Heath awarded Jerry McGee Scholarship


KING – Recent West Stokes graduate Zachary Heath is one of those rare student-athletes that every coach dreams about having. He is hard-working, responsible, kind, and is a leader in and out of the classroom.

Last week, Heath was one of four high school graduates that received a $1,000 scholarship from the Jerry McGee Endowed Scholarship Fund that is coordinated through the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA).

The scholarship was created in honor of Jerry McGee for his 25 plus years of service as executive director of the North Carolina Athletic Directors’ Association (NCADA). He had a passion for making dreams a reality and the NCADA Board of Directors felt that offering scholarships to high school student-athletes from members of the NCHSAA would be a fitting way to honor his legacy. The unique honor is awarded to student-athletes who have distinguished themselves by overcoming adversity and returned to excel beyond expectations in their scholastic and athletic sport(s).

“I’m deeply honored to win this award and scholarship,” said Heath. “It shows that hard work can truly payoff. I put the time in my physical therapy, and it helped me regain the strength back in my knee. With the support of my family, coaches, and teammates I was able to come back from this diagnosis and have a successful senior year in soccer and swimming.”

Heath was diagnosed with Osteochondritis Dissecans in the fall of 2019. OD is a condition where a piece of a bone under the cartilage breaks off due to lack of blood flow and surgery was the best course of action.

The graduate had multiple surgeries in which the doctors place two titanium screws in his knee to reattach the bone and then removed those screws after a six-month time span. He had a third surgery to reattach a piece of cartilage that had broken off and was floating around his knee. Three surgeries in an 18-month span limited his mobility and required a lot of down time for the student-athlete.

Heath recovered and had an unforgettable senior season for the Wildcats in both soccer and swimming.

In soccer he helped the Wildcats return to the state playoffs for only the second time in the past six years. The team finished third in the newly formed Mid-State 2A Conference and earned a berth to the playoffs after going winless the two previous seasons.

Heath earned the conference male swimmer of the year after winning gold in the 200-yard freestyle, and as a member of the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams during the conference meet. He was also third in the 100-yard backstroke.

Heath set a school record in the breaststrokes during regionals with a time of 1:12.44 and then helped the 200 and 400 relay teams break records with times of 1:38.75 in the 200 and 3:45.13 in the 400.

“Zachary was an invaluable leader of our team,” said swim coach Pat Erickson. “He was always enthusiastic and showed great leadership in gathering other teammates to cheer on the swimmers in the pool. He took younger swimmers under his wing and helped them navigate the practices, equipment issues and personal issues as needed.

“He quietly talked to swimmers about their strokes and worked with them after practices, so that they could show improvement. His words, attitude and actions all provide the leadership that seemed to come so naturally to him. He continued the great tradition of peer mentoring both in our winter program and for a summer swim team he participates on.”

Heath was a team captain in both sports, severed on the Board of Elders at his church, the Vice-President of the Interact Club, was a Junior Marshall, and was ranked in the top 10 percent of his graduating class in academics.

After his diagnosis and going through his physical therapy, it inspired him to become a physical therapist. Heath will attend Elon University this fall and was accepted into their Accelerated Physical Therapy program.

The other three winners were Briley Bickerstaff (Riverside HS), Farhan Siddiqui (Williams HS), and Adele Williams (Asheville).