be that good,” she said.

Watson’s contributions to the team had some Lady Bucks’ fans calling her the team MVP from the outfield bleachers during games.

Throwing out runners at the plate from centerfield, stealing bases and driving in runs seemed old-hat. She said the “athlete” part of scholar-athlete probably came easier to her.

“I think being an athlete, just because I’ve been doing it for so long,” Watson explained.

“When you’re studying, you’re always learning new material or your teacher is giving you things you never learned before or seen before. But, I’ve been playing softball since I was seven or eight. It’s muscle memory.”

It’s also hereditary.

Her father, Jim Bob, won a baseball state championship during his high school days at Smackover.

“My dad has pushed me both in sports, since I was little and in grades since I was little. He’s really influenced me to excel in both,” she said.

“He’ll give me flashbacks or memories of when he was in high school and try to relate it to what I’m doing. But, he doesn’t brag about it.

“He’ll tell me we could do the same thing if we tried. He gives me some insight of where he was in high school.”

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