The 1997 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

Arkansas's best.

Two Fort Smith Southside seniors were very close to making this year's 1997 Academic All-Star Teams. Their stories are so remarkable that we share them here to introduce the exceptional students who were named finalists in this year's recognition program.

The male finalist is Philip Watson, 17, a married senior with a wife and 4-month-old son. Philip is the son of Nelda and Ray Watson, Baptist missionaries who eventually settled down in Fort Smith. Philip, wife Gina and son Luke are headed to Conway this summer because Philip will begin his studies in music education on a University of Central Arkansas Music Scholarship. Philip, whose hometown church is East Side Baptist Church, plans to attend seminary and study to become a minister of music. A Presidential Scholars nominee and First Chair in the All-State Choir, Philip is also a talented thespian, vocalist and been active on missionary trips in Arlington, Kansas City, Berryville and Washington, D.C.

Among his most significant achievements, Philip lists the birth of his son. "Although it has been difficult, there is also a sense of pride that I feel each time I see my son, Luke Alexander Watson, playing with his rattles or laughing at anyone who walks by. Love fills my heart whenever I feed him a bottle or give him a bath, because in him, I see me; in him, I see the future. With each passing day, I watch my son develop new thoughts and have new experiences. With each passing day, I see myself grown as a student, father and husband. With each passing day ... I see."

Philip's nomination caused a stir among the judges, some of whom thought naming a student father to the team would send the wrong message. Others, including the editors, applauded Philip for taking full responsibility for his family.

"I don't have any regrets whatsoever," he said.

The female finalist, Lisa Stoufer, 19, of Fort Smith, has overcome tremendous disabilities—she has no limbs—to become an honor student, a computer whiz and a member of All-State Choir, where she was 11th chair.

"It's a challenge all right," she said of her disability. "I know not to give up."

She was inducted this year into National Honor Society, an honor she listed as one of her greatest achievements. Her counselor, Dianne Jeffery, said the accomplishment was Lisa's high school dream.

"Life could not be better. Being in the National Honor Society has made my senior year very special. My confidence is so high that I know that anything I really, really want I will be able to achieve," Lisa wrote.

After graduation, she plans to work at Beverly Enterprises where she will hone her computer, secretarial and typing skills. She may try college later and study computers, but her ultimate goal is to start her own computer information business and help those who don't know their way around the Internet.

Lisa, who uses a wheelchair, won second place in the state science fair with a computer project on virtual reality. "At the time, it had just come out, and I did a lot of extensive research. I went to state and was trying to win national. It was quite an experience," Lisa said.

To help her with her studies, Lisa has an aide, Joanne Townsley, and a computer, which until recently, Lisa activated with a straw. Thanks to a new program called Dictate and Drag, she can activate the computer by voice.

She's the adopted daughter of David and Elva Stoufer and has spent her entire career in public schools, where she was able to write with a pencil in her mouth and used a stick to tap out letters on an electric typewriter until junior high when she acquired a computer and an aide.


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