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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Great teammate, individual

Joe Everson Correspondent

Three seniors exemplify the team player Call this story “Behind the Headlines.”

You don’t read about the majority of high school athletes on the sports page. Not every high school athlete is an all-league player, or even a starter. Most, in fact, are kids simply spending time doing something they enjoy or trying to stay in shape.

The most successful of them, in the long run, are the ones who don’t define themselves by their successes or failures on the playing field, but who take the opportunity to learn from success and failure alike.

Dan Fry, Alaina Smith and Andrew Mendez, all local high school seniors, are three of those.

Andrew Mendez, Deer Park High School

Mendez, who has earned three varsity letters in cross-country and two in track at Deer Park High School, also was a two-year captain in the fall sport. He is a full-time Running Start student at Spokane Falls Community College, will soon receive both his high school diploma and associate in arts degree and is headed for Carroll College in Helena to major in chemistry.

“I love the social aspect of running,” he said. “I didn’t grow up around a lot of kids, so running helps me get in touch with people. It gives us a common ground.

“I feel good when I’m done with a run, feel like I’ve gone someplace. It’s also a great bonding thing. I run with my dad a lot.

“Running also shows a lot about someone’s character. Some people come out, find out they’re not good at it and quit. I can’t understand that – you can always get better. Running has taught me how to push myself and has taught me about personal sacrifice.”

What would he tell students headed for high school about their choice of activities?

“It’s hard,” he said. “If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right. Just don’t come in and expect to be a star. I’ve worked hard for four years, and I just started getting good. But it’s a great way to stay in shape and meet people.”

His track coach, Dan Birdsell, says jokingly that he’s sorry to see Mendez graduate.

“The other kids at our place love him,” said Birdsell. “On our team, the scorers get recognition for that, but lots of others who aren’t headliners work hard, get along and have a lot of respect for each other.

“Andrew is just a delightful kid. He’s never with the lead pack, but he never gets discouraged. He feels that he’s competing against the clock, not against the other runners. And he’s still recording PRs (personal records) right up until the end of the season. I’ve really enjoyed being around him.”

Alaina Smith, North Central High

Smith, a senior of North Central, lives her life as fast as she talks – and you’d better work to keep up. For the past four years, she’s participated in volleyball, basketball and track, most of those at the varsity level.

She also plays tenor saxophone in the NC band, is a student representative to the Spokane Public Schools board of directors, serves as ASB vice president and carries a 3.9 grade-point average in a demanding program of college preparatory study.

Smith plans to attend Dartmouth College in the fall, where she plans to major in biology, which she hopes will lead to a career as an equine veterinarian.

She feels that – whether it’s a cliché or not – it’s true that high school athletics builds character. And she has some thoughts about that.

“Our society promotes instant gratification,” she said. “Some kids, if they don’t get their rewards right away, haven’t learned to stick with something long enough to give it a chance. You can learn a lot by sticking with it.

“For one thing, you learn to win and lose gracefully. There is value to both, and it’s fun to watch the improvement in yourself and in others. It’s incredible to be a part of it.”

Smith didn’t have a highlight role in everything, but she figured some things out along the way to her senior year. Take basketball, for example.

“I figured out early on that my role was as a defender, not a scorer. But no matter what role you play, it makes a difference. You may have some really good athletes, but you need to have the other parts of the team for a successful season.

“You don’t need to be on the news every night to help your team be successful.”

Her advice to younger students?

“High school sports opened up lots of opportunities for me. I met people, made trips and found out about myself. I learned to manage my time, and I found out I had the dedication and willingness to push myself. I learned that if I really want to do something, I can do it.”

Her counselor at NC, Kathy Blancher, sees great things ahead for Smith.

“She’s intelligent and committed, and very connected to her family, to her academic work and to sports. She’s got great communication skills, and she’s open to all sorts of new experiences. She wants to make the world a better place, and people respect that in her.”

Dan Fry, Mead High School

Like Smith, Mead senior Fry says that his high school athletic career taught him to value perseverance – and patience.

“Sometimes I missed being a headliner,” he said, “but I learned a lot about myself even when I was bummed out because I wasn’t playing a lot.

“It was a hard adjustment, but I didn’t want to give up on anything I started, because I’m a person who follows through on stuff until it ends. I found out I have a great deal of patience with things that don’t happen the way I’d like them to happen, and I learned how to be flexible.

“Those are valuable life lessons, I think. Small things in life that I learn now will turn into big things later on.”

Fry plans to attend Whitworth College this fall, undertaking studies in communications and physics. Teaching has crossed his mind, he says, but he thinks it’s more likely that he’ll try a few things, then move on to something else until he’s more focused.

For the past two years, he’s been involved in an ASB leadership class, and as ASB sergeant-at-arms has headed up all community service projects. He has a 4.0 g.p.a. and will graduate as a valedictorian.

Dave Vaughn, his counselor, will miss Fry.

“Dan can lead or serve equally well,” Vaughn said. “Whatever he does, he will make a difference. He has a huge heart.

“Athletics have been important to him because he loves to compete and to play, but he sees the bigger picture. We will miss his attitude and his spirit.”

Fry, who played soccer and football at Mead, also has some advice for students entering high school:

“Get involved and don’t give up. You will struggle, and sometimes you’ll want to quit. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded over and over again.”

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