Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy graduates 35

SYLA participants prepare for the graduation ceremony. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office on Friday evening held its annual Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy graduation at the Sheriff’s Office training center, honoring 35 students who took part in this year’s program, led by School Resource Deputies, investigators, dispatchers, IT staffers and career coaches from the Cullman County Board of Education. 

According to CCSO Lt. Rex Sorrow, who oversees the SYLA program, this year’s team was a strong one. 

“This is our fifth academy class,” said Sorrow. “Each class has a different personality. This year’s class of students has been one of the hardest working groups of kids we have coached. I can’t say enough about how much these academies mean to these kids.” 

The students went through the 40-hour course, starting at 6 a.m. each day with physical fitness and self-defense training at the Wallace State Wellness Center, followed by a variety of activities, including: 

  • Meeting and hearing from military veterans Jim Carson (World War II veteran of the Battle of the Bulge) and Norman Hale (Korean War prisoner of war) 
  • Rappelling and rope courses 
  • Learning about the American flag 
  • Classes in law enforcement investigations  
  • Marksmanship, including learning how to shoot, when to shoot and when not to 
  • Tours of the Cullman County Detention Center 
  • Fingerprinting 
  • K-9 demonstrations 
  • Swat demonstrations 
  • Leadership etiquette 

Sheriff Matt Gentry said of the students’ meeting with Carson and Hale, “Listening to both of those men instills a lot of patriotism and things that these kids will never get to understand or see. And so, that’s how we start the week off. 

“Deputies volunteer their time to be here all week. This year, we utilized all of our school resource deputies, who came and participated in the program, and assisted each group as a team.” 

Sorrow said, “Sheriff Gentry has a love and concern for the community and he believes our youth is one of Cullman County’s greatest assets. I want to commend Sheriff Gentry for creating the Sheriff’s Youth Leadership Academy.  I have truly been blessed to be a small part of the academy each year.” 

The idea behind SYLA 

Gentry said, “From the beginning of 2015 when we took office, the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office youth leadership program, or what we call SYLA, was a vision that we had from the moment we took office. And what we wanted to do was instill youth with patriotism and leadership. We know that the youth of our community are the future leaders of our community, so we wanted to start in Cullman County, through the Sheriff’s Office, building those young leaders for our future.  

“When we decided and we knew that we wanted to do a youth leadership program, we came to Lt. Rex Sorrow and told him our vision. And working together, we created the SYLA curriculum, working hand in hand with the (county) school system’s Ms. Jennifer Eddleman and Ms. Lisa Farnsworth, and both of them have been on board from the very beginning, helping recruit young men and women from all the school systems in Cullman County, whether it was a county school, the city school or even private schools, and/or home schooling young men and women. We’ve also had kids from outside of Cullman County participate in our program. And every year, we’ve been more and more successful having more and more kids come.  

“I’m so proud of the job that the deputies and Lt. Sorrow did this week to make this program a huge success.” 

2021 SYLA participants: 

  • Havyn Byrd 
  • Cade Caldwell 
  • Justin Cloud 
  • Aaliyah Coleman 
  • Kaleb Cosper 
  • Jenna Crumpton 
  • Nathan Free 
  • Jacob Graves 
  • Rylan Griffin 
  • Elijah Guyton 
  • Allie Heaton 
  • Paige Hudspeth 
  • Ariel Jacobs 
  • Caleb Knedlik 
  • Justin Mahaffey 
  • Jacob Persall 
  • Darren Roberts 
  • Austin Russell 
  • Aliyah Ryan 
  • Seth Short 
  • Harrison Slusser 
  • Cody Smith 
  • Kanaan Sutter 
  • Gracie Thompson 
  • Nick White 
  • Seth Whiting 
  • Marissa Wooten 
  • Isiah Young 
Sheriff Matt Gentry talks to SYLA participants during the graduation ceremony. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune) 

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W.C. Mann