Every year, the Minnesota State High School League recognizes outstanding high school seniors who have excelled in academics, fine arts and athletics (Triple "A"). Those high-achieving Triple "A" winners are typically among the most respected and well-rounded students in their class, and Marshall High School's Triple "A" winners - Austin Saugstad and Abby Surprenant - are no exception.
"We had a lot of nominees, so we had a lot of good options to choose from," MHS activities director Bruce Remme said. "We had 16 names submitted between the boys and the girls. We had a lot of good kids."
Remme pointed out that coaches, advisers and directors are asked to nominate anyone who they believe fits the criteria for the Triple "A" Award.
According to the MSHSL criteria, eligible seniors must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, participate in league-sponsored athletics and fine arts activities, comply with the MSHSL's Student Code of Conduct, complete the application form and submit it to the league by the deadline.
Then, districts determine who receives the Triple "A" Award. Two qualifying recipients are allowed per district, one male and one female.
At MHS, an activities leadership team is charged with awarding the honor to two students.
"We have a group of eight different coaches and directors who were selected by their peers to be part of the team," Remme said. "They select the winners."
A Triple "A" Award Recognition Ceremony is scheduled to be in conjunction with the Boys' State Basketball Tournament in March, with the top two award finishers from each region being invited to the banquet. MSHSL officials will announce the four Triple "A" Award recipients - a girl and a boy from both a Class A and a Class AA school - at the banquet. The four students will also be awarded a four-year $1,000 scholarship.
Surprenant said she was excited Wednesday morning when she found out she was chosen as the district's Triple "A" representative.
"It's definitely a big honor," she said.
During the course of her high school career, Surprenant has enjoyed being part of numerous activities, including swimming, speech, Ambassadors, student council, Peer Helpers and she was also a student Rotarian.
"The activities I've been involved in have given me the opportunity to form lasting friendships," Surprenant said. "I also think being busy and being in a lot of activities has been the best for me. It teaches me time management and how to utilize the free time I do have."
This past November, Surprenant was part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team that finished ninth at the 2012 State Swimming and Diving Meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. Surprenant, McKenzie Vermeire, Kylie Vermeire and Ashley Dunn recorded a 3:42.59 to win the consolation heat.
Currently, Surprenant is keeping busy with speech activities.
"I like the opportunity speech gives high school and college students to craft an argument and to really give a message every time you speak," she said. "I see it as a very meaningful activity."
But Surprenant isn't just passionate about speech, she's also excelled. Since the start of the speech season, Surprenant has been ranked No. 1 nationally in original oratory, though she refuses to toot her own horn.
"It's a good honor, but speech is so subjective," Surprenant said. "I don't think it's the same as being ranked number one as a track athlete with the fastest time. It's more about whether or not the judges like you. But there is an extra motivation there to do well."
This past April, Surprenant earned second place at the state speech meet. In June, she also competed at the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions in San Francisco, Calif. Surprenant said she also plans to compete in speech after high school.
"I personally know for sure that I'm doing speech in college," she said. "I'm down to my top two schools but undecided as far as a major."
While she had a tough act to follow, since her older sister Jenna also excelled in speech at MHS and was a collegiate national champion in 2011, Surprenant said she didn't really feel pressured to pursue speech.
"I think Jenna being in speech in high school is what got me into it, but the fact that she carried it into college didn't pressure me at all," Surprenant said. "It's something that I kind of fell in love with in high school, so I just knew I wanted to do it in college."
But for now, Surprenant is just concentrating on her last few months of her senior year. Earning the award, she said, implies that people do likely see her as a role model and that she needs to continue making good decisions.
"It's a nice recognition," Surprenant said. "I don't think it's necessarily going to change what I've been doing, but it is a nice reminder that people do look up to me and stuff."
Saugstad said he thought it was "really cool" to receive the Triple "A" honor.
"You put in a lot of time, doing activities and working on your grades, so it really meant a lot," he said.
Throughout high school, Saugstad has been part of a number of activities, including football, basketball, baseball, band, marching band, Ambassadors and National Honor Society. He said he likes keeping busy.
"Being in so many activities, it's kind of a motivator to keep your grades up and do well in school," Saugstad said. "If you're not doing those things first, then you can't do the activities. And through the activities, those are kind of a way to get a little bit of a relief from school, do some different things and be with some friends that maybe you don't get to see throughout the day."
Together with Surprenant, Saugstad was a student Rotarian, speaking twice at Rotary Club meetings.
"The first time we went, we talked about something the Rotary was doing, one of their activities that they were doing," he said. "The next time we went, we talked more about ourselves and our personal involvement in high school activities."
Currently, Saugstad is keeping active on the basketball court, where he's third on the team with a 12.1 point average, is tied for the lead with 33 assists and has tallied a team-high 27 steals so far this season. Saugstad is also 34-for-44 at the free-throw line, recording a 77.2 shooting percentage for the Tigers, who are currently 11-2.
In addition to being a part of the MHS football team, which went 9-1 the last two seasons, Saugstad was also on the MHS basketball team that advanced to the state tournament in 2010-11. He said he's hoping to continue that success into college.
"I've kind of narrowed it down to two schools," Saugstad said. "I'll either play football or basketball. Right now, it's one sport at one school or the other sport at the other school."
As far as a major, Saugstad said he's looking at going into pre-med.
"I've always liked the challenge of taking tough classes and pushing myself to be the best athlete I can be," he said. "And I like the science and anatomy-type stuff."
Receiving an award of this magnitude does have somewhat of a residual effect when it comes to being a positive role model, Saugstad said. But like Surprenant, he said he is up for the challenge.
"It is a nice honor," Saugstad said. "You realize you're being recognized and people are seeing how active you are and how you're excelling in what you're doing. It does also set a standard, so you want to continue to do well. When you receive an award like this, it sets some expectations, at least for the rest of the senior year."