They call themselves “The Naked Guys” but they’re only naked from the waist up. After all, they are members of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries organization at Arkansas State University. They show up at just about every home athletic event at the Jonesboro campus with their upper torsos painted up in school colors with a letter on the front spelling out “A-State” or “Go Red Wolves” or some other spirited slogan. And they holler and hoot and — well, it is A-State — they howl.
It’s a BCM and ASU tradition.
A few years ago, Nathan Shelby, one of the early members of the group, decided that his younger sister, Hannah, needed to join in at an ASU football game. No more than 9 or 10 years old at the time, Hannah was dressed out in a t-shirt, got some paint applied to her face and was placed in the middle of the group.
“He was like, ‘You’re going to do this. You’re going to do it with me,’” recalled Hannah, the daughter of Eric and Julie Shelby. “There’s a picture of me and him at the game. I was an A and he was an O. We were vowels together!”
It’s no surprise that that kind of fun not only endeared her more to her brother but to the school as well.
Fast-forward to today and that young girl has become an all-state cross country and track athlete as a senior at Bryant High School, considering where she might go to college with scholarship opportunities.
She considered UCA and Henderson but when Arkansas State made an offer, it was really no contest. After all, it was a bit of a family legacy. Not only had Nathan gone to school there but so had her maternal grandparents.
Still, a thoughtful National Honor Society member who has been named to the 2015 Arkansas Track & Field All-Academic team doesn’t make even that tempting decision lightly.
“I liked A-State academically,” she related. “I want to be an Early Childhood Education major so when I went for a Preview Day at A-State, I liked the way that they taught, I liked the professors that I met and the Honors dorms. I liked the facilities and the fact that there’s a place specifically for athletes that can help with tutoring if they need it, and just the overall feel of the campus.”
Due diligence done, Shelby committed to ASU and, on Tuesday surrounded by family and friends, signed an NCAA Division I Letter of Intent to join the Red Wolves cross country program and continue her education under scholarship in the fall of 2016.
“Hannah is one of the greatest competitors and hardest workers I have coached,” said Bryant cross country and track coach Danny Westbrook, now in his 35th year. “She committed herself to the hard training of distance running and developed into one of the top runners in the state.
“I love her courage in races, to always go to the front of the pack and stay there,” he added. “Her leadership and exemplary work ethic will be missed, but we wish her well in her future at ASU.”
Along with being the Treasurer for the National Honor Society at Bryant, Shelby is a member of the Student Senate, Partners Club, Youth Alive, and Mu Alpha Theta. She’s also a member of the Eight Twelve Student Ministry at Sharon Baptist Church in Benton.
Athletically, she earned her All-State honor at this fall’s Class 7A State cross country championship meet, finishing 10th overall. As such, she was named to the Arkansas team at the annual Arkansas-Oklahoma All-Star cross country challenge and helped her team win the duel with a top 20 finish.
She was third overall at the 7A-East/Central Conference championship meet, finishing third overall.
On the track team in the spring, Shelby captured the conference championship in the 3200-meter run to earn all-conference honors. This spring, she aims to break the school record in the event.
She was also a member of the 4×800-meter relay team that was third in the conference meet and third at the Meet of Champs.
In 2014, she was a key member of the Lady Hornets’ 7A-East/Central Conference cross country championship team and earned all-conference status. She was named to run in the Arkansas-Oklahoma All-Star meet.
In track, she ran a leg of the 4×800 relay team that was fourth in the 7A-West Conference, fourth in the Class 7A State meet and fifth at the Meet of Champs.
“I started running in the seventh grade,” she recalled. “My P.E. coach, Coach (Deanna) Porter, had me run and I was one of the only people that could run and not get really out of breath after a few laps. It was just kind of fitting. I ran (cross country) in seventh grade and I wasn’t the best runner but, over the years, I grew in appreciation for it.
“It wasn’t until the ninth grade when Coach Westbrook moved me up to the Senior High team that I thought that I could actually have a shot at going to college for it,” she continued. “As a freshman, moving up was really interesting because I’d never trained with them before. But the girls on the team really made me feel good about it and made me feel comfortable and that really helped a lot.
Reflecting on her career since, Shelby said, “Getting to know all the seniors on the team through the years and just getting to know all the people on the team has been one of the best experiences. Coach Westbrook has helped push me a lot to be a better competitor, better athlete and leader. And the examples I had before me — Caitlyn Bell, Melinda Murdock, Hannah Raney — they were all really good examples of leaders. I knew when I got to be a senior who I wanted to be and how I wanted to run.
“I’ve tried to be the kind that leads by example,” she explained. “So in practice every day, I just tried to have a positive attitude and push myself to get the best times out of myself that I could and, being positive, encouraging my teammates. You know, it’s not an easy sport. People would have bad days and they weren’t exactly happy with the meets that they had. I just tried to be encouraging and supportive.”
Asked where she developed the work ethic that, as Westbook said, played such a key role in her success, Shelby didn’t have to look far.
“Everybody in my family has always been really hard workers so I’ve seen that growing up,” she related. “My parents are a very good example of it. So I knew that whatever I do I need to do it with the best that I have.
“And cross country is a very mental sport because it’s a longer running distance and you can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, having determination is something that I grew up with, watching my parents work and stuff. It wasn’t always easy for them but they always managed to put a smile on their face and give 110 percent, which is what I try to do.”