Calley Thompson

The personal attributes we celebrate tell us a lot about our culture.

Or lack of.

A kid with a jump shot is front-page news in Louisville.

A kid who’s a great violinist or a budding technology wizard toils in anonymity.

Recently, Ange McClure at Louisville Collegiate School sent IL a news release about Calley Thompson, a senior who just earned a perfect ACT score of 36.

I wondered, “How often do kids ace the ACT or SAT?”

I made a couple of calls, and the answer was, “Not often.” The educators I know said perhaps a handful – some years none – of Louisville’s 40,000 or so high schoolers, public and private, record a perfect score.

The ACT, key to getting into top colleges, includes English, math, reading and science, with an optional essay section.

On average, less than one-tenth of one percent of test takers scores a perfect 36, according to the Collegiate release.

Which makes Calley’s 36 even more remarkable. That, and she’s a well-rounded person, who participates in Science Olympiad, Quick Recall and plays goalie on the Collegiate field hockey team.

That well-rounded student with a perfect ACT score has her pick of top colleges.

I’m not a sports person (to say the least), so I was amazed to learn recently there is a sports subculture of basketball fans who spend their off hours trading rumors about elementary and middle school kids who might have the potential to someday play for Coach Pitino or Coach Cal. (I apologize if I have the wrong names for these gentlemen.)

What you’ll never hear is a WHAS Radio call-in show dedicated to listeners trading rumors that the next Stephen Hawking or Steven Jobs might be at this very moment acing a calculus test at Collegiate.

The funny thing is, I find the school systems are reluctant to indulge their intellectuals in the way they’re so fast to tout their athletes.

When I tried to pry the names of top students out of administrators, the silence was deafening.

“Well, we don’t really single out individual students.”

Right, then.

This is an especially personal issue for me because my daughter Lucy attends Youth Performing Arts School. Playing in the YPAS orchestra are musicians so exceptional that this weekend, the upper school orchestra was one of three chosen to attend a special event in Indianapolis.

Music For All is a national musical festival that draws top talent from bands, orchestras and percussion ensembles from across the United States. The event this weekend included only three high school orchestras, one of which was the YPAS Philharmonia. The rest were college students.

Larry Livingston, a professor at the University of Southern California who has a reputation as one of the top music educators in the United States, told the YPAS musicians they have exceptional talent, missing only the tiny nuances: “Like being all dressed up, but missing the corsage. All you lack is the flower.”

Livingston pronounced them one of the better high school orchestras he’s ever heard after they got three standing ovations yesterday.

I’m not naive enough to think classical-music happenings would trump the big game this weekend on the front page of the newspaper, or earn the YPAS feat any mention at all.

But there is something I can do … with your help.

We’ve compiled a number of lists of Louisville’s adult movers and shakers.

Help me pull together a list of Louisville’s top student non-sports stars. The musicians, artists, mathematicians, inventors, science whizzes, writers, videographers and young entrepreneurs.

This is my quick initial sample list so you know where we’re going:

Price McGuffy, Youth Performing Arts percussionist who had three solos at Music for All.

Calley Thompson, a Collegiate senior who just earned a perfect ACT score of 36. In addition to being a great student, Calley plays on the Collegiate field hockey team.

Jonathan Yee, violinist, who mastered the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, First Movement in a YPAS concert late last year. The Tchaikovsky concerto is considered one of the most technically demanding pieces for violin. Jonathan plans to be a physician.

BiWei Chen, first chair flute in the Louisville Youth Symphony Orchestra, a remarkable feat since she’s just a sophomore.

Send your nominations directly to me at: [email protected]

This may not go anywhere, so I’ll keep compiling an initial student-achievers list we’ll run later this spring.

Just so you know, this effort isn’t about denigrating sports fandom.

Sports must be important because it’s the only thing anyone seems to talk about around here.

That said, the academic world is becoming just as competitive as the sports world, with top colleges such as Duke University talent spotting middle-schoolers, middle-schoolers who are taking the ACT at 12 years old.

With the exception of people such as Junior Bridgeman, athletes – even great ones – tend to come and go without adding much to the long-term economic vitality of a city.

Without a culture that values intellectual prowess, Louisville is going to be hard pressed to compete for the classical musicians, screenwriters, directors, scientists, professors, marketing geniuses, CEOs, deal makers and technology innovators these young talents are destined to become. Talent every city needs.

It makes everyone feel good when the University of Louisville has a great team.

It will make everyone richer when Louisville becomes a Mecca of intellectual accomplishment.