There is something about the 21 young men and women who will be honored on at Michael’s Function Hall in Haverhill on Tuesday, April 8.
They aren’t normal.
Being a good, even very good student is one thing. Being a good, even great athlete is something else. This section of today’s newspaper — and the dinner for finalists of the third-annual Eagle-Tribune Student Athlete Award, sponsored by Commonwealth Motors in Lawrence — show how rare it is to be both.
These kids aren’t alone. There certainly are others like them in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire. Area schools were invited to nominate just one as a finalist.
Still, these student athletes are exceptional. And after reading through their questionnaires and application materials, and talking with some of the finalists, we’ve gotten a sense of what success, in its earliest form, looks like.
We asked a few personal questions — about favorite snacks and home-cooked meals, for example. Cute and interesting stuff from all of them.
Then there was the question that gets posed to a lot of celebrities, athletes and successful people: If you could go back in time and meet a younger version of yourself — in this case, the freshman version of you — what advice would you give?
We all know how hard it is to be a teenager, especially a scared one entering high school. If I could sum up what these student athletes said in a few, short thoughts, it would be:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff;
2. Forget about being too cool for school, and join a club outside of your comfort zone, with kids you don’t know; and
3. Your freshman and sophomore years count come college application time, so get off to a good start.
Said Methuen High’s Sara Fragione: “I would tell myself to try to not worry so much about the little things and grades, but instead focus on enjoying high school and trust that everything will work out. I would also tell myself to not bother dressing fancy and just start wearing the sweat pants now.”
From Haverhill High’s Claudia Miner: “I would advise myself not to worry too much. Most things have a way of working themselves out, and it doesn’t do any good to worry about things you can’t change.”
Lawrence High’s Jean Espinal maybe had the best answer of all:
“It is extremely possible for a 90-pound kid like myself during freshman year to become a four-sport athlete, maintain a higher-than-4.0 GPA, and gain a full-ride to Brown University,” he said. “Coming into freshman year, I didn’t really have the confidence in myself to attempt new things or to think that I would ever be able to achieve the things that I have achieved, but now I know better than that.”
There is another common element of every student athlete featured here: All had help.
Most mentioned parents and siblings. Some mentioned teachers who’d inspired them. A few mentioned coaches.
The point is, these student athletes did the work, but their success depended upon support from others.
Much of what you read inside these pages, written by talented young people asked to reflect upon their high school careers, probably could be uttered by every senior. Don’t be afraid. Do a good job in those early years. Find balance in your schedule, with academics as the starting point and academics close behind.
This year’s and next year’s freshmen need to hear these lessons.
We also asked all of the honorees a loaded question, about why they are luckiest kid in the world.
All had the opportunity to disagree with the premise. None did.
In fact, every one admitted it was true, that they didn’t get invited to this prestigious banquet alone.
Again, I quote Espinal:
“I grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods of Lawrence, with a family and group of friends that wanted the best for me. My first house was adjacent of Brook Street, and all I could ever remember was my mother yelling and punishing me for staying out past dark. Back then, I was confused as to why she did this. But as I grew older, I realized that she only wanted to take me away from the violence and corruption that I lived around, and put my effort into something worthwhile.”
Congratulations to the best of our best students and athletes.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.
2019 Student Athlete nominees:
"I have a wonderful family that supports me and encourages me to pursue my ambitions and become the best person I am capable of being."
" I have been given the gift of gratitude. I am so grateful for my health, my family, my scholarship ... the list is endless. I am lucky to be able to embrace what I have and never dwell in what I don’t. By doing so, I am truly happy."
"High school flies by, so enjoy it. You’ll make so many amazing new friends. Trust your judgment, be spontaneous, go out with your friends, and be smart. Driving isn’t scary. Chemistry is as bad as everyone says but the teacher is really nice."
"My positive drive helps motivate others to see the best in themselves and to never give up."
" I came out of my shell and was able to accept myself for who I am, and I learned to be myself and not scared of what others think of me."
"It was my goal since freshman year to get to 500 kills, so each season I strove to hit as many sets down as I could."
"I’m proud that I’m me. I like to set goals for myself but I never wish I were another person. I don’t feel the need to be like someone else because that would be boring; I want to learn things and grow on my own."
"And, finally, I would say to find joy in high school because it goes by in a blink of an eye and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You will never be in high school again."
"I used to allow people in my life who inhibited my growth as an individual, and once I learned that this is an unhealthy way to have friendships, I found my true friends in sports and other common interests."
"You must fully trust in yourself and your teammates in order to find true success."
"Much to my dismay, he walked toward me and said, “Are you ready?” I simply said, “No.” Needless to say, the first time I stepped onto the court for a varsity game was because my coach pulled me to the line."
"I would advise myself not to worry too much. Most things have a way of working themselves out, and it doesn’t do any good to worry about things you can’t change."
"Every year, the Lawrence High wrestling team participated in a five-mile beach run along Salisbury Beach, at a time where temperatures drop to 5 degrees or lower. Doing something like that and actually completing the run was just another reminder to me that no matter what obstacle I have, if I put my mind to it, I can overcome that."
"Halfway through the individual race at nationals my sophomore year, my very hefty hair came out of its braid. I could barely see through the mane, and right as I crossed the finish line, I tripped and fell on my face, my hair leading the way."
"If I could have dinner with any three living people it would be my sister, mom, and dad. There’s nobody in this world who I look up to more and would want to spend time with more than them. They have always been my biggest supporters and have loved me unconditionally."
"Try studying harder; you need the discipline."
"There is a time to be serious and push yourself to your limits, such as in competitive cheering, and then there is a time to have fun and enjoy showing off the nature of the sport, such as in sideline cheering for football games."
"I didn’t know what I wanted to study or where I wanted to go, and although I was OK at skiing, I still doubted my skills. Over time I slowly grew more confident in myself, and it’s crazy to see who I am now and look back at who I was then."
"Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and don’t fret when things don’t seem to go your way."
"Asking me to pick a favorite sports team is like asking me to pick a favorite parent. They’ve all taught me valuable lessons. I love the football team and the camaraderie that the sport inspires. I love grappling with someone on the mat, giving it all in a wrestling match. Track is a great way to stay in shape. All my sports have a special place in my heart."