Honoring Scholar Athletes:
They are from down the street and across the state. They are the best and brightest of us. And with high school sports at a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is no better time than to make a big deal, a very big deal, of the 360 Connecticut seniors recognized Sunday as CAS-CIAC Scholar Athletes.
A male and female from each CIAC school, whose academic and athletic careers have been exemplary, whose personal standards and achievements are a model to others, have been selected each year since 1984. With COVID-19, the actual banquet could not be held this year. Still, a virtual banquet was held Sunday on Fox61 and can be viewed at GameTimeCT.com.
We’ll spotlight seven winners here. One’s older sister and mom won the award. One lives in my town. Another brought music when we needed it most. All 360 deserve our applause.
Al Carbone, the commissioner of the Southern Connecticut Conference, pointed us toward Ella Stanley. He said the Guilford senior had the most impressive resume he’d ever seen for a high school student.
Carbone may have been underselling Stanley.
Guilford’s Scholar Athlete and captain of its undefeated field hockey state champions will attend Harvard on a pre-med track.
Beyond what she has accomplished — her accomplishments already are plentiful — a conversation with Stanley shows a grasp of the Athenian principles of sound mind, sound body, a commitment to service and interpersonal skills that few at 50, never mind in high school, possess.
A life of balance, she said, is at her core.
“If you delve too much into one aspect, it throws off the scales,” she said. “I prioritize being a student and athlete, then, of course, service and character. A healthy mind and a healthy body can get you through anything. Yes, sports take up a lot of time, but I don’t believe I’d have been nearly as successful in school if it hadn’t been for athletics.
“As a high school student, there are always days where we think to ourselves, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t have to go to school.’ Through this whole experience (with COVID-19), I don’t think one of us would ever say that again. It’s hard not seeing each other. The hardest part, I think, is we don’t feel like we have closure on such a large period of our lives.”
Ask her about field hockey and she talks about how lucky she was to play with her older sister when she was a freshman. How amazing it was to play on Guilford’s first outright state championship as a junior and, as a senior captain, to repeat on an unbeaten team.
“My favorite part about this year is every member of our team felt like it was ‘our’ win,” said Stanley, who carries a 4.6 GPA. “We were a good team so we were able to play a lot of players. By the time we got to the finals, I think every girl felt equally excited, like they all played a part, and that made it so much sweeter.”
Stanley didn’t mention she was a coaches’ first-team Class M All-State and GameTimeCT second-team All-State midfielder.
She’d rather talk about learning to get out of her comfort zone. When she was younger, Stanley did a lot of musical theater. She tried out for the school musical her freshman year. She didn’t get it in.
“It was really sad for me,” Stanley said. “That door closed.”
She decided to try something new. She tried fencing. Another door opened. Although it’s not an official CIAC sport, Guilford is a power in fencing. Stanley was 2019 All-State in foil. A medical condition did not allow her to compete this year in the state championships.
“Fencing is very much a mental sport,” she said. “It’s just you versus the opponent. It taught me a lot about myself and confidence.”
The Association of Fundraising Professionals, Fairfield County and Connecticut chapters, honored Stanley as its Outstanding Youth for 2019. She won the 2020 Bill O’Brien Community Service Scholarship from the SCC. Stanley chaired the Youth Advisory Group working with the Guilford Foundation to award grants. She is president of the Action Against Hunger Club and the Interact Club, which runs fundraisers for international organizations. She has run writing classes for elementary schoolers at the local library, has been a teen organizer of the Shoreline Girls United Leadership Conference and a co-organizer of the St. George Backpack Drive.
Last summer, she again decided to get out of her comfort zone. She got involved with American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation, first in mock government at state camp and later as one of Connecticut’s two student senators in Washington.
“I met girls from states who had polar-opposite views from me,” Stanley said. “Yet living together, voting on bills we wrote at 11 p.m., you see amazing things can happen if you are willing to work together.”
Attention: Trump. Attention: Pelosi. It’s called bipartisanship.
Stanley plays viola for the school orchestra and helps with field hockey clinics. Yet perhaps most impressively, Stanley spearheaded what has become the annual “Big Sleep Out” on the Guilford Green to draw attention to homelessness. She has helped raise more than $15,000 for Columbus House in New Haven.
Stanley said she first got involved in middle school through the Abraham’s Tent program of Columbus House. Each fall, religious communities in and around New Haven, house up to 12 homeless men for a week. They are fed. They socialize. They are entertained. The aim is to help find homes and jobs and to interact with the community.
“We had it at our parish and I was part of the socializing,” Stanley said. “I went in with a huge amount of stereotypes and even a little fear. What are they going to be like? Well, they are just like us. They have dreams for the future. Some have families. They have talents. It was really powerful to see the person behind the homelessness.
“Community service is important to me. It gives me a purpose. It brings a meaning to my life.”
And that is why, she says, Stanley is choosing medicine.
“At its core is service,” she said. “And I think now (with COVID-19) we see that more than ever.”
Ella Stanley insists she is beyond lucky to attend Harvard, where she’ll contain her sports involvement to club field hockey because of the demands of pre-med.
Looks like Harvard is pretty lucky to have her.