Each year, the Minnesota State High School League recognizes outstanding high school seniors who have excelled in the classroom, in athletics and in the fine arts. The annual acknowledgments are meant to elevate academic standards, create a greater awareness of league-sponsored activities and their values and provide member schools the opportunity to participate in a statewide program that supports, promotes and recognizes academic and extra-curricular achievements.
Each member school is allowed one female and one male recipient. This year, Kelli Van Leeuwe and Eli Louwagie were winners of the Academics, Arts and Athletics (Triple "A") award at Marshall High School.
"I think it's really cool," VanLeeuwe said. "A teacher had to nominate me, and after that, we met with all the nominees and we got the application on the website. I had to fill it out and turn it in. I like being nominated from our school and representing what we are from here in Marshall."
Photos by Jenny Kirk
Eli Louwagie, left, and Kelli VanLeeuwe are the 2012 Triple “A” (academics, arts and athletics) award winners for Marshall High School and are now eligible nominees for the state level. In addition to excelling academically, both students are involved in a multitude of activities.
As Triple "A" winners, VanLeeuwe and Louwagie will be attending the 2012 Triple "A" banquet Sunday at Gustavus Adolphus College.
"I think they hand out the state title at the banquet," VanLeeuwe said. "I'm excited for it. It'll be fun."
Louwagie said he was happy to receive the award and is also looking forward to attending the honor banquet.
"I'll show up, talk to a lot of people and eat," he said. "We wrote essays for the Triple 'A' contest, and I guess they're going to read excerpts from our essays. I'm proud to represent our school."
To be eligible for the Academics, Arts and Athletics award, a student is required to be a high school senior, have a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average, participate in MSHSL athletics and fine arts activities, comply with the league's student code of conduct and submit a completed application form to the administrative region secretary by the deadline.
According to the MSHSL, the ideal Triple "A" recipient is "one who has achieved academic excellence and, at the same time, put forth the time and effort to participate in a League-sponsored athletic program and a fine arts activity." Louwagie and VanLeeuwe certainly qualify.
"I prefer to stay busy," Louwagie said about his high school career.
In addition to being a member of the varsity track and field team, Louwagie has participated in football since fifth grade and wrestling since second grade. As a nose guard and defensive linesman, Louwagie helped make the 2011 football season memorable, though he recently had surgery on his hand, forcing him to sit out of wrestling, where he's a team captain and the lone senior.
"I snapped a tendon," he said. "I hurt it in football this year, but I waited a while to have surgery because I wanted to finish the season."
The Tiger football team went undefeated in regular season action this past year, winning the Southwest Conference title. After crushing Mankato East in Section 2AAAA playoffs, Marshall fell to Hutchinson.
"Athletics is about dedication," Louwagie said. "You put a lot of time in for sports. You learn to work hard, to work with people. That helps a lot. I like developing teamwork, working with people the most."
VanLeeuwe has also been very active in athletics during her high school career. In addition to competing in cross country for three seasons, she has been involved with fast-pitch softball since seventh grade and basketball since fifth grade.
"Basketball is my main sport and that's what we're in right now," she said. "I feel like it's not only a way to stay in shape, but it gives you a way to bond with your teammates and build relationships in high school."
As a guard, VanLeeuwe has helped the Tiger girls basketball team win the Southwest Conference title with a 12-0 record. Marshall is currently 18-5 overall.
Both award winners believe that a strong academic background will be crucial to their future success.
"I feel like academics is the most important of the three, in that, with my education, it's going to prepare me for getting a job later," VanLeeuwe said. "I'm looking at going to Augustana or Winona State, so college is in my future."
Academics are also extremely important to Louwagie.
"Academically, I just try to do as well as I can," he said. "I think it'll help me prepare for my future. I've put a lot of time in and I've tried to take tough classes. I think I'm going to go to Augustana next year, for pre-med."
Another hand surgery is in Louwagie's near future, but he doesn't let the injury keep him from playing the baritone in band.
"I've done music my whole life," he said. "It's more of a release or an expression. It's relaxing."
Louwagie has been involved in band since fifth grade and has participated in jazz band and marching band this year. He's currently in the process of auditioning for the concert band at Augustana College.
VanLeeuwe has also participated in band since fifth grade, playing the alto sax.
"I never really thought I'd do marching band, but then I met Mr. (Wayne) Ivers and he convinced me to come and join," she said. "I got into marching band, and I like it."
VanLeeuwe is also involved in other activities such as student council, National Honor Society and Ambassadors. Louwagie has been a student Rotarian and is involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.