ELKO — You could say that 16-year-old Thomas C. Huckins gets to experience the best of both worlds by spending his summers in Elko with his family and his academic school year at the Missouri Military Academy, located in the town of Mexico, Missouri.
An Elko native, Huckins recently returned to the elite academy as a high school junior.
Huckins knew early on that he wanted to be in the military after seeing his grandfather’s uniform hanging up in the closet as a child. At age 11 he raised money raffling off items donated by Gun World to fund a trip to a military summer camp. After that camp he knew military school was for him.
“I like all this stuff so I want to keep with it basically,” Huckins said.
He attended local schools and worked hard to gain acceptance into the Missouri Military Academy and began attending full time four years ago, in the seventh grade. Huckins has a partial scholarship to the school based on maintaining a high grade point average and participating in athletics for the school. He plays football and wrestles, and is in the color guard and the choir.
The private military high school has an emphasis on college preparation. According to its website, the school puts a focus on academics, character development, physical fitness and leadership in a military setting.
The school offers classes that typically aren’t offered at a public high school with courses like Chinese, military education, and military-style physical fitness programs. Huckins plans to enroll in Chinese this year, but his favorite subject is math.
“Math and science are the big things because I want to be a doctor,” Huckins said.
If you ask him, attending this school is just the beginning for this focused youth who has a lot of well thought out goals.
“My top goal is to finish this school and get into Annapolis. After Annapolis I want to become an orthopedic surgeon for the Navy, and then do that for about 24 years or so, and then go into private practice,” Huckins said. “Then after private practice, do that until I can’t do it anymore, then retire up in the Black Hills in Wyoming.”
Huckins is well on his way to his goals with the full support of his family. Letting a child move away for the school year isn’t an easy thing to do, but his parents felt it was the right thing for him.
“Because ever since he could talk he wanted to be a soldier,” said his father, Thomas E. Huckins. “And of course the education at that school is over the top academic wise. I think when a kid that age wants something that bad, I just don’t know what would happen if you kept him away from it,” he added. “Academic-wise it’s huge for these kids. People look at these schools differently.”
His mother agrees that this school is a big step toward his future goals.
“I think it’s important for him to go to this school, for one, for him to follow his dream and this will help him get into Annapolis. And second of all, he’s doing what the Lord has asked him to do,” said Kimberly Huckins. She’s most proud of him for following his dream.
“Following his dream and being successful at it and not quitting until he succeeds in what he feels is his goal or even beyond his goal, and to mainly become a better leader,” Huckins said about her hopes for her son.
Another reason his parents are secure about sending him to this school is because they feel the staff is very supportive and communicates well with parents. During our interview, the athletic director of the school happened to call to make sure Huckins was returning early to school to attend a sports camp and an invitation-only leadership program. Dr. Ryan Nowlin, who is the athletic director at the Missouri Military Academy, and also Huckins’ coach, feels he will go on to accomplish great things at the school.
“As far as athletically, on the football field I look for Thomas to take all state football first team, by the time he’s a senior. And I look for him to be in the state finals and wrestle for a state championship this next season,” Nowlin said. “I expect big things for Thomas. My guess is, if I had to put money on it, I would bet he would be the battalion commander, which is the highest rank in the Academy, by the time he’s a senior in high school,” Nowlin added.
He has excelled both academically and athletically at the school, receiving many awards. Like many parents do, his Dad keeps all of his awards in a scrapbook.
“Being away from home and succeeding in some place like that is pretty amazing,” Huckins said of his son’s accomplishments.
His mother pointed out that he does not make a big deal out of recognitions.
“Whatever he accomplishes he’s so humble, it’s no big deal, it’s just an award. We have to pry it out of him, what it is,” Huckins said.
Huckins spent his summer here in Elko with his family and friends, working a summer job at NNE Construction, and keeping in shape at the University of Grappling. He’s also an avid hunter.
Although Huckins is right where he wants to be as far as meeting his educational goals, there are still things he misses when away from home.
“The thing that I miss the most is probably the athletic programs down here. And work too. I like to have money. And hunting with my Dad,” Huckins said.
Huckins expects to be home next at Christmastime. He typically comes home at Christmas and summer break, but not for spring break.
“Not at spring break. It’s not hunting season, so there’s no point in coming back,” he said.