MARSHALL: Lehning a natural for Hall of Fame

11/30/2012

Lehning a natural for Hall of Fame

Lehning a natural for Hall of Fame

On a day when Major League Baseball announced its latest Hall of Fame ballot, it seemed there was a touch of irony that the Kansas State High School Activities Association in Topeka announced its Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

What a difference in how one views those two different organizations and the names that were announced by KSHSAA as opposed to the nominees for the baseball hall.

Three of baseball's all-time greats — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa — are on the next ballot. They all have some level of clouds hanging over their names, with alleged use of steroids during their careers.

The announcement from Topeka had Sublette's Shalee Lehning chosen for the Class of 2013 and the induction will be sometime after Jan. 1.

There didn't seem to be any clouds hanging over the Hall of Fame inductees here in Kansas, and that's why it makes this one so special.

Lehning is being recognized for her accomplishments while she competed in high school sports. Sublette athletic director Monty Marlin, who closely watched her career, spearheaded the nomination process on her behalf. It took more than two months to gather the material.

While some names have been passed over for the professional halls of fame, more often than not character gets overlooked. Not the case with KSHSAA.

In its qualification summary, "Nominees must exemplify the highest standards of sportsmanship, citizenship, ethical conduct and moral character. They must have demonstrated OUTSTANDING and exceptional abilities in the category for which they are nominated."

No controversies for Shalee Lehning, to be sure. She becomes just the fourth honored person from The Telegram's readership area, joining Dodie Martin and Ark Morris of Stanton County/Johnson City (2003) and Larry Friend (2004), former Cimarron and Plainville coach whose wife Joan retired earlier this year as the superintendent of schools at Syracuse. That's it from this 12-county area.

Lehning and the remaining four inductees are highly qualified and deserving of the KSHSAA honor. For those nominees who most recently competed, they must wait five years to be considered for the Hall of Fame. In Lehning's case, she was a 2005 graduate from Sublette.

In July 2008, I arrived in Garden City to assume duties as the sports editor at The Telegram.

I had been out of the business for 24 years and had lived out of state for the prior 15. I had lost touch with high school sports in Kansas.

I was not aware who Shalee Lehning was, or what she had accomplished in Sublette. I had not an ounce of knowledge that her basketball team had won consecutive Class 2A state basketball championships and 52 games in a row. I was not aware that she had won seven gold medals in track and field and also had led her volleyball team to a state championship match her senior year. I didn't realize that she had been an 'A' student all four years and that she had been her class president throughout high school.

All amazing accomplishments when you take a look at the complete portfolio.

When I then learned that she was then (2008-09) a senior at Kansas State University and that she was still accomplishing many things, it became natural curiosity for this sports writer to see who she was and what made her tick. Successful athletes always provide a good story.

What I've discovered is that she comes from a well-grounded family. She comes from a small town where small town values matter. Friendships are made and kept, and in her case, for a lifetime.

Three-plus years ago, I took on the task of exploring the life of Lehning, to better understand who she was and why success seemed to follow through every step of her life. Perhaps more importantly, why she seemed to be so beloved. It resulted in a three-part series about her life up to the point of being drafted by the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

What I discovered from interviews with her family, childhood friends, teachers and her coaches at all levels (grade school, middle school, high school, college and professional), is that Lehning is about as unselfish an athlete and person that one can find.

It always has been, and my guess is that it always will be with her. She wanted to be the best that she could be — on and off the court. She wants that for others, too.

And now, just a mere seven years after she completed one of the most storied high school careers in Kansas history, she's being recognized for her accomplishments.

Her legacy as a prep star will remain intact forever. Now, as an assistant coach at Kansas State University — her alma mater where she went on to even bigger things — she is carrying that legacy to another level. Influencing, helping young women become better players on the court, and most importantly, becoming better persons off the court.

If you've met Shalee Lehning, if you know Shalee Lehning, you know what I mean.

She gets what life is about, and she's made the best of it.

Her dreams as a precocious teen to play Division I college basketball were realized. Her dream of playing professional basketball became a reality.

She's one of the best examples that high school sports can provide. You can be a great athlete, a great student, and a great person. All at the same time.

We should all congratulate her on this latest honor. Her dream lives on.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.

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