In a move that will be a permanent honor to his life and legacy, NCASA recently renamed its top high school award to the “Joe Childers Scholastic Cup,” with a unanimous vote by its board of directors.

The Cup is given each year to the “top large and small high school” in the state based on accumulating points in a set of scholastic competitions, including the seven NCASA competitions and eleven “Cup Partner” competitions. Joseph “Joe” Childers was the principal of Simon G Atkins Academic and Technology High School from 2010 until he passed away unexpectedly on December 1, 2019. He also served as NCASA President from 2013-2016, which were formative years during the growth of the organization. Childers spent 41 years in the NC public education system promoting academics, and the last part of it, building the scholastic programs at Hanes Middle School and Atkins. 

According to NCASA Executive Director Leon Pfeiffer, “While at Atkins he created the strongest scholastic program in North Carolina.” As Atkins Principal, Childers nurtured a school environment where academic competition is as valued as athletics, and the school motto is “Where it’s cool to be smart.” At its annual awards banquet, now named the “Joe Childers Letterman Banquet,” students can “letter” for their participation on competing teams in all four areas: athletics, academics, fine arts, and JROTC. In addition, Childers started the Atkins Letterman Hall of Fame, which honors champions from each of those four areas. At Atkins, in addition to sports, students can compete on approximately 40 extracurricular academic teams, ranging from knowledge-based competitions such as Quiz Bowl, to specialty competitions such as chess or computer programming. 

Under Childers’ support and leadership, Atkins has won the NCASA Scholastic Cup every year since 2014-2015—since the cup was divided into “2A Large” and “1A Small” school categories, three years in a row in the small school division, and now for both years it has been in the large school division. The school’s dominance is such that its Scholastic Cup point total has sometimes been hundreds of points higher than the second-place school; in 2018, its record-setting 745 points was more than double the 350 points of the second place school. This type of comprehensive scholastic program requires the coordination of an entire faculty, a scholastic director, and a full staff of 15+ academic coaches, all of them willing to spend hours with their teams after school and on weekends throughout the year. Childers was able to build and nurture this program, even as Atkins was building its enrollment as a magnet school, with as few as 270 students.

Creating this culture of scholastic excellence is not just recruiting the best students and teachers, but recognizing academic excellence as proudly as the typical school does its top athletic teams. Atkins academic teams wear their team shirts proudly, they’re praised in announcements and Atkins news and social media, and they’re included in the “hall of champions,” with huge banners that display championship teams and individuals prominently in the entrance hallway of the school.

Since becoming a magnet school, the Atkins scholastic program has won numerous championships and titles, including in several NCASA competitions (Twelve, the Quill, Art Showcase, and A Cappella), along with numerous other state and even national titles. Among the NCASA partner competitions, Atkins has won state and national titles in TSA (Technology Student Association), individual and team state championships in Chess, an individual state champion in National History Day, two state championships in Cyberpatriot, and state finalists in Poetry Out Loud and the NC Math Contest. Atkins has even had national championships and co-championships in TSA, JROTC JLAB, and the U800 division in Chess.

Atkins won so many championships in the 2017-18 school year that it was dubbed, “The Year of the Champions.” In that single year alone, Atkins earned team state championships in Twelve, Art Showcase, A Cappella, and Cyberpatriot, and individual state championships in Art Showcase, the Quill, National History Day, Chess, and a district championship in Poet Laureate. Atkins has also won the WSFCS Academic Team competition for five years in a row.

This legacy left by Principal Joe Childers is the reason his life is being honored in the new name of the cup, the Joe Childers Scholastic Cup. He built a scholastic program that is now the model to follow for schools across the state (and beyond), and his memory will live on in the cup.