‘They’re great, they’re patriotic and they show a lot of great leadership’

2019 Cullman County Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy underway this week

2019 Cullman County Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy (Photo courtesy of the CCSO)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) annual Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy (SYLA) is underway this week, and The Tribune talked with the CCSO and participants about what’s going on this time around.

Lt. Rex Sorrow, who heads up SYLA, said, “We’ve got a really good class.  We’ve got 34 students, and everything’s been going really, really good.  (It’s a) pretty good class; seems to be the most athletic class we’ve had since the beginning of the academies that we’ve had.”

The students have had full days all week, starting at 6 a.m. each day with physical fitness and self-defense training at the Wallace State Wellness Center with CCSO School Resource Deputies Chad Whaley, Jeff Lawson and Jim Butts.  Following that, they have had a variety of activities, including:

  • Rappelling at Hurricane Creek Park
  • Rope courses at Wallace State
  • Hearing from military veterans Jim Carson (U.S. Army, WWII) and Norman Hale (U.S. Army, Korea)
  • Learning about the American flag with Woodmen of the World
  • Classes in law enforcement investigations 
  • Marksmanship, including learning how to shoot, when to shoot and- importantly- when not to
  • Tours of the Cullman County Detention Center
  • Fingerprinting
  • K-9 demonstrations
  • Swat demonstrations
  • Leadership etiquette

The students have been learning teamwork, working out, studying, practicing and eating lunch together.  And the lunches have been good stuff provided by the Alabama National Guard, Luna’s BBQ, Carlton’s, Milo’s, Chick-fil-A and even Sheriff/grillmaster Matt Gentry himself.

A view from the inside

Leah Tarvin, who just graduated from Holly Pond High School, is attending her third and final SYLA. 

On Wednesday, she told The Tribune, “I swear, every year it just keeps getting better.”

Why did you come back?

Said Tarvin, “Oh man, that’s a loaded question!  Honestly, I love the CCSO.  We have one of the best sheriff’s offices around.  And I just keep coming back because, for one, I mean I want to go into this.  This is the field of choice that I want to go into.  I actually want to go into forensics, forensic investigation, because of this academy that I’ve been going to. 

“My first year, I came out and I was like, ‘Hey, I want to go into criminal justice,’ and I actually want to go into forensic investigation, thanks to the Sheriff’s Leadership Academy.

“And two, this is just a great program where I feel like I’ve become family with the friends I’ve made, and I’ve also become family with the sheriff’s office.  So, it’s just great people and I love it.”

2019 SYLA students

  • Haley Anders, Cullman Christian
  • Noah Boeckeler, Fairview
  • Sarah Bryan, Fairview
  • Ryne Bryant, Holly Pond
  • Bethany Bynum, Good Hope
  • Bailey Byrd, Fairview
  • Bryar Chambers, Fairview
  • Angel Cortez, Hanceville
  • America Diaz, Fairview
  • Rylan Griffin, Holly Pond
  • Alyssa Harper, Fairview
  • Maggie Holloway, Cullman Christian
  • Maleah Hunter, Cold Springs
  • Cruz Ibanez, Fairview
  • Caleb Knedlik, Holly Pond
  • Preston Lawrence, West Point
  • Logan Leach, Holly Pond
  • William Lesnansky, Hanceville
  • Braxton Lynn, Good Hope
  • Karli Marler, Holly Pond
  • Isabella McGukin, Fairview
  • Makenzie Mize, Holly Pond
  • Oakley Mullican, Fairview
  • Havyn Parris, Fairview
  • Caleb Partain, Holly Pond
  • Jacob Persall, Holly Pond
  • Lindsey Ragsdale, Holly Pond
  • Dalton Sargent, Holly Pond
  • Heather Snow, Vinemont
  • Leah Tarvin, Holly Pond
  • Madison Thompson, Vinemont
  • Lacey Watts, Cullman Christian
  • Mollie Woods, St. Bernard

2019 SYLA instructors/team leaders

  • Rex Sorrow, program coordinator
  • Deputy Jim Butts
  • Deputy Jeff Lawson
  • Deputy Matt Rutherford
  • Deputy Chad Whaley
  • Jennifer Eddleman, Cullman County Schools career coach
  • Lisa Farnsworth, Cullman County Schools career coach

The students will finish Friday with a 6 p.m. graduation ceremony at the CCSO Training Center.

Gentry said of the program, “This program, the Sheriff’s Office Youth Leadership, is a program that I’m very excited about.  It’s a way today, 2019, we need great young leaders.  And this is a class that conjoins youth with the sheriff’s office to provide good leaders coming up in our community.  They’re going to be the ones that are taking over our community as they get older, and so we want to have a good base of leadership.  And these students are just- they’re great, they’re patriotic and they show a lot of great leadership coming up in our community.  I’m excited about it and thankful that they took the time out of their summer to do it.”

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SYLA students practice rappelling at Hurricane Creek Park.  (Photo courtesy of the CCSO)

Vinemont High School senior Madison Thompson tries out fingerprinting dust. (Photo courtesy of the CCSO)

W.C. Mann