Phil LaVallee, a 2012 MHS grad and standout athlete who was killed while running last Thursday, is remembered as driven and determined, yet approachable and admirable.
There are a lot of kids who are athletically gifted.
There are a lot of kids who are driven to succeed.
There are a lot of kids who are genuinely kind.
In the end, there are a lot fewer kids who have all three traits.
Yet, talk to those who knew Phillip LaVallee, and he covered all three of those categories and then some.
LaVallee, a 2012 Monticello High School graduate who was preparing to begin his sophomore year at South Dakota State University, was hit and killed by a van while out for a run on County Road 19 in Otsego last Thursday afternoon.
At age 19, LaVallee was already a standout runner, student and person. As a runner for the Magic, he broke school records in cross-country, as well as three different track events (the 400-meter, 800-meter and 3,200-meter relay). During his freshman season at SDSU, LaVallee finished the year with a 15th place finish at the conference meet, helping the Jackrabbits to their third straight team title.
As a student, LaVallee had a GPA over 3.6, earning a spot on the Summit League’s Distinguished Scholar list. As an athlete, a student and a person, he was a role model to many.
“As a runner, Phil’s records speak for themselves,” said his former cross-country and track coach Dave Wik. “He had the perfect package of things. He had the gift, and he had the intangibles, the determination, the drive.”
Yet, LaVallee was never boastful, never cocky, but always approachable, according to Wik.
“[He had] a great personality,” said Wik. “The thing that speaks the loudest now is the contacts I’ve received from coaches all over. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of kids that Phil talked to that looked up to him. Phil had given so many kids advice. It speaks loudly of how much they looked up to him, but also of how approachable he was.”
LaVallee’s personality wasn’t limited to the running world. He was truly enjoyed by his peers throughout the high school, evidenced by his being aTop 10 candidate for Homecoming King in the fall of 2011.
It was even more evident Friday night, as approximately 200 friends, family members and fellow runners gathered at Monticello High School, hugging and sharing stories with smiles between tears, before taking off on a 3.5 mile run through town in LaVallee’s memory. Many wore orange, the color of LaVallee’s favorite running shirt. Some carried signs, with messages such as “Run 4 Phil,” “Run in peace,” and “Brother. Friend. Champion.”
The run ended with a final lap around the Monticello Middle School track. Following the run, everyone gathered to light candles around the track, before sharing more stories and memories of LaVallee and all the quirks that made him dominant, admirable and lovable all at the same time.
“He was so well respected,” said Gary Revenig, the athletic director at Monticello High School. “He was respected by his peers and looked up to by younger kids.”
LaVallee had already done plenty to earn that respect. But his former coach had no doubts that he was on pace to do so much more.
“He had a vision and goals,” said Wik. “You just knew that he was chasing great things. He was just at the tip of the iceberg.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com