Heart of the Arts

About Heart of the Arts

The National High School Heart of the Arts Award is annually conferred to eight section recipients as well as one national recipient. The recipient must be an individual from a high school that is a member of an NFHS-member athletic or activity association.

Heart of the Arts Awards

  • Kylen Running Hawk

    The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has chosen Kylen Running Hawk, a student at Morris Area High School in Morris, Minnesota, as the 2021 national recipient of the National High School Heart of the Arts Award.

    The National High School Heart of the Arts Award is now in its seventh year and was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts and represent the core mission of education-based activities.

    Kylen Running Hawk’s love for the theatre was nurtured very early in his life thanks to television commercials for the annual Medora Musical – a summer show held near his native Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota that he would later describe as “the most spectacular thing” he’d ever seen. However, the likelihood he would find his own success as a stage performer seemed improbable given the obstacles in front of him.

    For starters, English is a second language for Running Hawk, who, as a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota, grew up speaking Lakota Sioux on the reservation. He began learning English when his family moved to Morris, Minnesota in 2013; and as if that wasn’t already difficult enough, he had to do it with deafness in his left ear that doctors could not repair after multiple surgeries.

    Perhaps the strongest testament to his commitment, Running Hawk developed the ability to read lips to aid him in learning the language, and he continues to work on some of the longer, more complex words. As one can imagine, this forces him to work extremely hard to memorize his lines for each production.

    Now the president of the drama club, Running Hawk has branched out into several other performing arts activities at Morris High School. He sings in the choir and is on the speech team and was the first person to sign up for mock trial when it was added to the school’s list of offerings last year. Based on his prowess at Morris, he had the option to attend the renowned Perpich Center for Performing Arts in suburban Minneapolis for his senior year, but he respectfully turned down the opportunity because of COVID-19.

    While he may no longer live in Standing Rock Nation, Running Hawk remains very proud of his Lakota heritage and enjoys performing at powwows, parades and other events in traditional tribal apparel. His ancestral pride is also evident in his plans for the future, which include attending the University of Minnesota, Morris to pursue a degree in education with emphases on choir and theatre, then using his knowledge and arts talents to benefit Native American students.

    “I'm a kid from our reservation who has the joy of being into the theater, where other kids have never had that experience. I’m thinking about bringing theater into the reservation. I've always wanted people from my reservation or any other reservations to get a chance, because the only way that we get to experience this is to go off the reservation to other schools. And that's why there's not that many Native American actors; not many kids are exposed to this kind of thing.”

    Kylen Running Hawk
    Interview with Minnesota State High School League


    To read more about the award winners, please click here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/minnesota-s-kylen-running-hawk-selected-2021-national-high-school-heart-of-the-arts-award-recipient/

    • Noelle DeBiase Student
      Section 1 Mater Dei Prep High School New Jersey
    • John Stroube Executive Director
      Section 2 Kentucky Music Educators Association Kentucky
    • Evan Thurber Student
      Section 3 North Port High School Florida
    • Orchestra Chamber Players Avon Chamber Group
      Section 4 Avon High School Indiana
    • Kylen Running Hawk Student
      Section 5 Morris Area High School Minnesota
    • Isaac Fry Student
      Section 6 Resurrection Christian School Colorado
    • Theatre and Music Leaders Coaches and Student Leaders
      Section 7 Hillcrest High School Utah
    • Petra Karr Administrator (Posthumous)
      Section 8 Washington State Thespians Washington
  • Cailin Martin

    From the time she was in fifth grade at Thompson Middle School in Newport, Rhode Island, Cailin Martin’s artistic talents stood out among her peers, as did her willingness to go the extra mile. After showcasing knowledge far beyond her years during class, she was often seen eagerly cleaning up students’ messes regardless of who made them.

    Now a senior at Rogers High School in Newport, Martin has used course offerings and independent studies to develop her expertise in a variety of creative disciplines and has evolved her service mindset to address the needs of both her school and community.

    In addition to the murals and props she has painted for each of the last three yearly musicals at Rogers, Martin adorned one of the school’s hallways this past summer for her senior project. That mural, which takes up more than eight feet of wall space, bears the words of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta – “Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk” – and serves to inspire those walking by.

    During the same summer, Martin dedicated even more of her free time to be a digital art tutor for a seventh-grade girl in the area. Both girls enjoyed the interaction so much that they have continued their working relationship into the fall, obliging Martin to simultaneously balance a class schedule loaded with Advanced Placement (AP) courses. To this point, the 2019 AP Scholar Award winner has handled that challenge with relative ease, as her grade-point average ranks third in the senior class.

    Martin’s most notable contribution came as a part of “Project Playhouse,” an initiative formed by a management class at nearby Bryant University to provide custom-built playhouses for children with serious and life-threatening illnesses. Martin’s role in the project was to depict a Transformers theme on one of the 9-foot by 9-foot by 9-foot structures, a task that required more than 21 hours of labor.

    In addition to her work with Project Playhouse, Martin volunteered with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall in 2019 and the Norman Bird Sanctuary Harvest Festival in 2018 and 2019, and she has worked as a performer and set painter for the Rogers Theatre Company for the past five years.

    Pieces of her artwork have also been included in community showcases, including the Irish History Exhibition at the Museum of Newport in 2017 and the Newport Yacht Club Art Show, where she received Best in Show First Runner-Up in 2019.


    To read more about the award winners, please click here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/nebraska-rhode-island-students-selected-as-recipients-of-spirit-of-sport-heart-of-the-arts-awards/


    • Cailin Martin Student
      Section 1 Newport Rogers High School Rhode Island
    • Kyla Goldsby Student
      Section 2 Leesburg Heritage High School Virginia
    • Theatre Tech Team (T3) Theatre Department
      Section 3 Winnsboro Fairfield Central High School South Carolina
    • Carter Schott Student
      Section 4 Orland Park Carl Sandburg High School Illinois
    • Sara Given Theatre Teacher
      Section 5 Mexico High School Missouri
    • Ashley Ledezma Student
      Section 6 Tulsa Edison Preparatory High School Oklahoma
    • Howard Summers Band Director
      Section 7 Lehi Skyridge High School Utah
    • Shelbey Colt Student
      Section 8 Gresham Centennial High School Oregon
  • LaRaine Fess and the Beaufort High School Theatre Department

    For the past 21 years, LaRaine Fess has been an educator, including the past 14 years as the theatre teacher at Beaufort (South Carolina) High School. She has been a seven-time “Teacher of the Year” nominee.

    In her position as a teacher, Fess has used that platform to reach out to students in her district and to teach them about bullying. She has written two original plays for her theatre students.

    In 2013, Fess’ then-third grade son was bullied on a school bus. Devastated by the event, Fess asked her students the following question: “Is bullying still an issue in school?”

    Overwhelmingly, her students started sharing situations in which they had been a victim, a bystander and even a bully. After “Ripping off the Band-Aid,” Fess and her theatre classes made a promise to one another and to themselves to take a stand against bullying. They made a pact to never be a bully, a victim or a bystander. They promised that “When they would see something, they would say something.” With that promise in place, seven years later, more than 300 theatre students have been part of the solution as they have performed for more than 7,000 students.

    Fess’ goal is to keep performing and talking so students will know what to do when they see bullying and what to do when they are a victim. Their positions were “If we stay quiet, then the bullies win. We are the only school in the state with an inhouse performance on such an important topic. Most districts bring in speakers to talk about this issue. Beaufort County allows its students to teach their peers about bullying.”

    In 2017, they presented some of the show for the National High School League Convention in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr., Chapin (South Carolina) High School principal at the time and National Principal of the Year, saw a few scenes and asked if they could come to Chapin and perform for the entire school of approximately 1,300 students. Two years later, they presented to high school athletes and athletic directors at the Leadership Convention in Columbia, South Carolina.

    During 2016, 2017 and 2018, Fess and her theatre students were recognized by the Beaufort County Council for their work to take a stand against bullying. The Beaufort County Council proudly gave them a declaration of “Anti-Bully Month” last October.

    Since 2012, the Rotary of Low Country has been a very active partner with Beaufort High School Theatre to help them take a stand against bullying. It has supported them in presenting programs at conventions in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, they work together to get out the message to all sixth-graders in the district. In 2017, Fess received the Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary of Low Country. 


    To read more about the award winners, please click here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/south-carolina-drama-teacher-and-theatre-students-selected-for-heart-of-the-arts-award/

    • Nathanael Batson Student
      Section 1 Fairfield Lawrence High School Maine
    • Kayla Scott Student
      Section 2 Charlottesville Monticello High School Virginia
    • LaRaine Fess and Beaufort High School Theatre Department Teacher and Theatre Department
      Section 3 Beaufort High School South Carolina
    • Johnathon Giesecke Student
      Section 4 Belvidere North High School Illinois
    • Waseca Theatre Department Theatre Department
      Section 5 Waseca High School Minnesota
    • Dayton Thomas Student
      Section 6 Mabank High School Texas
    • Tristan McMichael Student
      Section 7 Quincy High School California
    • Emma Lawless Student
      Section 8 Canby High School Oregon
  • Cecelia Egan

    At age five, Egan was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia – a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that limits the individual’s mobility. Although confined to a wheelchair, Egan hasn’t let that prevent her from pursuing participation in theatre.

    A freshman at St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Riverside, Rhode Island, Egan first joined The Bay View Players as a sixth-grader. Since that time, she has performed in countless theatrical productions. In many ways, she integrates herself into the cast without calling attention to her need for assisted mobility. Adding to her seamless integration into all aspects of the productions is the tremendous vision exhibited by director Christine Kavanaugh to incorporate her needs on stage.

    While at first Egan’s chair seems like an extension of a character she’s playing, she often abandons it in favor of propping herself upon a variety of set pieces, such as a piano, a sleigh or a collection of trunks. To accomplish that, she is assisted by fellow castmates and a voluntary alumna aide. It is physically intensive work, but the focus is never on the equipment. In fact, only when the chair resurfaces later in a performance does the audience begin to appreciate the monumental coordination it takes for Egan to make costume changes, entrances and exits alongside fellow cast members. Egan’s smile, combined with creative choreography, helps to effortlessly integrate her wheelchair into the productions.

    • Cecelia Egan Student
      Section 1 Riverside St. Mary Academy-Bay View Rhode Island
    • Joshua St. Hill Student
      Section 2 Charlottesville Monticello Virginia
    • LaFrancis Davis Director of Bands
      Section 3 Montgomery Carver Alabama
    • Kevin Ferry Teacher
      Section 4 Monmouth-Roseville Illinois
    • Georgina Simon Former Student
      Section 5 St. Cloud Technical Minnesota
    • The Seguin High School Marching Band Band
      Section 6 Seguin Texas
    • Kenzie Hutchings Student
      Section 7 Richfield Utah
    • Emma Dobesh Student
      Section 8 Gresham Centennial Oregon
  • In addition to her exemplary 3.96 grade-point average and membership in the National Honor Society, Josephine Ross has been involved in many activities and clubs. Ross has participated in numerous performing arts activities, including debate, speech and choir. Among her many awards in this area are the Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award and the Benilde-St. Margaret’s School Outstanding Character Award. However, it is the realm of theatre that could accurately be described as her true passion. Among her theatre accomplishments, she’s a four-year cast member of the One-Act Play, a performer in multiple school musicals and plays, and has received several Hennepin Theatre Trust Spotlight Theatre Awards. While those experiences and recognitions are significant, her unyielding desire to selflessly help others and to fight for their causes has been extraordinary. Following are three examples of Ross’ desire to help others. Several years ago, Ross met Rachel Olson when they were cast in the Chaska Valley Family Theatre’s (CVFT) production of “Sound of Music.” Olson’s parents – Chuck and Debra Olson – were born with hearing, but each lost their hearing as young children. While they always attended Rachel’s performances, they were never able to fully enjoy them due to their hearing disabilities. When Rachel performed in the CVFT’s production of “Seussical, the Musical,” Ross arranged for an American Sign Language interpreter to sign for the audience, thereby enabling Olson’s parents to truly enjoy their daughter’s theatre performance. During her freshman year, Ross read a news story about seventh-grader Jake Ross (no relation) of Forest Lake (Minnesota) High School who was bullied at school. A year later, as Josie thought about the CVFT’s upcoming “Shrek: The Musical” from her position of co-director with her father, Randy, it occurred to her that the show’s theme was partially about being bullied. That caused her to wonder if they could produce a show for elementary-aged kids that would not only entertain them, but would also raise their awareness of bullying. With those thoughts in mind, the CVFT put on a special show on March 4, 2015 for elementary-aged kids from Minnetonka and District 112 elementary schools in which they also invited Jake.

    • Lindsay Daugherty Student
      Section 1 Barrington Rhode Island
    • Christian Ellis Student
      Section 2 Woodbridge Virginia
    • RaKavius Chambers Student
      Section 3 Opelika Alabama
    • Sabrina Kenoun Student
      Section 4 Buffalo Grove Illinois
    • Josephine Ross Student
      Section 5 Benilde-St. Margaret's Minnesota
    • The Premont Mighty Cowboy Band and Mariachi Estrella Band
      Section 6 Premont Texas
    • Susan Seep Instructor
      Section 7 Scottsdale Horizon Arizona
    • Abby Kellems Student
      Section 8 Corvallis Oregon
  • Under the guidance of Band Director Sherri Miller, the Dale County High School Marching Band selflessly supported rival neighboring school Skipperville G.W. Long High School by performing at its 2015 AHSAA (Alabama) football playoff games.

    “Our band kids are very special,” Miller said. “They wanted to share their love for music – wanted to give back.”

    During the past eight years, both high schools have endured numerous tragic losses.

    Among them, Dale County Head Football Coach Todd Horne was killed in a car accident, and the school’s then-new band director Sean Miller (Sherri’s husband) was killed in a car accident on the same highway where Horne was killed.

    Sherri – who had been Sean’s band assistant – was asked in February 2015 to take over the position of band director. Sherri and Sean had one child at the time and were expecting their second child in July. Her band students immediately showered her with love and continue to do so today.

    • Kayleigh Hunt Student
      Section 1 Ellicottville High School New York
    • Marisa DeFranco Student
      Section 2 Arlington Wakefield High School Virginia
    • Sherri Miller Band Director
      Section 3 Midland City Dale County High School Alabama
    • Gabe Stanforth Student
      Section 4 Taylor Ridge Rockridge Illinois
    • Ethan Och & Gina Christopherson Student & Band Director
      Section 5 Swanville High School Minnesota
    • Academics Team
      Section 6 Van High School Texas
    • Kelsie Albee Student
      Section 7 Manti High School Utah
    • Mikayla Heston Student
      Section 8 Gresham Sam Barlow High School Oregon
  • Ethan Gray, who was the embodiment of the ideal high school performing arts person while a student at Chicago (Illinois) St. Rita of Cascia High School as he is self-taught in 11 different musical instruments, has faced health challenges his entire life.

    Among those, he endured a stroke in April 2014 and has genetically inherited sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which among other things necessitates undergoing a monthly blood transfusion for the rest of his life. In addition, he experiences debilitating episodes known as “pain crisis” that can occur at any time when parts of his body are deprived of blood and oxygen due the sickling of his blood cells.

    While music will always be a part of Gray’s life, his long-term goal is to establish a career with his other artistic abilities. He plans to pursue collegiate studies in game design illustration and animation, with the ultimate goal of one day drawing comic books for Marvel or D.C.”

    • Molly Parker Student
      Section 1 Hinesburg Champlain Valley Union Vermont
    • Rachel Johnson Student
      Section 2 Roanoke Patrick Henry Virginia
    • Brian Evans Student
      Section 3 Hattiesburg Oak Grove Mississippi
    • Ethan Gray Student
      Section 4 Chicago St. Rita of Cascia Illinois
    • Danielle Medrano Student
      Section 5 Wichita The Independent High School Kansas
    • Elizabeth-Helen Martin Student
      Section 6 Ponca City Oklahoma
    • Kevin Berlat English Teacher and Speech/Debate Coach
      Section 7 Phoenix Central Arizona
    • Cory Bergh Student
      Section 8 Deming Mount Baker Washington
  • Leia Schwartz

    Despite almost dying from a collapsed lung at age six and dealing with medical issues her entire life, Leia Schwartz of Miami (Section 3 Florida) Coral Reef High School has excelled in the performing arts, athletics and academics. Schwartz was also selected the national recipient of the “National High School Heart of the Arts Award”



    • Derrick Hopkins Theatre
      Section 1 Willsboro Central School New York
    • Jennifer Moore Theatre
      Section 1 Willsboro Central School New York
    • Abby Leonard Music, Debate, & Theatre
      Section 2 Gate City High School Virginia
    • Lydia Dawley Theatre
      Section 4 Decorah High School Iowa
    • Justin Speck Theatre
      Section 5 Rapid City Central High School South Dakota
    • Frank Sferra Speech
      Section 6 Denver Mullen High School Colorado
    • Clin Eaton Music & Theatre
      Section 7 Riverton High School Utah
    • Aubrie Lucas Music
      Section 8 Anchorage Dimond High Schoo Alaska