Essays motivate Robert Woodard II just as much as lock-down defenders.
But the assignment Woodard received from Gatorade in March after being named the Mississippi Boys Basketball Player of the Year needed a little more attention, just like an opponent who knows his favorite moves on the court. Woodard’s experiences with the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle helped him write an award-winning essay as easily as he rises up over defenders to drain a jump shot.
On Thursday as part of the trophy presentation for player of the year award, Woodard announced the essay he wrote essay explaining why the Boys and Girls of the Golden Triangle deserved additional support was the recipient of a $10,000 spotlight grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program.
As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Woodard received a $1,000 grant he donated to the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle.
Woodard, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior guard, said he didn’t remember the word count for the essay, but he said it “was a good page or two” and explained how his experiences with sports and arts and crafts at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus helped shape him.
“I have a deep passion for the Boys and Girls Club,” said Woodard, the first Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Player of the Year to be chosen from Columbus High. The award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement, and exemplary character on and off the court. The Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award will be announced later this month.
“When they told me I had a chance to donate $1,000, I automatically knew who it was going to. There are a lot of people and children in Columbus who really look forward to going to the Boys and Girls Club because it is something fun to do. They help you with homework, tutor you, and then you get to play games and stuff. You gain a relationship with a lot of people, too. It is more than just going to a building after school or just staying there during the summer. It is like a family thing.”
Woodard said he went to the Boys and Girls Club during his elementary school years and in the summer. He said he used to play basketball at the club as well as other things, including arts and crafts projects like drawing. Woodard said there also was a “small basketball league” that “started his passion” for basketball.
Woodard led Columbus to a 16-13 record and the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament this past season. Woodard averaged 25.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and three blocked shots per game. A first-team All-State selection and a two-time member of The Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen, he is a former member of the USA Basketball Men’s Under-16 National Team. He also was named USA TODAY’s ALL-USA Mississippi Player of the Year as a sophomore.
A member of the National Honor Society at Columbus High and a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council in Columbus, Woodard has volunteered locally on behalf of the United Way and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Woodard has maintained a weighted 4.11 grade-point average in the classroom. He will begin his senior year of high school this fall.
Gary Griffin, who coached Woodard this past season, said the junior standout epitomizes the word “student-athlete” and is a young man of character who is a great representative of the city of Columbus and the state of Mississippi.
“He is a perfect type of example of someone to look up to,” Griffin said. “It gives people, especially in terms of young kids, hope that we do have athletes who are role models. … What better example to look up to an athlete who does what he is supposed to do in the classroom, has over a 4.0, he does community service, he is a part of the mayor’s youth council, the National Honor Society, and he is in the chorus. I don’t know how he finds time to do all of these things.”
The previous two Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Players of the Year were Tyson Carter (2015-16, Starkville High) and Malik Newman (2014-15 and 2013-14, Callaway High).
Nadia Colom, the executive director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle, knows Woodard’s financial contributions will make a significant impact at the club. She also said Woodard continues to be a great example for the young people in the city and in the state.
“The main reason our boys want to come to the club is they love basketball,” Colom said. “They love our facilities. Just to be able to show them that one of the same people that played on the court that you play on right now has been elevated to a platform to be able to come back and give to your club in such a tremendous way is going to be exciting for them to see.”
Colom said the standard Woodard sets on and off the court shows young people what they can accomplish if they apply themselves. She said she and the Boys and Girls Club will work with Woodard to apply the funds where they are needed.
Angie Verdell, the president of the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club, agreed with Colom and said Woodard continues to set an example she hopes other young people in the city emulate.
“Robert is of large stature physically but also in his character and his personality,” Verdell said. “There are a lot of little kids who run around and always want to get a picture with Robert. They always want to know things from him, and he takes the time, he is kind, and he is generous. I think that says a lot that he would have the time to sow back into those young people.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor