Palatka High School swimmer receives the inaugural Bobby Stevens Memorial Scholarship
Bobby Stevens, who stood 6 feet 7 inches, continues to stand tall in the heart of Putnam County. Although he passed away last year, and his days of stardom on the basketball court at St. Johns River State College (then St. Johns River Junior College) have long gone, a new scholarship created in his memory will provide Putnam County high school graduates an opportunity to continue their education at SJR State.
SJR State President Joe Pickens, J.D., said, “Bobby Stevens was way more than just a great athlete. He was a great contributor to the lives of hundreds of young men and women in Putnam County through his coaching and teaching career. The St. Johns River State College family, which Bobby was a tremendous part of up until his passing, is incredibly proud to award this scholarship in his memory.”
Elizabeth Harrig, a graduate of Palatka High School, is the first recipient of the Bobby Stevens Memorial Scholarship. To be considered for this scholarship, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 and have lettered in a varsity sport. Harrig maintained a 4.0 GPA and lettered in swimming at Palatka High. The Bobby Stevens Memorial Scholarship is renewable and will provide Harrig with 30 credit hours at SJR State along with an additional $1,000 per year for books.
At Palatka High, Harrig was a four-time recipient of the Scholar Athlete Award and was the senior captain of her swim team. She was also a member of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) as well as the Interact Club. Harrig has loved animals since she was a little girl and intends to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. She has already begun exploring this field, completing clinical hours at a local veterinary clinic as part of her high school’s Allied Health class. Harrig said she is delighted that SJR State has given her the opportunity to spend the next two years working on her Associate in Arts degree right in her hometown.
SJR State Vice President for Development and External Affairs Caroline Tingle said, “The primary role of the SJR State Foundation is to award scholarships. We are always grateful for the opportunity to work with the community to develop a memorial scholarship, such as the Bobby Stevens Memorial Scholarship. Bobby was an incredible athlete, but also an incredible man. I believe he would be very proud of Elizabeth’s accomplishments, both inside and outside of the classroom, including her dedication to her sport, which is swimming.”
Stevens’ widow Cheryl agrees that Stevens would be pleased with Harrig’s selection as the first recipient of his memorial scholarship. “I know it would also be so cool for Bobby to know that he is representing one of the sports that he did not coach,” she said. Although he was never a swimming coach, Cheryl said that Stevens was a swimming teacher when the City of Palatka had a community pool. Reflecting on the many sports he coached, Cheryl added, “I only know of three sports that he did not coach: swimming, golf and boys cross country, but he’s coached everything else. At times, he even coached four sports in one year.”
Prior to his coaching days, Stevens was a stellar athlete who graduated from SJR State in 1967 and set NJCAA basketball records for single-game, single-season and career rebounds. The College retired Stevens’ number 55 for all sports, and Viking athletes have been wearing decals and patches with his number on their jerseys and batting helmets since he passed away in 2015.
Stevens was also an All-American player for the University of Tampa, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. Back in Palatka, at Palatka Central High, Stevens served as the head coach for boys basketball and an assistant football coach, followed by a lengthy career at Interlachen High, where he served as the head baseball coach, head coach of boys and girls basketball and track, and defensive coordinator and interim head football coach. A coach at heart, after spending 34 years with the Putnam County School System, Stevens continued to coach during his retirement years, coaching baseball and boys and girls basketball at Peniel Baptist Academy and serving as an assistant basketball coach at SJR State. Stevens is also well remembered for driving SJR State’s team bus to and from sporting events, which was his way of staying connected to athletics.
“He did good for so many kids, and he had the respect of so many kids, from as far back as when he played ball himself,” said Cheryl. She explained that her husband was keenly aware of the invaluable life lessons taught through sports, such as interacting with others and sportsmanship. “Even though book knowledge was very important to him, he felt that playing sports was as important in its own way. Many students he coached came back to credit him for playing such a vital role in their success.”
Just as it was important to many to express their heartfelt gratitude to Stevens, it was also important to Harrig to pay tribute to her own high school swim coach, Josh White. As Harrig stood outside of SJR State’s gymnasium, reflecting on how she worked her way, in the pool and in the classroom, to becoming the first recipient of the scholarship, she stated, “I really want to mention or give a shout-out to my swim coach. He is a great coach, teacher, mentor and friend.”
Harrig also recalled how eager she was to receive the scholarship. “This scholarship really means a lot,” she stated. “When Mrs. Caroline (Tingle) called me and told me that I won, I just broke down. This means so much to me. I remember applying for it and putting my all into earning it.”
To other high school student-athletes who may be interested in applying for the scholarship next year, Harrig advises, “If you really love your sport, go all out for it. Just go for it. It really makes a difference.” And, of course, you should also maintain good grades, she says.
St. Johns River State College President Joe Pickens and Cheryl Stevens recently presented Palatka High School graduate Elizabeth Harrig with the inaugural Bobby Stevens Memorial Scholarship. Harrig, who lettered in swimming at PHS, is pictured holding a photo collage honoring the former SJR State student-athlete and beloved Putnam County coach. Harrig will attend SJR State in the fall, where she will pursue her Associate in Arts degree.
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