"Freddy! Freddy! Freddy!"

The chants of some 800 Dalton Public Schools teachers and staff filled the Wink Theatre downtown Thursday morning as Morris Innovative High School's Freddy Fuentes was named as the school system's Teacher of the Year.

"There are so many awesome teachers here in Dalton, not just here on the front row (where the Teachers of the Year from the system's nine schools sat)," said Fuentes, who is also Morris Innovative's Teacher of the Year. "But throughout this auditorium. I didn't think they would call my name. But when they did I was like 'Whoo, I got it! I got it!.'"

Fuentes, who teaches math, says he loves coming to work every day.

"I have the greatest job in the world," he said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store."

Morris Innovative High School Principal Pat Hunt said Fuentes has a great rapport with his students.

"They respect him because he respects them," she said. "He expects nothing but the best from them. He is a rock star in the classroom. He makes the kids want to do their best."

Fuentes is entering his third year at Morris Innovative High School and in Dalton Public Schools. But he has been in teaching for almost 40 years, most recently as a professor of math education at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. And before that he was a principal at schools in Texas, Minnesota and Connecticut.

"He wanted to get back into the classroom so he could affect kids more, and we are very happy he came to Dalton, and I'm happy he came to Morris Innovative," said Hunt. "He has been an absolute blessing to our students."

Fuentes received a one-year lease for a 2019 Ford Escape from Ford of Dalton.

"My mother was a teacher," said Ford of Dalton owner Jason Denson. "And I know how important the job is that each and every person in this auditorium does."

The other teachers of the year are:

• Blue Ridge School: Sherry Brannen

• Brookwood School: Cheryl Weaver

• City Park School: Nikki Byrd

• Dalton High School: Evangeline Starks

• Dalton Middle School: Beth Sams

• Park Creek School: Ashley Brindle

• Roan School: Ami Amaro

• Westwood School: Suzy Thomas

Sams was runner-up for system Teacher of the Year.

Last year's Teacher of the Year, Westwood School's LeLe Dean also spoke, saying the moment her name was announced was one she would never forget.

World-ranked triathlete Shay Eskew was the speaker for the event. Eskew was accidentally set on fire by another child when he was 8 and suffered burns to 35 percent of his body. He would undergo 35 surgeries as a result. The burns and the surgeries to remove tissue from the rest of his body for skin grafts have left him with scars over 65 percent of his body.

"The doctors told my parents that I would be fortunate just to walk again and would never be able to play sports," he said. "But within four months of being released from the hospital, I was playing baseball."

Eskew said at that time he could not raise one arm over his head because his upper arm had basically "melted" onto his torso, so his coach, who was his father, put him at second base so he could throw the ball sidearm to first. It would be another three years and multiple surgeries before he would raise that arm over his head.

In high school he placed twice in the Georgia state high school wrestling championship and was a member of four state championship teams. In college, he was undefeated as a boxer. But it is as a triathlete that he has really made his mark. He has competed in more than 70 triathlons, including 10 world championships, and is ranked in the top 1 percent of triathletes in the world.

"Life isn't fair," Eskew said. "Everyone has obstacles to overcome, and I'm sure that there are people who have faced greater obstacles than I have. I've learned you can't control what happens to you. But you can control how you deal with it."

Students return to classes at Dalton Public Schools on Wednesday.

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