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Scholar's past adds up to a bright future


Plano: Valedictorian headed for Harvard says he's 'normal kid'

Dallas News (06/06/2006)

PLANO – When Jeff Nanney took an interest in sports at the age most youth start playing, he didn't want to be the next Nolan Ryan. He had a desire to break down the game of baseball from a mathematical standpoint.

"He would watch a game so intensely and then come to me with an elaborate synopsis," Jeff's mother, Suzanne O'Malley said. "There was a period when he was obsessed with the math of sports."

Jeff, 18, still watches baseball games as mathematical equations, but he has learned to watch them with his friends for fun. He has learned to enjoy a lot of things, because he mostly knows everything there is to know about them.

"He's always been a 20-questioner," Ms. O'Malley said. "He has to understand something he is interested in completely."

Curiosity has earned the Plano East Senior High School valedictorian many accolades, including being named a 2006 United States Presidential Scholar by the Department of Education. He, along with 140 other graduating high school seniors, will visit Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony to honor their achievements later this month.

Presidential scholars include one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Also included are U.S. families living abroad. The Department of Education states that these students have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service and contribution to school and community.

"People think I study a lot, but I don't," Jeff said. "I just look at myself as a normal kid with a lot of interests."

Jeff, who will attend Harvard University this fall as a math major, began his summer accepting a Plano Trustees Award of Excellence. Throughout his academic career, he has accomplished more than the average "whiz kid."

His resume touts Plano East's highest grade-point average (4.6647) in its 24-year history. He has scored perfectly on the SAT and ACT several times since his freshman year. Jeff also has traveled extensively, competing in national academic competitions.

Scholars were asked to recognize an educator that has influenced their academic careers. Jeff chose the director of his summer program, Max Warshauer, a professor at Texas State University at San Marcos.

It is Jeff's natural leadership qualities coupled with his high IQ that get most people's attention, Dr. Warshauer said.

"Among the top kids all over the country, Jeff stands out. He has deep insight," said Dr. Warshauer, who started Mathworks, a summer enrichment program. "A bright student can make others feel bad, but Jeff doesn't do that."

Jeff will fill his summer break with academic competitions and an internship with Siemen's, researching hearing solutions.

While he sees himself becoming a mathematics professor, Jeff plans to keep his options open.

"I see myself doing a lot of things," he said. "Who knows? Maybe one day there will be a field specializing in the math of baseball."

Mikki Kirby is a Dallas-based freelance writer.