ESPN visits Jackson church to record member Wells Johnstone, top-10 finalist for Heisman Award


ESPN sports television network visited Jackson First United Methodist Church on Nov. 14 to record video of Wells Johnstone, a member of the church who has been named a "top 10 scholar-athlete" by the Wendy's High School Heisman Award program. Photos, clockwise from top left, show Johnstone in action at school, in church and in the swimming pool. (Submitted photos)

By Bobbie Mays
Director of Communications
Jackson First United Methodist Church, Jackson, TN

Can you imagine the excitement of parents when they learn their high school senior has been named a “Top Ten Scholar-Athlete in the USA?” Yet…they couldn’t let on to her or anyone else for six days?
That recently happened to Valerie and Mark Johnstone, members of Jackson First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.They received a phone call from a representative of Wendy’s High School Heisman Award notifying them that their daughter, Wells, had been named one of ten national finalists.  

For more than 20 years, five female and five young male high school seniors across the country have been named recipients of this award which recognizes outstanding achievements academically, athletically and for service in the community.

Scholarships of $5,000 are awarded to the eight national finalists and each of the two national winners receive $10,000.

A few days after the announcement was made at Johnstone's school, Madison Academic High School in Jackson, the sports television channel ESPN came to Jackson on Nov. 14 to film Johnstone for “a day in her life.”

So, what is a typical day for Wells? She gets up at 4 a.m. By 5 a.m. she’s ready for her swim team practice which lasts until 6:30 a.m. She then heads to school and begins her classes at 7:15 a.m. Depending on which activity she’s participating in after school, she trains for an hour or two in track or swimming.

Soon Johnstone will be preparing again for the United States Academic Decathlon for which her high school team was the 2017 national runner up. Other activities include Young Life, Bible Study and community volunteer work. Many nights, she doesn’t get home until 8 p.m., but on those evenings when she can be home earlier, she and her family enjoy meals together.

ESPN Records Johnstone at her United Methodist Church

Part of the ESPN recording in Jackson on Nov. 14 took place at Jackson First United Methodist Church. Members and friends gathered for a worship service with Johnstone reading scripture from Philippians 3:12-16 and everyone singing the hymn, “How Great Thou Art."

About their daughter's achievements and recognition, Mark and Valerie Johnstone said, “It’s God!”

A natural and integral part of Johnstone's daily life is her faith, the journey for which which began at home and is nurtured through her church. Following in the steps of her brother and sister, Foster and Mary Parker, who participated in confirmation classes at Jackson First United Methodist Church, Wells, too, made that a commitment.

In her confirmation class, the Youth Psalm Johnstone wrote as a sixth grader reflects her faith today:
                                   My Rock
“God is like a rock — solid and there to stand on.
My God holds me firm in His love.
I can lean on my Lord for protection.
God is like a sure foundation, because I built my faith on Him.
My God does not shift, so my faith remains firm.
God is like a sunrise — you can always trust Him to be there.
My trust is in God because He never fails to help me.”
                                                                         ~Wells Johnstone
Christian Hesling, youth pastor at Jackson First United Methodist Church, shared that Wells “exemplifies a steadfast determination in all arenas of her life; athletics, academics and faith.One attribute that is very evident is her determination, not in the self, but more importantly, a determination that God will pull through in life.”

Always taking her faith journey very seriously, it’s not unusual for Johnstone to be praying by herself before a swim meet or race or to rally a group of students to pray together. Her mom and dad have heard Wells excitedly and loudly thanking God for the beautiful day, for all those who are participating and for a good race for all.
As the current holder of two school records and two district records in swimming, a school record holder in cross country as well as track and field and as the valedictorian of her high school, Johnstone is on her way to achieving her dream. Her aspiration beyond high school is to become a U.S. Navy fighter pilot. In the fall of 2018, she will be attend the United States Naval Academy where she will be on the swim team. 

What's Next?

On Dec. 7, Wells and her parents will fly to New York City where they will meet up with the other national finalists. On Dec. 8, one male and one female finalist will be announced and recognized during ESPN’s national telecast of Wendy’s Heisman presentation.