By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Southside High teachers, administrators and coaches are aware of how well seniors Jackson Griggs and Ariq Chandra represent the school as top-notch student-athletes.
Now the state of Alabama knows as well.
At the AHSAA Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Awards Banquet earlier this month, Griggs was named the Class 5A Region 6 Ach-ievement winner, while Chandra was selected as the Class 5A Region 6 Scholar-Athlete.
Chandra, who currently maintains a 4.61 GPA and is on track to be class salutatorian, plans on majoring in biology with a focus on pre-med at UAB this fall.
“I didn’t think I’d get it, so I had low expectations,” he said. “There were a lot of people (at the banquet) who probably were just as smart as me and just as athletic, so to be recognized as a regional winner was a big accomplishment for me.”
Chandra (pictured above) acknowledged that he made a fair amount of sacrifices over the past few years in order to excel on the soccer field and in the classroom.
“I’m kind of introverted, so it didn’t make much of a difference socially, but I did have to spend a lot of nights staying up late studying,” he said. “Just last week I took pictures of my math homework to do the problems in my head on the way back from a game.”
On the subject of sacrifice, Chandra and his family recently observed the holy month of Ramadan, which begin March 22 and ended April 21.
Although he abstained from food and water during that time, Chandra did not alter his academic or athletic schedule.
“It was pretty rough, especially when it came to running during practice,” he said. “We run about three miles during every practice to prepare for the playoffs. I did have less cramping than I did when I was eating and drinking like usual.”
Chandra has played competitive soccer since age 9, first with Fusion/Rush and then with Southside, where he has been in the starting varsity lineup since the third game of his freshman year. The 2020 Panthers were ranked No. 1 in Class 6A before most of the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, that team was amazing,” he said. “It was the best team I’ve ever seen play soccer.”
Chandra said playing the centerback position give him a good deal of latitude for decisions about where to move the ball and which striker to defend.
“It kind of makes you in control of the game,” he said. “You also get the best view of the field, in my opinion,” he said. “Because if that, I’m able to read how the game flows and how the other team is attacking.”
Last season, Chandra was picked for the AHSAA All-Classification Super Team second team and Class 6A first team. He was named the Panthers’ 2022 Team MVP and Defensive MVP and participated in the North/South All-Star game in July. He is a three-time all-area and All-Greater Gadsden Area first team selection.
This season, Chandra has played in every game except one (in which no SHS starter played) and has helped Southside to a 16-3-1 record and the No. 1 ranking in Class 5A.
According to Southside boys soccer coach Randy Vice, Chandra is the ultimate example of a student-athlete providing leadership through humility.
“Too many people confuse leadership with being extroverted,” said Vice. “Ariq is a very humble young man who shows leadership in everything that he does, and the other kids want to follow him. Ariq’s adherence to his faith and principles is amazing, and I’ve got nothing but high praise for him. He’ll be sorely missed next year. Both he and Jackson (Griggs) are outstanding individuals with a work ethic that can only come from within.”
Chandra appreciated the fact that he and Griggs swept the Class 5A Bryant-Jordan awards.
“Me and Jackson have almost every class together, so we’re really good friends,” he said. “It was pretty cool that both of us won.”
Griggs’ nomination for the Achievement Award stemmed from his childhood diagnosis of Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an extremely rare autoimmune disorder that reacts to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
When he was four years old, Griggs experienced extreme and rapid muscle fai-lure while his father was stationed in Romania with the U.S. military.
“I went from feeling a little tired one day to not being able to lift my arms the next morning,” he said.
As Griggs’ condition rapidly grew from bad to worse, he was admitted for an extended stay at UAB Children’s Hospital.
“I had to stay out of the sunlight and basically had to re-learn how to walk,” he said. “Being told that you might not be able to get out of a wheelchair was pretty tough to deal with as a kid.”
It was not until the ninth grade that Griggs was cleared to participate in outdoor sports. He officially went into remission was he was about 10 years old.
“Up until then, I wasn’t allowed in the sun whatsoever,” he said. “Every month I had to have IV treatments that lasted about an hour, and I had to miss a lot of school. I always had to wear sunscreen and carried an umbrella around. I couldn’t go outside for recess while all of the other kids got to go out and play, so it was pretty tough.”
Through frequent physical therapy and several types of steroid treatments, Griggs eventually became more stable. However, he was in relatively poor physical condition due to inactivity and steroid treatments.
“Being in middle school and going into high school, I had a poor self-image,” he admitted.
It was at that point that Dawson Crowe, a classmate at Gadsden City High School who ran cross country for the Titans, suggested that Griggs take up long-distance running.
“I basically started running to make me feel better about the way I looked,” said Griggs. “I started out with short distances and slowly worked up to going father and father. I eventually realized that I loved it for the sport itself. I just went for it, and it turned out okay.” Griggs transferred to Southside prior to his sophomore year and soon was a standout on the school’s cross country and track teams.
This past cross country season, Griggs helped the Panthers finish fourth out of 16 Class 5A teams at the state meet in November. He placed eighth out of 159 runners with a time of 16:21.09.
The result was extra special for Griggs due to the fact that he dealt with hip and Achilles issues for much of the season following the Panthers’ season opener.
“Placement-wise, I feel like I race better in wet conditions like that,” he said. “The county meet (in mid-October where he finished runner-up) was really my first meet back. So I’ve been running consistently since then. But it was a good year and I’m happy with how things went.”
Griggs helped the Panthers win their 10th straight Etowah County Schools cross country championship in October and was selected to participate in the AHSAA North-South All-Star cross country race in July in Montgomery. He was the MVP of the 2021 and 2022 Etowah County School track and field meets and MVP of the 2000 and 2001 Etowah County Schools cross country meets.
As a junior, Griggs posted a school-record time of 15:56.07 at the Class 6A state cross country meet, where he finished ninth out of 248 runners. In outdoor track, Griggs in the school record-holder in the 3200-meter and 5000-meter runs and as a member of the Panthers’ 4×800-mter relay team.
Griggs pointed to the phy-sical, mental and emotional benefits as the main reasons why he found his niche in long-distance running.
“Besides the exercise, the feeling you get, which some people call a ‘runner’s high,’ really is true,” he said. “You sort of get addicted to it, and you just want to get faster. I also like the discipline of the sport, in that you have a set schedule in where it’s all about numbers and paces and distances. You really learn self-discipline, and that’s the type of person I am. It’s just me and the clock. I enjoy competing against myself and other runners. I think the sport makes me a better student and a better person.”
Griggs, who is on track to be class valedictorian with a weighted 4.6 GPA, 35 ACT score and 36 ACT superscore, recently signed with UAH, where he will run cross country and track and study biology as part of the pre-med track. Among his many college scholarships are the national Military Child of the Year Scholarship, the Army War College Foundation PFL Scholarship.the Lutzie 43 Foundation Prepared for Life Scho-larship, the 2002 Wendy’s High School Heisman Scholarship, the National Merit Award Scholarship and the 2003 McCullough Medical Scholarship.
Southside cross country coach Kim Nails views Griggs as a natural leader who often functions as an assistant coach, particularly with the younger members of the team.
“Jackson has worked really hard to overcome adversity,” she said. “He set the standard for himself and everybody around him to put in the hard work. I think what Jackson went through when he was younger made him grateful for the opportunities he’s had. He puts the time and the effort into being successful at anything he sets out to do. When you’re a senior, you’re always a role model, and the example that Jackson set is one that you want your kids to follow.”