Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Senior Salute: Gary Boggs Award winner McKenna Ellen is shining example of what is positive about Fort Vancouver

High schools: Tim Martinez

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

McKenna Ellen was one of a kind at Fort Vancouver High this year.

Ellen was the lone winner in 2020 of the Gary Boggs Award, which honors 12-season athletes.

“Normally, there will be three or four winners, but I was the only one in my class to get it this year,” Ellen said. “I thought (the award) was amazing. I think it touched my mom even more. She went to Fort when Gary Boggs was still coaching. She knew what a great guy he was and how he touched Fort.”

McKenna Ellen touched Fort in her own way over the past four years.

She was a three-sport athlete every year at Fort, but she was not a star in all three sports.

But after playing multiple sports in middle school, she knew that’s something she wanted to do at Fort.

She started out playing volleyball her freshman fall season, but a run-in with a teammate soured her on that sport.

So the following fall, she turned to swimming for the first time.

“Swimming is not very well advertised at Fort,” she said. “Not a lot of people knew about it. But I talked to a girl on the team and asked her if it was fun. She said it was and the coach was great, so I decided to turn out. I remember my first practice thinking ‘Oh my gosh. This is really hard.’ But it got me in great shape and I became really close with the girls on the team.”

Her experience with tennis in the spring followed a similar path.

“Tennis was hard my freshman year because I had never played it before and I wasn’t very good,” Ellen said. “But sophomore year, we got a new coach (Corey Farr) and he made us work, pushed us to learn and get better.”

In the winter, Ellen competed in bowling, a sport in which she excelled and grew up playing in her family.

She was a member of the varsity team all four years at Fort and qualified for state in 2018 and 2019.

Last year, Ellen, with the help of her coach, Julie Pagel, began researching colleges where she might be able to earn a scholarship for bowling.

She narrowed that list of schools down to the ones that offered a degree in elementary education, eventually leading her to sign with the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

“I had three or four schools interested in me, but the University of the Cumberlands was really interested in me,” she said. “The coach got a hold me and emailed me like two times a week. So that got me more interested in going there. I looked up pictures of the school and thought ‘Oh, this looks pretty.’

“And the more I learned about the school, the more I liked it. And I really liked the coach. I really believe it was his interest in me that really made me want to go there.”

Ellen signed with the University of the Cumberlands earlier this month. She waited to finalize her decision in part to keep her options open, but also because the current pandemic prevented her from visiting the campus.

“And the farthest east I’ve ever been is Minnesota,” she said. “So that’s a little scary. But I did get a virtual tour of the campus. My (university) counselor Facetimes me and says ‘OK, I’ll walk you through the campus.’ That was nice.”

Ellen doesn’t know anyone at the Cumberlands, or even Kentucky for that matter. She does have a stepsister who attends East Tennessee State and some close family friends who live in Louisiana.

“But that’s still quite a drive away,” Ellen said. “So I’m a little nervous. People say the freshman year is the hardest. But bowling will make it easier, so I’m super excited about going.”

She added: “It feels a little weird to tell people I’m going across the country for bowling. It’s not the kind of sport people expect you to get a scholarship for. They’ll be like ‘What?’ But it’s something I’ve always dreamed about.”

Ellen was also involved in the Associated Student Body program at Fort, helping to promote school spirit and camaraderie.

Her involved in ASB and being a three-sport athlete is what she’s most proud about her time at Fort.

“For me, it’s all about having pride in your school and trying to represent your school in a great way,” Ellen said. “Fort often gets this bad reputation. So we need more students to represent Fort in a good way because there are so many good things about Fort and maybe a couple of bad things. But every school has negative things about it. We just need to switch our thinking and look at the positives.”

At Fort Vancouver, the Trappers can look at students like McKenna Ellen.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.