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The Finley Committee Names 2023 Finley Character Award Winners

March 3, 2023

(Hoover, AL) - The Finley Committee has announced the 2023 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.  

Jenny Smith is the 2023 Finley Character Award faculty winner. Smith is a Kindergarten teacher of 16 years at Green Valley Elementary School (GVES), and the Finley Committee received several nominations for Smith. Her colleague of eight years, Katelyn Schillaci, says Smith is dedicated not only to her students and parents but also to her Kindergarten team at GVES. She’s known for putting others before herself. She is always willing to help someone in any way– inside and outside of the school. Schillaci says Smith was the “missing puzzle piece” to the Kindergarten team at GVES that no one knew they needed. Smith is the person everyone turns to for advice and guidance. In her recommendation letters, she is described as an excellent, caring, and loving teacher with an outstanding character who everyone adores. Smith has a purpose in everything she does and is intentional about making time for her loved ones and students. 

On Friday, February 24, 2023, the Finley Committee and HCS leaders surprised Smith at GVES by announcing that she was the 2023 Finley Award recipient! Smith is also a foster parent of 10 years, and two (2) of her former foster children were there to congratulate her. She has fostered dozens of children over the years and remains in contact with the children no longer in her home. Her current and former foster children all call her “Mommy Jenny.”

“It’s such a huge honor,” said Smith. “I’ve been here for 16 years and seen all of the students and staff members who have won the Finley Award over those years and have been impressed by their stories and character traits, so I know what a huge honor it is for this school district. Knowing how many wonderful and deserving people there are in this school district and being the one selected is unbelievable. For me to be chosen to represent Hoover this year is just amazing.”

Kenneth "KJ" Law, Jr. is the Hoover High School 2023 Finley Character Award senior winner. In his recommendation letters, Law is described as a well-rounded student everyone loves and looks up to in many ways. His business teacher, Becca Mercer, says she credits much of the classroom environment to Law’s positive example in how he leads his classmates to act considerately and respectfully. Teachers and coaches who nominated him say he is not the average student. Like Coach Finley, Law is incredibly dedicated to Hoover and exemplifies everything great about high school student-athletes. He is a multisport student-athlete whose teammates turn to for guidance and leadership. His teachers say he has succeeded because of his impeccable character, integrity, maturity, humility, and work ethic.  

Law values education and understands that learning is life-long, whether in the classroom, the athletic field, or the place of worship, and he is committed to being a positive role model for others. He played football and baseball all four years at Hoover High School (HHS) and has participated in the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, Hoover's Business Academy, and the National Business Honor Society. He is also an active member of the Youth Usher Board at New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bessemer. Upon graduation, Law plans to attend Tuskegee University to major in Business Administration while playing football for the Golden Tigers!

Law said, “This means a lot to me. I was shocked because there are a lot of great people here, my peers, who have great character. So I was definitely surprised, but I’m very excited to be selected. I could tell it meant a lot to others because they came up to congratulate me and were almost crying. That shows me how big this award is for me.”

Rayshod Burts is the Spain Park High School 2023 Finley Character Award senior winner.  In his recommendation letters, Burts is described as a selfless servant leader with a big heart and the perfect example of what a student leader should be. He is described as an individual who embodies exceptional character, discipline, and integrity. His coaches say Burts has a “lunch-pail mentality,” a smile on his face every day, a great work ethic, and a humble attitude. His teachers say Burts acts with generosity and compassion and is well-respected by his peers and teachers. Those who nominated Burts say he is considered the ideal candidate for the Finley Award because he embodies the spirit of what the award represents as a student-athlete and in the community. 

As a Spain Park High School (SPHS) varsity football team member, he mentored young athletes and developed big-brother relationships with aspiring players. Burts was known to take time, listen to the young athletes, and give advice about overcoming challenges. His coaches say he demonstrates high standards on and off the field and takes pride in helping others raise their level of effort to meet expectations. He has a quiet leadership style that inspires others to be better.

Burts is also a 7A state champion wrestler for SPHS and a member of the Fire and Emergency Services Academy at the Riverchase Career Connection Center or RC3. Head wrestling Coach Ryan Thompson says Burts loves people and his teammates and is always supportive. Thompson says Burts can sense when people need help. 

Burts is still deciding his plans after graduation. He says he’ll either attend Jefferson State Community College in the fall to study for his Associate of Science in Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) - Paramedic and then become a firefighter or attend college to continue succeeding in wrestling. 

Burts said, “Thank you to everyone because this is a real honor, and I’m very proud. I knew I positively impacted people, but I didn’t think I would win the Finley Award because there are so many in our class with great character. It feels good to get this award that represents Coach Finley. The past four years at Spain Park High School have been a journey, and I’ve grown and learned so much. It’s all about being humble. Pray, stay positive, and have a good attitude. There’s no need to be negative.”

There were 35 senior nominees at HHS and 28 at SPHS for the 2023 Finley Award. The Finley Committee selected a senior winner from each high school from the list of nominees. There are also Finley Character Award grade-level winners at each Hoover City School! 

The 28th annual Finley Awards Recognition Program is Thursday, March 23, 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 created 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.