James Burns: Cherf, Lacky winners opened every door

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

He raised the level of play, setting the bar with his heavy foot and acumen.

At times, he even put a team full of superstars and prospects on his shoulders.

Not bad for a kicker, huh?

DJ Cherf was an integral part of Merced's last two Central California Conference football titles, providing a sure and steady foot in the kicking game. But if you pin down head coach Rob Scheidt, he'll tell you the truth. The real truth.

Cherf, who also dabbles in tennis and track, is more valuable off the gridiron. His purpose much more formidable, much greater than kicking 30-yard field goals.

"If you look at DJ's high school career, it wasn't just football," Scheidt said. "It was all the things he participated in and did an excellent job at. I was fortunate and happy to be a part of his career."

Ah, yes, his career.

If high school is the hallway to life, DJ has left no door unopened.

The Merced senior has excelled in the classroom, separating himself in the world of academia the way Bernard Bolden or Stephon Mathis do on the football field.

He lugs a hefty 4.41 GPA into the final months of the year, putting him at the very front of his class.

If he was any closer to the whiteboard, he'd be teaching.

Which would be apropos.

DJ didn't just kick for the football team. He kicked his teammates' butts in study hall, too, shepherding those who got sidetracked or swamped with school work.

"We've known all along how bright and intelligent he is," Scheidt said. "He tutors our guys in math. If we have a kid having trouble in algebra and trig, I'll he honest, I'm not the best guy to go to.

"Right away, we have DJ and a few other guys take over. We're really proud of what they get done in the classroom."


Three-sport athlete.

Student body president.

No door left unopened.

Not a single one.

"I think he's one of those kids who are at peace and at home helping the community," Winton said. "I don't know what he would do if he actually had some spare time.

"He's done an outstanding job as our ASB president. He's moved that organization forward like no one else has.

"It seems like everything they've done has been top-notch. They've held fundraising events, penny wars and even raised money to help a staff member who was on leave.

"They've gone above and beyond the normal ASB things. I think that's a direct reflection of his leadership."

So is this.

Cherf was one of 10 recipients of the $1,000 A. Dale Lacky Scholarship, which is awarded to the top student-athletes -- five boys, five girls -- in the Sac-Joaquin Section.

The award is based on a student-athlete's body of work on the field and off over a four-year period.

Le Grand's Jennifer Hansen (volleyball, basketball and soccer) and Hilmar's Madison Harris (volleyball) were also awarded $1,000 scholarships, while Golden Valley's Kaitlyn Smith (water polo, swimming) was honored with a $600 scholarship.

In all, the section will hand out $34,000 in scholarships to 50 winners during a breakfast banquet at the Elkhorn Country Club in Stockton on April 21.

These are the stories not often told on these pages.

In this age of jock-and-awe journalism, about the only time athletes are celebrated for their behavior off the field is when a) they've done something terribly wrong, or b) something terrible has been committed against them.

In this case, there is nothing terrible about Cherf, Hansen, Harris, Smith or any of the 46 other Lacky winners.

They all maintain GPAs two and three and four clicks above perfection -- 4.0 or better.

Hansen, the two-time Sun-Star's Girls Basketball Player of the Year, is a three-sport athlete who manages to invest time in her church.

Harris didn't just use her hands to set volleyballs -- she also spearheaded a knitting crusade to provide underprivileged kids with scarvess and hats.

Smith hopes to save more than just goals -- she'd like to save lives someday, too.

And Cherf, well...

He's bound for the United State Air Force Academy. The sky is the limit for him. Literally.

See, nothing terrible.

Just a few student-athletes who realized the value in being a student first, an athlete second.

Just a few student-athletes who walked the hallway to life, opening up doors, sometimes just to look, discovering not just sport but a chemistry lab, a few clubs and a higher purpose.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at

A. Dale Lacky Scholarship

WHAT: The Sac-Joaquin Section will hand out $34,000 in scholarships to 50 winners during a breakfast banquet at the Elkhorn Country Club in Stockton on April 21. Lacky was a former section and CIF president. The scholarships reward a student-athlete's body of work in and out of sport over a four-year period.

LOCAL WINNERS: $1000: D.J. Cherf (Merced), Jennifer Hansen (Le Grand), Madison Harris (Hilmar); $600: Kaitlyn Smith (Golden Valley).