When Monica Gary's son William was a student at Lexington's Winburn Middle School, she said principal Tina Stevenson saw his potential.
"Instead of him succumbing to any negative influences, she encouraged him to be the leader she saw in him," said Gary.
That's why Gary nominated Stevenson to be among the nearly 150 teachers recognized Saturday by the University of Kentucky College of Education's Teachers Who Made a Difference Program.
The program, now in its 14th year, honors educators who have inspired and motivated a student to succeed.
UK women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell said he was the program's spokesman this year because he sees himself as a teacher first and a coach second. But Mitchell didn't know that he would be among those honored as a teacher who made a difference.
Mitchell was presiding over the recognition ceremony at the UK Student Center when one of his players, senior guard Keyla Snowden, walked in to surprise him, representing the team.
"He definitely helps our team by teaching us ething new every day," Snowden said in an interview after the ceremony.
The Kentucky women won the Southeastern Conference regular season title in February for the first time in 30 years. This season, the Cats also advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons before losing to Connecticut. Mitchell has a 114-56 record in five seasons at Kentucky.
"I couldn't think of receiving a greater honor than for our players to say that I was a good teacher. That was a very, very moving moment for me,'' Mitchell said in an interview. "It's very important for me to use the sport of basketball to educate them on life and to try to prepare them to go out and make a positive impact in whatever area they are passionate about."
More than 1,600 teachers have been honored since the program's inception, said UK spokeswoman Jenny Wells. The program does not select winners from a pool of nominees. Rather, UK College of Education officials created the program to provide all individuals a way to thank educators.
Stevenson, Winburn's principal for 11 years, said she was humbled by the recognition.
"I'm just doing my job. I care about the students at Winburn and love them all and treat them as if they were mine," she said.
William Gary is doing well as a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, his mother said.
"I saw a lot of potential in William even when he didn't see it in himself," Stevenson said. "My goal was to encourage him and to let him know that I love him, that the world is his and he has a bright future. And has he grown up and proven that to me. I am extremely proud of William."
Gary said Stevenson seems to take all students under her wing and encourages them to take advantage of their educations.
Stevenson said one of the ways she teaches students to succeed is to tell them, "Respect everyone ...respect is the key to success in life."
Stevenson, who grew up in Lexington, said that mantra was handed down in her family by her parents, Eugene Carter Jr. and Lillian Harbut Carter and her grandparents, including grandfather Will Harbut, who gained fame as the groom of the champion Thoroughbred Man o' War. Harbut oversaw the public's visits to the horse at Faraway Farm and told them about the horse's history.
Edward L. Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and author of a biography of Man o' War, said that "after listening to Mr. Harbut's stirring, standard narrative about Man o' War's racing days, a visiting English nobleman once remarked, 'It was worth coming halfway around the world to hear.'" Both Harbut, who was a versatile horseman, and the horse died in 1947.
Staff writer Jennifer Smith contributed to this article. Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears.