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Gainesville student is first runner-up in youth of year contest
Teryan Rucker, 16, a junior at Gainesville High School, recently placed first runner-up in the state Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year competition. Rucker has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County since he was 6 years old. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gainesville High School junior Teryan Rucker was selected as the first runner-up for the statewide Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year competition.

Rucker, who has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County since he was 6, was named Youth of the Year for the Hall County organization and competed against 30 other students for the state title. He will receive a $2,000 college scholarship from Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse.

Youth of the Year contestants were required to make a speech as part of the competition. Rucker’s speech centered around his mother, who died suddenly Jan. 1, and the people of the Boys & Girls Clubs who supported him through his loss.

Rucker said when his mother died, he called Derrick Caldwell, director of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Teen Center near Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

"I came to the Boys & Girls Club for help and someone to talk to, because they’ve been my guide for so long, I felt it was only right if I came here first," he said.

Rucker said Caldwell, who he calls "Pops," and other club leaders have kept him on the path to college despite his mother’s death.

"Even just a phone call or anything, they say the right words to make me feel better," Rucker said. "They motivate me to fulfill my dreams and my mom’s dreams for me. ... I use her as a motivation to persevere through all my struggles."

Rucker said his and his mother’s dreams for him include winning a college scholarship and playing in the National Football League. As a football player for the Gainesville Red Elephants, Rucker has his sights set on playing college football at schools such as Georgia Tech, Clemson University, the University of Alabama, Auburn University or West Virginia University.

"To see me going to college and excelling in school is something she really would love to see," Rucker said. "I wish she were here, but I know she’s in a better place."

Jason Pleasant, a graduation coach at the Boys & Girls Clubs Teen Center, said Rucker worked hard to get where he is, and has been an outstanding role model for the young children he mentors at the club.

"They look up to him," Pleasant said. "They go and watch him play (football) on Fridays. To see him in the flesh is kind of a big deal. ... If they see him doing positive things and becoming that Youth of the Year, that should inspire them to go and do it themselves."

Pleasant said Rucker is at the club at least three days each week, and calls his presence a "blessing."

In addition to helping club kids with their homework, Rucker is the vice president of the organization’s Keystone Club. Keystone Club members are involved in civic activities involving the Salvation Army, youth reading programs and elderly centers.

Rucker said he also is trying to raise money for the Keystone Club to attend the national Keystone Club conference in Dallas next year.

Rucker said he’s glad to be in a position to help others as former club members Taralsha Bonds and T’Challa Williams helped him as a kid.

"It feels good to be giving back to the younger kids who I once was," he said.