High School Students of the Month for September 2018
(L – R): Cory Barron – 9th grade, Maddie Wilbanks – 12th, Josh Hinkle – 10th, Cheyanne McBride – 11th. Each student received a $25 gift card sponsored by The Learning Express.
Malakoff senior Paton Willbanks is not one of your typical high school seniors.
The talented lady from Tiger Nation is currently the valedictorian of her class, a cross country runner, a cheerleader at Malakoff High School and a member of the Trinity Valley Community College Cardinal cheerleaders.
She is also a member of the student council as the class secretary since her freshman year. She was also the executive officer of student council in 2017 and 2018.
“With my time management, I am pretty good with managing my time and staying on track and not mixing things up,” Willbanks said. “Say for example, one day I would start off at 5:45 a.m. with cross country practice, and then go to school from 8 to 12:30 or so. After that I have early release so I leave and go straight to cheer practice at the college. That goes from 2 to 5 p.m. and then if it is a Thursday, I have JV football games I have to cheer at. It is crazy, but I have schedules and make sure I have everything set before the day starts off.”
When asked how she is able to deal with everything, Willbanks laughed heading into her response.
“I don't even know,” she said. “I have done cross country for a while, and I just do that mainly to keep up my athleticism and stay in shape. I love competing and with high school cheer, it is my senior year so I still want to do that and finish it out. The college is the biggest opportunity that I couldn't pass up.
“Valedictorian is one of those things where grades come before anything to me. I am a hard worker and like to dedicate my free time to that.”
Willbanks is the daughter of Patrick and Jodi and is an only child. Her mother Jodi makes sure Paton has everything she needs, while Patrick checks in during his busy work week.
“My mom is a big help in everything that I need during the day,” Paton said. “Without her, I would be a mess because she helps me with a lot. My dad is always there supporting me in everything that he can come to. Also financially, that is the only reason that I can do a lot of the things that I do. He is out for work most of the week and only comes home on the weekends. During the week, he is always texting me during the week congratulating me.”
When it comes to balancing Malakoff and Trinity Valley cheerleading, Willbanks said Malakoff sponsor Adrion Humble is amazing to work with.
“Me and my cheer coach are pretty close. TVCC is cheer and that is like another sport,” Willbanks said. “If we have practice and I have to be somewhere else, the practice would come first and then I head over to the high school to do that event. If there is a football game, I go to practice with TVCC and then when it is time to head over there, I go to the other event.”
Humble said Paton's work ethic in cheerleading is amazing to watch over the last decade.
“I've known Paton for approximately 10 years and in all the time I've known her she has worked tirelessly toward her goals,” Humble said. “Cheerleading has always been one of her passions and she works day in and day out to improve. She's very organized and knows how to work toward and accomplish the most difficult tasks laid in front of her, whether it be cheerleading or academics. Teaching and coaching her is a pleasure. Her character and grace are constantly reflected in her actions. I can't wait to see where her life takes her.”
During her middle school and high school cheerleading, Willbanks has been a National Cheerleading Association All-American Cheerleader since her eighth grade year. She was the NCA Top All-American Cheerleader in 2015, a Texas Girls Coaches Association All-State All-Star cheerleader in this year and the varsity cheer captain since her junior year.
She was an East Texas Twisters Special Needs cheer coach in 2017 and in 2018.
“I have looked back and thought, 'Wow, I have done so much in so little time,'” Willbanks said. “This past year has been wild, but it feels like I am living in two separate worlds and trying to balance both of them. I have my high school and college life, and it is crazy.”
She said the bond between the Trinity Valley family and her Malakoff cheer family has been something she will always cherish.
“We are extremely close. The TVCC cheer team is like another family to me,” Willbanks said. “I have gained so many new relationships and have become closer to some of them that I have known for a few years. I have gone to clinics for about five years now, but they have always been welcoming. I have always had my heart there, and always wanted to go there. No matter what I am going through, they are always with me, encouraging me, and it is great to be there. The Malakoff family is always supporting me as well and asking me questions. They are excited for me as well.”
In cross country, she has been a regional cross county qualifier in 2016 and 2017. She said it has been fun running for cross country coach Matt Wittram at Malakoff.
“He is such an inspiration to me,” she said. “Since middle school, his daughter is really good friends with me so I have gotten to hang out with him and know him very well. As a coach, he has always pushed me to be the best even when I felt like I was the worst one on the team. He is always there and supports me a lot.”
She also gets to cheer for a former Malakoff Tiger in Trinity Valley wide receiver Q.T. Barker.
“It is really great to see him,” Willbanks said. “We did not get to see each other after the Snow game, but we are planning on taking a Malakoff picture with everyone from Malakoff, and that is an amazing accomplishment through Malakoff that all of us have gone there.”
Willbanks said when it comes to the end of the year, she will graduate from TVCC two weeks before walking the same stage for Malakoff High School.
“It will be crazy to graduate college before high school,” she said. “I am just going to be flying by the seat of my pants.”
Following that, she is planning to go to college to become a marine biologist and study whale sharks. She also knows she will be finding a way to cheer on another college team.
“I want to graduate with my master's in marine biology. I am not sure where I want to go with it destination wise,” Willbanks said. “I really want to study whale sharks, since that is my animal that I am in shock of.”
With her determined spirit, the sky is the limit when it comes to future goals from Willbanks. She definitely knows how to keep her priorities in line when it comes to performing in front of a crowd.
I want to cheer as long as I can until I can't cheer anymore,” Willbanks said. “I want to get as much knowledge in it and develop my skills for as long as I can.”
This story was first published in Greater Athens magazine.