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The Finley Committee Names 2024 Finley Character Award Winners

Finley Award Winners Photo

(Hoover, AL) - The Finley Committee has announced the 2024 Finley Character Award winners. Each year, the committee accepts nominations for a Hoover City Schools District (HCS) faculty member and a senior from each high school to be considered for the coveted Finley Award. 

The award honors the late Coach Bob Finley, whose legacy of exemplary character lives on in Hoover City Schools for young men and women to emulate. Finley was an educator and coach at W.A. Berry High School from 1963 to 1994. Finley endeared himself as a gentleman, had a genuine concern for others, was well-respected, and was committed to his faith, family, and professional calling. The Finley Committee created the Finley Award program to pay tribute to Coach Finley's character and legacy and to recognize outstanding character found within Hoover City Schools.  

Keri Ross is the Finley Character Award Faculty Winner.

Ross is a math teacher at Spain Park High School (SPHS). Ross has been an educator for more than 26 years. In her recommendation letters, she is described as having a humble nature and a servant’s heart. Ross is genuinely concerned for students and always finds ways to help students in need. 

Ross is kind and caring in the classroom and goes above and beyond for her students. She encourages them to challenge themselves, supports them along the way, and inspires her students to believe in themselves to reach their greatest potential. Ross is described as a person who embodies all that the Finley Award stands for because of her outstanding character, selflessness, trustworthiness, and integrity. 

In one parent’s nomination letter, Ross is praised for being there for a student every step of the way while he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The parent says Ross made sure their son was on top of not only his math assignments but all of his assignments. “...She encouraged him to press on, even when things were difficult…we feel like Mrs. Ross became a member of our family that year. Our son could not have succeeded without her, and she helped carry the weight of us as parents in many areas. She made a huge impact on our family, and we will forever be grateful for her.”

Ross said, “My husband graduated from Berry High School, and Coach Finley was his Sunday School teacher at Green Valley Baptist Church. I’ve known about Coach Finley and his reputation for the better part of 20 years. I’ve also been a part of the Finley Award selection committee for the seniors, and I know the high standards that we hold for those students. So, I don’t take this honor lightly. I don’t feel worthy, but I know it is an honor, and I’m very humbled.”

Phanuelle Manuel is the Hoover High School Finley Character Award Senior Winner.

In her recommendation letters, Manuel is described as a beacon of integrity and compassion with exceptional qualities as a student and human being that set her apart as a role model for her peers. Manuel has an outstanding work ethic, a positive outlook, a humble spirit, and an unassuming personality, making her shine brightly in a class of 646 seniors. She is known as a scholar, a leader, and a young woman of high moral character. 

Those who nominated Manuel say she has embraced the character traits the Finley Award recognizes.  She is known for giving one hundred percent of herself into everything she does with enthusiasm and endlessly contagious joy. In a heartfelt recommendation letter, one of her teachers said she is a model student with immeasurable character and demonstrates steadfast determination and a commitment to making a difference. 

Manuel is an IB student passionate about STEM education, lending her exceptional knowledge and skill to Hoover High School’s (HHS) Engineering Academy. Her interests and passions are not confined to academics. She serves the school and community through various organizations, including the president of the Youth Philanthropy Council and YouthServe, which are organizations dedicated to service. Manuel is helping the next generation of young girls learn how to code through her involvement with Hoover Girls Who Code. She is also an HHS Ambassador and tutor. In addition, Manuel is a recipient of the College Board National Recognition Program for African-American students.

Manuel said, “I am honored and humbled because among the nominees are so many friends and people who have inspired me to have better character. I am honored to be chosen as the winner, and I’m very grateful that the committee chose me and that the people who nominated me were able to recognize my character inside and outside the classroom.”

Josh Helms is the Spain Park High School Finley Character Award Senior Winner.

In his recommendation letters, Helms is described as an exceptional individual who embodies the spirit of the Finley Award through his exemplary character and commitment to serving others. He is hailed as an excellent student who, throughout his academic journey, has exemplified integrity, compassion, and inclusivity, earning the admiration and respect of his peers and educators alike. 

He is known for his remarkable kindness, approachable demeanor, and unwavering commitment to supporting others. Helm’s genuine compassion for his peers is evident in his everyday actions, from ensuring inclusivity in group activities to helping fellow students in need. His strong moral compass, grounded in his faith, has guided him to approach every interaction with empathy and respect, positively impacting those around him. Helms consistently demonstrates thoughtfulness and generosity at school and in the community.

Helms is on the SPHS varsity basketball team, and in a recommendation letter, Coach Chris Laatsch says he is a servant leader with integrity, compassion, and selflessness. He doesn't hesitate to address needs or lend a helping hand, and his dedication to serving others sets him apart and reflects a perspective that many adults aspire to emulate. Laatsch says Helm’s humility, work ethic, and commitment to teamwork have earned him the admiration of his coaches, teachers, and fellow students.

Helms said, “It was definitely a surprise to win the award. Thank you so much; it means a lot. I’m very excited. We have a lot of high-character students in this school, and any one of them could have been selected for this honor. I’m happy that everyone sees me as a high-character person who serves others. That’s one thing I harp on a lot, serving others.”

There were 39 senior nominees at HHS and 32 at SPHS for the 2024 Finley Award. The Finley Committee selected a senior winner from the list of nominees from each high school. There are also Finley Character Award grade-level winners at each Hoover City School! 

The 29th annual Finley Awards Recognition Program is Thursday, March 21, at 6:00 pm at the Finley Center, honoring all nominees and grade-level winners throughout Hoover City Schools.

About the Finley Committee

The Finley Award Committee for Character Education was established in 1996. The committee hosts events throughout the year to recognize students and teachers who exhibit exceptional character in the spirit of Coach Bob Finley — the committee’s namesake. Longtime coach and educator at W.A. Berry High School, Finley led by example and was known for his calm demeanor, integrity, and strong faith.