by Mark Brock
History was made at the DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA) this year as senior Jande` Pierce became the first known student from the school to sign an athletic scholarship.
Pierce recently moved to Tallahassee, Fla., where she will be on a track scholarship at Florida State University.
Unlike 19 other DeKalb public schools, DSA does not field athletic teams.
Pierce, who grew up in the Stephenson district, started running track in the county recreation programs as a 9-year-old and continued to compete in the summer programs as she enrolled in DSA Elementary and was later accepted into DSA High School.
Running in only four or five track meets each summer and excelling on the USA Track and Field circuit got Pierce recognition from college coaches across the country. Balancing her training and schedule at DSA was not easy.
“I’ve been running track since I was 9 years old and made the USA Track and Field Nationals when I was 10,” said Pierce. “Keeping up with training and schoolwork was tough at DSA. I might have two rehearsals after school, take off to track practice and back to another rehearsal. It was a matter of balance in time management and making sacrifices.”
DSA Principal Susan McCauley watched Pierce juggle her two loves for five years while becoming an honor graduate with a 3.90-plus GPA and gaining national recognition to become a highly recruited track athlete.
“She was very active in both drama and dance at DSA,” said McCauley. “DSA is unique in that we don’t offer athletics. Her parents (Gary and Toni Pierce) nurtured her talent in the summer with very little impact on academics during the school year.”
Pierce was the lead vocalist in the jazz group at DSA and a member of the DSA tour group Highleite.
“Jande` is very driven to do the very best she can in whatever she is involved in at the time,” McCauley said. “She has a lot of energy and an amazingly powerful voice for her size. She is also very hard on herself when she thinks she hasn’t performed at the level she should.”
Pierce’s work ethic enabled her to balance her DSA schedule and take advantage of her limited training time. She has been nationally ranked in the top eight since 2003 in both the 200 and 400 meters. She placed third in the nation in the 400 in 2005 as a 12-year-old and fourth in the 200 in 2010. She was also a candidate for the USA World Youth Team in 2009.
“Her talent is a gift from God and I want her to always remember it,” said her father, Gary “Pearl” Pierce. “I’m proud she realizes that is where she gets it. She was also fortunate to have a coach in Louscelle Lewis that was able to get the best out of her in such a short training time to prepare for her meets.”
Gary Pierce recognizes how much tougher it was for his daughter to train while attending DSA instead of a regular high school.
“When you are in a regular high school you have a set schedule and offseason training, but we had to squeeze that training in between rehearsals while also getting her from point A to point B,” said Gary Pierce. “She would go into these summer meets competing against other high school athletes who are peaking after their high school seasons. Her being able to get in good enough shape to compete at a high level helped her get recognized by college coaches who really did not know anything about her since she was not listed as participating in any state meets.”
Recognition came quickly as she was noticed at regional meets in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and in national meets as far away as Los Angeles. Pierce won state and regional titles and placed high at national meets, which caught the attention of coaches from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida Atlantic, Central Florida, Clemson, Stanford and Florida State.
“I got to take five official visits and though I thought Florida State might be too close to home, a New Horizon teammate and now my college roommate convinced me to take a visit,” Jande` said. “I had been to Clemson and when I got to Florida State I fell in love with it. They had real performing arts programs and good academics, as well as a top-10-ranked track program. The coaches and everyone made it feel homey and just treated me so well.”
The honor student is set to major in political science with a minor in business, but still has an eye on her love of performing arts as well as the possibility of becoming an agent in the athletic or music industries.