Airline's Madison Rowland develops 'poker face'

Jimmy Watson

As Madison Rowland moves about the Airline High School campus, the whispers from some members of the student body about who she is go almost unnoticed as she heads to another Advanced Placement class.

Probable valedictorian, standout on the basketball/softball teams, member of the Airline homecoming court, avid deer hunter — all of those elements define Madison Rowland. But what characterizes the senior more emphatically is her role as the daughter of Airline principal Jason Rowland.

Having endured the rigors of being a teenager with judgmental eyes directed her way for the past four years, Rowland has learned to smile at the whispers and rise above the petty talk that some teenagers can dish out. She developed a poker face, used on and off the court, but more on that later.

"I know some people are my friends because of my dad. They're real nice at certain times because they have something coming up," Rowland said. "But it's held me to a higher standard than other kids, because if something goes wrong with me, everybody looks at him. I've had to make sure I've been the person he would want me to be.

"But we've kind of figured it over the last four years," she added chuckling.

After being selected a freshman class favorite four years ago, a competitor for the same honor the following year spread the word that Rowland only received the honor "because of who her father was." Rowland didn't receive the recognition that year, but neither did her mouthy opponent. She's occasionally been the brunt of teenager sniping due to the decisions of her father. Madison was treated badly by some upper classmen a couple of years ago because of an unpopular mandate from the principal.

"She came home crying after that one," mother Marla said. "I've told her to control the things she can control. I've never heard anyone directly say something negative about her, but things get back to you. With God's love she has been able to be bigger, not bitter. We know the truth. We have seen her stay up until 1 a.m. doing homework because she had a game that day and she wanted to maintain her 4.0."

Competitive in the classroom

But those were among the few low points of Rowland's high school career, marked with a multitude of achievements due to her innate drive rather than to who her father is. She was recently voted Most Likely to Succeed by her classmates. She has posted straight As for 13 consecutive years and was recently one of four students in the running for Airline Student of the Year, along with Peyton Coker (headed to La. Tech), son of Viking athletic director Ronnie Coker, Jake Engelke (West Point) and Abhi Shah (MIT), who won the award. Rowland, who is frustrated about "only" scoring a 29 on the ACT in three attempts, is headed to Northwestern State to study biology before heading to physical therapy school.

"She is just as competitive academically as she is athletically. She gets that from her dad, who played for Don Stahl at Sibley," Airline basketball coach David Duhon said.

She chose NSU in part so she can have a day excursion to see sister Rheagan, an Airline sophomore, and dine on her mom's chicken pot pie, her favorite dish. Marla Rowland, who teaches fifth graders at W.T. Lewis, also gets credit for the competitive nature, according to Madison. Marla Rowland played basketball in Newport, Arkansas, but unlike her daughter, only got on the court when the team "was way ahead or way behind." She said it's frustrating for Madison at times being a principal's daughter.

"Sometimes she wonders why we can't just be a normal family," Marla Rowland said. "But I think being a principal's child has prepared her better for college life because she's had to work harder. She developed a great work ethic."

Jason Rowland said his job has had little to do with what his daughter has been able to accomplish.

"She has handled all of that as well as anybody could handle all the things that go along with being a principal's child," he said. "She's found her own way and she was pointed in the things she wanted to accomplish."

That includes teaching herself to play the guitar right handed, even though she does everything else, including shoot the basketball and bat, left-handed. She can pick up and play just about any song by ear, including "Mary Did You Know" at her father's request during Christmas.

Jason Rowland found a way to handle having two daughters under his purview at the school on Viking Drive, knowing it wouldn't be easy for them.

"When I got the job at Airline, I told the board that I would not treat my child like everyone else's, but I would treat everybody else's child like my child," he said. "We made a decision that coaches would coach Madison and I would be a dad."

Active in Cypress Baptist Church, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, BETA Club and Bossier Youth Leadership, Madison is a quiet assassin on the basketball court. When left alone on the perimeter and the ball rotates into her hands, you can hear coaches screaming "shooter, shooter." She dropped in seven 3-pointers in a 23-point effort against Green Oaks in a recent "Doc" Edwards Invitational contest and was named to the all-tournament team.

Madison usually knows where her father sits in the stands but has learned to tune him out.

"It's hard sometimes, especially with him being my biggest fan, one of my biggest critics, my coach," said Madison, who likes Carrie Underwood, Hank Williams Jr., Poison and AC/DC. "It's been hard not to listen to what he says and just listen to coach Duhon."

Madison is also prolific on the deer stand, having harvested about 16 deer, including a massive 8-point, over the course of her life, while hunting with the principal.

"I like hunting with my dad," she said. "I'm usually somewhere right down the road from him. I usually get two or three a year."

She dropped a 7-point and a raccoon on Thanksgiving eve. Since she doesn't eat venison, the meat is given to a janitor.

Balancing being a multi-sport athlete and an honor student has had its challenges with or without being the principal's daughter.

"It's been tough. I've stayed up some nights till 1, especially with all the AP classes," Madison said. "People think I've tried to keep my grades because of him, but that's not true. That's something within myself. I've met my goals so far. Hopefully, I can finish this next semester and be the valedictorian."

"A true teammate''

Basketball teammate Kei McCoy, headed to the Air Force Academy, has been friends with Rowland since middle school and the goofy duo room together on road trips.

"Madi's an awesome leader. When I'm down, she picks me up. She's a good person and she always gets people together," said McCoy who indicated Duhon can be tough on the principal's daughter. "Coach Duhon treats her pretty much the same, but there have been times when he has been tougher on her when we're running in practice. But we know it's nothing personal. Nobody pays much attention to it."

Benton's Sammy Jo Maranto, who played travel softball with Rowland, said the first baseman always had her back when she made a bad throw.

"If you were to define a true teammate or sister, it would be Madison Rowland," Maranto said. "She is a very supportive friend who I will never forget as we go off to college."

Duhon has walked the fine line of coaching a principal's daughter more than once during his 20-plus years on Viking drive. He coached Bossier Parish school superintendent D.C. Machen's daughter, Leigh, when Machen was Airline's principal. His longtime friendship with Rowland and Madison's ability on the court has helped the latest challenge run smooth.

"Jason and I were friends due to our faith and the spiritual goals we have in life before Madison ever came to school here," Duhon said. "It starts with the fact that Madison can play — people have to account for her on the court. I'm sure there are times when he doesn't agree with decisions I've made, but he hires people to do a job and lets them do it."

Duhon once sat Rowland out for a quarter because she was two minutes late to pregame warm-ups.

Jason Rowland said at times, he has had to bite his tongue. There were times when Madison was younger that he "would holler and yell like an idiot."

"One coach pulled her out of a game and told me he did that so I would stop yelling at her," Rowland said laughing.

Madison said she long ago learned to know where her father is in the stands, but avoids glancing his way. She was once penalized for looking up in the stands during a timeout.

"I've gotten to where I don't look at him. I'll hear him and I hear his little whistle. But for the most part any negativity he sends my way is tuned out."

Madison has learned to create a poker face on the court because she knows the public is watching how she reacts to things.

"I have to keep my cool, no matter how bad the call was — stuff like that," she said.

Although she was animated with an engaging smile during a recent interview over a trash can at the CenturyLink Center, that poker face sometimes carries over into her social life.

"There have been times when a boy has asked, 'Does she like me or not?,'" Marla Rowland said. "I usually say 'good luck with that.'"

Father and daughter have worked out their relationship over time and Madison admits she's in a different situation from the rest of the student body, even though she isn't treated differently.

"My dad makes sure I know it's not all professional. He makes sure I know he still loves me and that his job doesn't define our relationship," she said. "He's told me that if my goals don't scare me, they aren't high enough."

Twitter: @JimmyWatson6

Madison Rowland file

Secret talent: Plays guitar

New in '15: Throwing javelin in track

Road trip snack: Hot Cheetos and purple Powerade

Fav Christmas gift: Sister's Maltipoo Benny

Annoying habit: Takes everything literally

Fav food: Mom's chicken pot pie

Fav pastime: Deer hunting

College choice: NSU

Voted: Most Likely to Succeed