By BRETT MARSHALL
Shalee Lehning, one of Kansas' all-time great high school athletes while competing in three sports at Sublette High School, went on to glory at Kansas State University where her No. 5 jersey hangs from rafters of Bramlage Coliseum.
She became the first women's professional basketball player from southwest Kansas, having been drafted by the Atlanta Dream in 2009, and played three seasons. In her second year, she was the starting point guard on a team that competed in the WNBA Finals.
Honors and recognition have long come Lehning's ways, and deservedly so.
That's what happens when you've played on two Class 2A state championship basketball teams, leading that group to consecutive 26-0 seasons and 52 straight wins. That's what happens when you take a team to the 2A state volleyball championship match in a sport that you don't consider at the top of your list. That's what happens when you've won seven gold medals at the state high school track and field championships.
Earlier this week, though, Lehning, now 26 and a full-time assistant coach for her alma mater in Manhattan, opened an envelope from the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
As she scanned the letter, the goose bumps came, and memories rushed back.
She had just learned that she was one of five inductees into the KSHSAA Hall of Fame Class of 2013.
"I opened it and read it, and I was just shocked," Lehning said in a phone interview Wednesday night on her way home from an out-of-state recruiting trip. "There was just a rush of excitement and I immediately called Mom and Dad (Jane and Steve, who still reside in Sublette). They were so excited, I can't even describe it. They've been my biggest fans, my biggest supporters."
Lehning's mother was admittedly happy when contacted by telephone on Wednesday, a couple of hours after KSHSAA had announced the inductees.
"We are really proud of what she's accomplished," Jane said. "It's a great honor. It's surprising I guess for as young as she is. As a parent, you're just very excited for her. We've always been proud of her, as well as our other children. She's accomplished a lot in her 26 years. She would be the first to tell you that God has been good to her and He's helped her get where she is."
Monty Marlin, currently the girls basketball coach and athletic director at Sublette High School, was the primary person responsible for Lehning's name being nominated. The nearly two-month long process was exhaustive, and when he had all the material together, there was one conclusion he came up with.
"This is a no-brainer," Marlin said candidly. "When you look at how she excelled in three sports, for all four years, just everything that she accomplished, individually and with the teams, it's an amazing list. The difficulty was in trying to pare it down because there was just so much that she had done. Then, throw in that she was accomplished in the academic side of school, too, and you just have a person who's highly qualified to be in the Hall of Fame."
Marlin said that Lehning's greatest gift as an athlete was her ability to raise the level of play of her teammates. And that everybody liked her.
"There's not an ounce of selfishness in her," Marlin said. "She was always about the team, and never worried about what she did. Everybody became a better player because of her. She just had that sixth sense about how to play and how to get everybody else to be their best."
Lehning said she called Marlin to express her thanks, and was still soaking up the moment.
"I just thought, wow!" she said. "I would have had no idea. I didn't even know I'd deserve anything like this. This has happened because of so many people. People who supported me through my time at Sublette, the people who supported me when I was at K-State. The people who supported me when I played for Atlanta. Everybody shares in this moment. A person doesn't get inducted on their own. That's the story of my career. People have gone above and beyond for me so much, I have such pride in all of those people. This is humbling, and I'm so grateful."
With the honor coming for her at such a young age, Lehning said she had had little time for going back down memory lane, but that has not been the case this week.
"Gosh, I've thought about just everything from high school, the games, the trips, the bus rides with my teammates," Lehning said, her voice raising with joy. "This has allowed me to think back about my playing days. When you're playing, you never think about things down the road. But today, I've gone down memory lane. Still, I don't know if I've completely grasped this."
Lehning said she is fortunate to be coaching at her alma mater, where she can walk in, gaze up to the rafters and see that No. 5 jersey hanging with her name inscribed on the back. This award, though, takes on its own special feeling.
"This is the whole state of Kansas and so many great athletes through the years," Lehning said. "I've always been proud to be a Kansan, and this makes me even more proud. To have this prestigious honor, it's pretty cool to go along with all the others. This one stands out."
Numerous phone calls to friends and family members, Facebook messages and emails all created a buzz for the normally low-key Lehning.
"I remember back in high school, I was always so focused, so serious," Lehning remembered. "My teammates used to try and make me laugh, to get me to relax. I thought of that when I was talking to a couple of my really, really good friends from Sublette. We got together last summer and had a great time remembering so many wonderful things about growing up in Sublette. You just never think when you're going on the floor as a freshman in high school, that something like this is going to happen. You just go out and play and don't think about the future. Now, though, I get to look back, and I look back with so much fondness and appreciation for what God has provided to me. My life has been full of blessings and full of dreams that I've been able to live."
The other inductees include Lindsay (Eck) Gray of Beloit-St. John's High School; Ernest Hawkins, Fort Scott faculty honored posthumously; Richard (Dick) Purdy, now a resident of Green Valley, Ariz., and a former football coach and educator at Lawrence High School and Shawnee Mission West High School; and Victor Sisk, a Lawrence administrator who also served for 17 years as an assistant Executive Director for KSHSAA.
The honorees were chosen from nominations reviewed by a selection committee. To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, an individual must have made an unusually outstanding contribution in interschool activities, either as a student with exceptional talent, or as an adult working with youth (such as an activity coach, director or sponsor, an administrator, an official or a contributor). Hall of Fame inductees may no longer be active in the field for which they are nominated (exception: contributor with more than 30 years of outstanding service).
The Lehning Legacy
Name: Shalee Dawn Lehning
High School: Sublette High School, 2005
College: Kansas State University, 2009
Degree: Bachelor's in electronics communication
Current Position: Assistant coach, Kansas State University Lady Wildcats (third year)
High School Accomplishments:
Track and Field--Seven-time state gold medalist at track and field championships (three in 100-meter hurdles, two in 300-meter hurdles, two in javelin). Still holds 2A javelin record of 147-5. Academics--Four year 'A' honor roll; Four years Class President.
Basketball--Class 2A state championship basketball team (2004-05), team won 52 consecutive games; Four-time Telegram All-Area Team; Miss Kansas and Gatorade Player of the Year (2005); Is Kansas' all-time rebounding leader as well as No. 1 in steals and assists. She is the No. 4 all-time leading scorer.