At first glance, “and” appears to be the least important word in the Minnesota State High School League ‘Academics, Arts and Athletics Award’ handed out to one male and female senior at each high school in the state.
After all, it is the only word that doesn’t even earn a capitalization.
But upon further inspection, it’s quite possibly the most important word in the phrasing of the award.
The award, and this year’s winners, Sam Johnson and Mackenzie Johnson, are all about the “and”.
“It was pretty cool to be nominated for this, knowing we’re not just focused on one thing,” said Mackenzie. “We like to be in music and sports and stay focused on our academics too. It’s just fun to be involved in everything.”
“You have to have a variety,” echoed Sam.
That variety is exactly what administrators are looking for when they pick the Triple ‘A’ winners. There are plenty of kids at Monticello, and every other school, who excel in academics, there are plenty who shine in athletics and plenty who stand out in the fine arts. But, in an age of focusing on one thing you’re good at and investing all of your time into it, it’s the rare student who compiles the body of work that this year’s winners have over their high school career.
Both students are three-sport athletes. Mackenzie stars in soccer, hockey and track and field (starting last year), while Johnson shines in football, hockey and track and field. Both carry strong grade point average’s (Mackenzie has a perfect 4.0), while challenging themselves with tough courses. Both are musically talented, with Sam, a trombone player, being a four-year member of band and Mackenzie, a violinist, being a four-year member of orchestra. And both have somehow found a way to enjoy all of the craziness that their jam-packed schedules entail.
“Having fun is the most important thing for me,” said Sam. “If I’m not having fun, I don’t really want to do it anymore. Obviously all of these things have been fun for me, that’s why I’ve stayed with them.”
Mackenzie agreed that everything they do wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t enjoy it.
“If you love doing something, you’re going to work hard at it,” she said.
They both started finding things they loved at early ages. They were guided into different sports by a mixture of parents and friends, eventually settling into ones that they loved. The same combination pushed them toward fine arts, and then they continued to push themselves to get involved more, using opportunities like National Honor Society, of which Mackenzie has been a three-year member, to continue to better themselves.
“I’ve done things because I’m in [NHS], like volunteering more,” she said. “I realized how important it is, and, it’s actually pretty fun.”
Of course, as they’ve continued to add activities, athletics and other committees to an already rigorous school schedule, their days have become more challenging. But Sam said that’s the way they prefer it.
“If you’re not challenged, you’re not getting better,” he said. “You’re just accepting staying the same.”
And through their challenges, they’ve reached some of their greatest accomplishments.
Both have been honored for their dedication to athletics by being named captain in at least one sport during their senior year. Both have racked up individual honors. Sam finished his football career this fall as the top kick returner in school history, and with the third highest number of tackles. He’s already played the most hockey games in school history, with part of a season still remaining, and he’s accomplished what he calls his proudest high school feat, going to the track and field state tournament in multiple events, and even earning All-State honors.
Mackenzie, who is a captain for both soccer and hockey, helped the soccer team to the section finals both her sophomore and junior year. Her proudest accomplishment came last year, on the ice, when she and her North Wright County teammates not only qualified for their second state tournament in three years, but picked up the first state tournament win in program history. This year, Johnson selflessly switched from defense to forward, according to her coach, Jason Johnson, and she is currently the team’s leading scorer.
The challenges, and the accomplishments, have been consuming, but they wouldn’t have wanted the last four years to be any different.
“High school has been a lot of fun,” said Sam. “I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
The extra curricular activities have also added to their learning experience, providing them education that can’t be found in books.
“I could not imagine going through [high school] without being involved,” said Mackenzie. “It’s been a ton of fun, and I’ve learned so many things, aside from just academics. Being involved, I’ve learned how to deal with challenges, learned how to use my time wisely. It’s helped in so many different ways.”
Next year, they’ll take what they’ve learned over the last four years and start applying it to college. Mackenzie is headed to The College of St. Scholastica, where she plans on playing hockey and possibly studying health sciences, with interest in heading toward a career such as physical therapy.
Sam is still in the process of finding the right school for him, but intends to run track wherever he goes and is interested in sports management or possibly education.
But before the two seniors continue down life’s path, they have one more semester left to enjoy (in their crazy busy way) at Monticello High School.
“I want to have fun with my friends, make it to state in hockey, and with all of these college classes, just keep my grades up,” said Mackenzie, about the last semester. “And, just have fun doing it all, because this is the last time it’s all going to happen.”
Sam has similar aspirations.
“I want to make the last semester memorable,” he said. “Whether that’s getting good grades in my classes, finishing the hockey year strong or doing great in track, I just want to make it memorable.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]