Yukon’s student-athlete culture is shining bright after three spring sports teams were named academic state champions.
Girls soccer, girls tennis, and girls track all secured the academic title. Tennis and track both had cumulative grade point average of 4.0, the soccer team recorded a 3.91.
Having three academic state champions in one season is something unprecedented to Athletic Director Mike Clark.
“I’ve never been in a program that has done three in one season,” he said. “I think it talks about how special our athletes are and how special our educators are and what we’re striving for. I think it says a lot about the direction that we’re going.”
The student-athlete culture lives through players like Bella Anson.
Anson, a junior on the soccer team, will finish the school year with a 4.0 GPA. She makes sure her priorities between school and sports is always met.
“School always comes first for me because you have to have the grades to be able to play,” she said.
Anson and the Millerettes finished the season with an 11-4 record and a state tournament appearance. Making time for each activity can be arduous with crowded schedules.
“It’s difficult to balance because many of the girls, we play for the high school, we play club, some of us have jobs,” Anson said. “It’s really just time management and keeping your priorities straight.”
For Yukon, having three academic state champions comes by design.
When Clark and principals interview potential coaches, the first concern is the classroom.
“When we interview coaches and we talk to principals we tell them, we feel like the best coaches make the best teachers,” Clark said. “One of the things they always accent is being a continual learner. We had a teacher coach of the year at Yukon a year ago.
“I think that says a lot about Yukon and the athletic department. We don’t ever want to be unbalanced.”
Clark has first-hand experience on the impact coaches have on academic development.
“As a former athlete, you look up to your coaches,” Clark said. “You start mimicking what they do. That’s one thing we tell coaches, these kids are smart. They’re going to see through you. If you’re preaching one thing and doing something else, they’re not going to buy in.
“If you’ve got a coaches like (Steve) Scott, (Dick) Villaflor, (Rodney) Zimmerman, the kids see them. They are honestly preaching academics and athletics. If they’re not, the kids are going to see through them.”
Track is in a different boat than most. Claiming academic state champion honors becomes more difficult with a large number of athletes on the roster.
The Millerettes managed to have 18 of their athletes finish with a 4.0 GPA. Zimmerman takes pride in putting school work before sports.
“Our part in it is mainly just to remind them that, on our campus, getting an education is their first priority,” Zimmerman said. “We are there to encourage them and if they have an issue in a subject help them if we can or make sure they are finding help and we are always trying to teach them to make sure they are communicating with their teachers.”
Teachers and students put in a bulk of the effort but some unsung heroes are to thank as well.
The parents of student-athletes have a thankless job, yet have the biggest impact on them.
“Really, those grades start with the expectations their parents set at an early age,” Zimmerman said. “That’s when it grows and develops into a priority for them and becomes something they care about. That’s where most of the credit goes, after that a large part goes to all of the teachers they have had throughout their years in school for educating them and holding them to high standards.”
Clark echoed that sentiment.
“Probably the biggest emphasis from anybody and the biggest affect on these kids is their parents. It takes a village to raise them and I think that says a lot for Yukon,” he said.
Where some teams may not have won the state championship or gone undefeated, they accomplished a feat that will carry on beyond their high school years.
“We work on the athletic side of it and we want to make sure our coaches are emphasizing the academics,” Clark said. “It’s the front-line people like the teachers and administrators that it’s a combination effort by everybody. We share that reward with everybody throughout Yukon and it just has to be a sport that awards it.
“It’s an award won by everybody.”