- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

Scholarships aren’t just for valedictorians and football stars anymore. They’re for duck callers, llama advocates and aspiring winemakers, too.

With tuition costs rising each year, it is becoming more important for college-bound students to explore scholarship opportunities — even if they didn’t make straight A’s or the varsity basketball team.

“I would strongly recommend students conduct scholarship searches,” said Larry Gerber, vice president of scholarships.com, a Web site that features links to scholarships for various groups, from triplets to left-handed people.

“Even if they don’t think they have the academic credentials, they may be involved in organizations — 4-H, for example; maybe a viola player; or a member of a certain ethnicity,” Mr. Gerber said. “Many scholarships are based on those demographic criteria and not academic criteria.”

Indeed, students can find scholarships based on talents other than academics or athletics — such as the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest scholarship, which has existed since 1974. This year’s contest will be held Nov. 27 as part of the Stuttgart, Ark., annual duck festival.

“We sort of say we’re the mecca of the duck hunting world, and it’s great to support the sport of duck hunting and people who participate in it and promote it to the younger people that are involved in the sport,” said Stephen Bell, executive vice president of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the scholarship.

Last year’s winner, Jesse Headid from Elkhorn, Neb., regularly travels to duck-calling contests across the country. He drove 12 hours to get to the scholarship contest.

“It wasn’t a very fun drive, but it was all worth it in the end,” he said. “Why not blow a duck call to win $2,000 for college?”

Mr. Headid said he will use the money to help pay for his freshman year at Northwest Missouri State University this fall.

Other odd scholarships, such as the Michigan Llama Association Scholarship, do take a student’s grade-point average into account, but only minimally. Recipients of one of the association’s two $500 scholarships must be members of the group, or have family members who are.

Association President Patti Biernbaum said the main consideration when choosing scholarship recipients is the candidate’s role in the “llama community,” such as involvement in a 4-H Club, attending llama shows or using their llamas for “pet therapy.”

“We have students who take the llamas to an adult facility to interact with the residents, just like people take dogs,” Mrs. Biernbaum said. “Llamas tend to be very regal, and they seem to know when people need them to be relaxed, so they’re very therapeutic, very fun to pet and kiss.”

While scholarships such as these are based on students’ interests prior to college, others depend on students’ plans when they get there.

The American Society for Enology and Viticulture awards scholarships of up to $60,000 to students studying some aspect of winemaking at an accredited four-year program in North America. Applicants must have reached at least their junior year of college and have a minimum 3.0 GPA, or 3.2 for graduate students.

“This is still a growing industry, and it is a global industry,” said Muriel Miller, spokeswoman for the society. “We want to nurture some of these students that are up and coming.”

The deadline for the next round of wine scholarships is March 10.

No matter how strange any scholarship seems, John Dyer, last year’s winner of the Duck brand duct tape “Stuck at Prom” scholarship contest, said it’s worth applying. The “Stuck at Prom” contest awards $3,000 each to the two students who design and wear the best outfit made of duct tape to their prom, as well as $3,000 to the school sponsoring the dance. This year’s winning entry had a peacock theme.

“Just go out there and look for some of the quirky scholarships online,” Mr. Dyer said. “Go on there, and put your best into it. It might turn out really well.”

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