The Joy Of Scholarships

April 26, 2023
Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

After high school I hoped to land a scholarship to play football. I played first unit on the junior varsity team and started three years on the varsity. Playing at a small college was a long shot at best. Still, I dreamed of making a college team. In my seventh game my senior season, an opponent speared me cracking three of my vertebrae. My scholarship hopes went out the window, and the window slammed shut. I wasn’t that good anyway, but I dreamed big.

Besides football in those rural Georgia days, I liked to hunt. I tried turkey hunting but fell asleep in the cold blind. I tried deer hunting but had no one to school me on whitetails. I tried dove and quail hunting with my Mossberg .410 and couldn’t have bagged a bird if it flew down my barrel. I went rabbit hunting once and got one shot at a zigzagging cottontail. I missed.

The hunting I enjoyed most took place alone in the woods behind my home, squirrel hunting. That I could do with my dog, Shorty, who raced from tree to tree tracking squirrels.

Photo Courtesy of SC DNR

My father worked hard long hours six days a week. As a result, the father-son hunting bond never formed. Football and hunting ended and I entered the University of Georgia, still holding onto my love for sports. There I excelled in archery. Holding the shot, elevating the bow, the release and bowstring’s twang, the arrow’s flight, and satisfaction of hitting the bull’s eye thrilled me. UGA, best I recall, didn’t award archery scholarships. Once again I was on the outside looking in.

I have always regretted not getting a scholarship offer. When I learned that the South Carolina DNR oversees a high school archery program, On Target for Life, my dream to land a scholarship haunted me. Oh to be young again with bow in hand.

Photo Courtesy of SC DNR

Busting clays? It sure looked fun but I had no one to show me the ropes. Today’s youth, however, can pursue sporting clays thanks to DNR’s Scholastic Clay Target Sports, a youth development program. Trap, skeet, and sporting clays instill life skills such as responsible firearm use, safety, teamwork, ethics, self-confidence, and other life values.

The Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund, Inc., a private, non-profit corporation, partners with the SC DNR and helps make scholarship funds available. Together the two promote education, research, management and the administration of game and fish laws that benefit the conservation of wildlife, marine and other natural resources in South Carolina. And youth, a key resource.

The Fund’s third annual wild game dinner and auction took place March 23 in Columbia at Seawell’s. From the start, the impetus for the gala was to raise funds for youth programs in South Carolina schools and something else. Create joy. And it’s worth noting that all Hampton Fund’s fundraisers support scholarships and joy. March 23 I was there to enjoy wild game, see old friends, and hear more about scholarships for the youth of South Carolina. A good time helped youth pursue careers in wildlife, fisheries, forestry, biology, zoology, marine science, environmental science, or related fields.

What a joy it must be to receive a scholarship. What a joy to be recognized for achievement. What a joy to hold up one of those oversized checks. It makes me happy to see high school seniors land a scholarship. It all goes back to 1992 when the Hampton Fund established its scholarship program, a $5,000 scholarship awarded annually for up to four consecutive years.

As for me, I made it through UGA with the generous support of my parents and part-time jobs working for a florist and waiting on tables. My days of organized sports were behind me, and an uncertain future lay ahead. Little did I know I’d end up at SC DNR for nine years working along some of the good folks who keep the Hampton Fund running strong.

Do you know a young person interested in a natural resources career? Tell them about these scholarships. Encourage them to learn more about the Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund scholarship program.


Georgia native Tom Poland writes a weekly column about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and culture and speaks frequently to groups in the South. Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, stating, “His work is exceptional to the state.” Poland’s work appears in books, magazines, journals, and newspapers throughout the South.

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Email him at [email protected]