Paul Valencia column: Scholar, athlete roles not exclusive

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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As a society, we're supposed to celebrate Katie Pagel for her perfect grade-point average and her status as valedictorian of her class.

As a sports-crazed society, we're supposed to be just as impressed with her 10 varsity letters at Prairie High School.

So let's combine the two and just say wow.

photoKatie Pagel, Prairie H.S. valedictorian

(/The Columbian)

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In the coming days, The Columbian will announce its multi-sport athletes of the year. Today, the day that Prairie's Class of 2012 is set to graduate, we proudly display Katie Pagel as proof that a three-sport athlete can excel off the volleyball court, outside of the bowling center, and away from the softball diamond.

While becoming an All-Region volleyball player, and staying active with the bowling team, and then playing the grueling position of catcher for the softball team, Pagel also took three Advanced Placement classes her senior year.

"My goal throughout high school was to take classes that were challenging and still try to keep good grades," Pagel said. "I didn't want to water down my schedule. It was a significant workload."

Calculus, government and politics, and literature and composition. To go along with practice or games just about every day of the school year.

"I never really thought of doing anything else," Pagel said. "I could have taken journalism or personal finance, but I wanted to take calculus. I wanted to push myself."

We will forgive her for implying that journalism is not the toughest and most prestigious class in the history of history. The point is that she expects a lot from herself.

"I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well," Pagel said. "I'm glad that I did."

She got her competitive spirit as a youngster, trying to keep up with older sister Alison and older brother Andrew, both excellent students and athletes. Andrew, by the way, was the 2009 valedictorian at Prairie.

Katie's parents, Julie and Steve, made sure Katie was signed up for whatever sport for whatever time of the year.

"From when I could run around, I was playing sports, and I was always watching my siblings play," Katie said.

As a freshman, Pagel's goal was to make a junior varsity team. She exceeded that as a varsity softball player. As a sophomore, she was on the top volleyball squad. She also lettered her final two years in bowling.

She had higher goals for her academics.

"I wanted to be the valedictorian. Since I was pretty small, that was a big goal of mine. I had that in my brain for a while," Pagel said. "I was a weird child, I guess."

Nothing strange about earning scholarships, though.

This is where we must separate society and sports-crazed society. So many times, in these pages, we report on the athletic scholarships that Clark County athletes earn.

Pagel wil have to "settle" for academic scholarships. She earned $64,000 -- $16,000 a year -- to attend Purdue University in Indiana. She is leaning toward a major in health diseases biology.

"I know I want to go in the health field," said Dr. Katie Pagel. (Well, not yet, but, as she said, that has a nice ring to it.)

Pagel's athletic abilities, as good as they are, will not lead to any playing time in the Big Ten. But she does plan to compete in intramural sports.

For the most part, she wants to focus on her studies and learning to live on her own.

She will leave Clark County having had the best of both of her worlds.

Pagel understands some brainiacs won't try sports because they want to focus soley on academics. Some athletes won't knock themselves out for A's when B's will do just fine. That just is not Pagel's style.

"You can do it. It's not easy to do. You have to be able to prioritize and manage your time well," Pagel said.

And learn when the body AND mind need a break.

"Sometimes school can be real stressful. I use athletics and my friends as an escape," Pagel said. "You have to let yourself have a day or an evening with your friends."

We cannot argue with that advice.

It came from an expert in the field.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valenciacolumbian.com.