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Top-notch talent: The 2009 Jennifer Beach Memorial Scholarship winners


One way to honor a lost loved one is to continue their legacy through other people and that’s exactly what Gary and Mary Beach continue to do.

The Hillsdale County couple lost their daughter Jennifer in a car accident when she was a high school student at North Adams-Jerome. Jennifer had a passion for life, especially athletics and in her honor the Beach family presents a pair of college scholarships each year to two of the county’s finest student-athletes.

All applicants were required to have lettered in at least two varsity sports, carried at least a 3.5 GPA and were asked to submit an essay about their life goals.

A panel of community members who are part of the county’s high school athletic scene select the winners, and the recipients will be given plaques from the HDN at tonight’s Area Best Track Meet at Hillsdale College.

This year’s winners are Connaught Blood of Hillsdale Academy and Steven Smith of Reading.

Here is look at what makes each of these individuals so special.

Connaught Blood
In five short years Blood moved from Alaska to Hillsdale with her family, took on the challenge of embracing a new school and community, and ultimately became a stepping stone for the Hillsdale Academy girl’s sports program.

Connaught and her father Charles helped transform the Academy girls golf program, as they reached their first-ever state finals as a team, Blood became the first Colts basketball player to score 1,000-plus points in her career and she was also a member of the 2006 state championship track team as a freshman.

Hillsdale Academy senior Connaught Blood was successful at anything she touched in high school, in part because of her sheer determination.

Hillsdale Academy senior Connaught Blood was successful at anything she touched in high school, in part because of her sheer determination.

That’s not all though.

Blood is one of the most intense competitors you will ever see at the high school level, but not in a cut-throat sort of way, rather in a 110 percent is still not enough effort kind of way.

She’s like that in the classroom and other facets of life as well, whether it be when she’s helping out at her church, cleaning up lawns in the heart of Appalachia, or even just talking about why she loves the NBA so much.

Those reasons, combined with a 3.74 GPA and score of 33 on the ACT made her a natural choice as one of the Jennifer Beach Memorial Scholarship winners — even though she admits she was stunned when she heard the news.

“To me this is crazy, it’s such an honor….I’m just really honored and thankful they gave it to me,” she said. “But it’s been like the last four years of (Hillsdale Academy athletic director Mike) Roberts and my parents and my teams — it didn’t just all happen this year. My parents, friends, teammates and coaches have pushed me here my entire life and I think this award is a testament to them.”

Her athletic career as a Colt is about more than numbers, wins and records, it is about how she is a fearless leader if you ask Roberts or any one of her coaches.

And as Roberts put it himself in a recommendation letter he wrote for Blood: “She truly was a catalyst for our school to start a girls golf program, and she changed the culture of our girls basketball team. She did all of this in a quiet manner, with natural leadership, skill and character.”

Others took notice of this, evident by Blood being named a finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award earlier this year and her MHSAA Scholar-Athlete honor.

Blood finished Top 10 in the state at the Lower Peninsula Golf Finals the past three seasons and she was also a Class D Associated Press All-State basketball player as a senior — but sports isn’t everything to her, especially as she moves forward.

After mulling a decision for months Blood recently decided to enroll at Notre Dame, choosing it over the United States Coast Guard Academy (Conn.). One major difference? She could’ve played D-III basketball at the Academy, but she’ll have to settle for watching Big East action in South Bend.

“It was a pretty hard decision, even like just seeing coach (Jeff) Hubbard and coach (Kevin) Reed at track meets, it’s still difficult. It’s a hard thing to give up because my older brother and I watched so much NBA basketball when I was little — I just wanted to be like them and be playing basketball all the time,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve even thought about it….like wow, I’m done. It was a tough decision to decide not to play basketball any longer, but I think Notre Dame is the place for me.”

She said plenty of prayer and input from her parents influenced her decision, and ultimately she thought being closer to home was the right choice.

Blood said a lot of people have asked her if she’ll try to play golf at Notre Dame, but she said she hasn’t really thought about it, but she could feasibly try and walk-on if she wanted. She does admit she’s going to have to find things to keep her busy though.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that I’m done with the Academy. It’s going to be weird, I’m going to have to keep myself busy doing something, because at the Academy I had a lot of school work and tons of commitments to athletics,” she said.
Blood isn’t totally set on a major yet, though she is considering a medical field, possibly something like athletic training.

She is also positive she wants to do whatever she can to continue to help other people, especially after experiencing a mission trip to eastern Kentucky last summer.

“I helped some older people and did some yard work for them…we were out in the “hauler”, that’s what they called it, basically the middle of nowhere,” she said. “I just enjoy helping people out and I’ve been blessed with great opportunities, so to be able to give things back is a great feeling.”

Steven Smith
If anyone can match Blood’s credentials, it’s this guy.

He is a two-time all-state selection in football, the Reading track and field captain the past three seasons and has been a Big 8 Academic All-Conference selection in both sports each year of his high school career.

Reading's Steven Smith is known for his attitude of always putting others first.

Reading's Steven Smith is known for his attitude of always putting others first.

And on top of that he’s a 4.027 student who says all he really wants in life is help others and make a difference.

Not bad for a big, tough lineman and shot put / discus performer.

To call him a natural leader is an understatement based on the words of his peers and mentors.

Several coaches and administrators have said Smith is the kind of person who is genuinely concerned about everyone in his school and he is always talking with people and offering a helping hand.

During football season, head coach and Reading High School principal Rick Bailey often talked about how smart Smith was on the football field, always making the right read and most importantly, taking his potential to the absolute maximum.

Like Blood, Smith is active in his church, Cambria Baptist, and he is a leader of their youth group, and has also served in soup kitchens the past few years, something he seems to have a real zeal for.

In the essay he submitted for consideration for the scholarship he has this to say about his experience working at a soup kitchen in Fort Wayne, Ind.:

“As I compare my life in Reading to the lives of the people who frequent the shelter, I am saddened by my own ignorance. We have no idea how blessed we are to have a home and food to eat. They were pleased with a simple meal; something we take for granted everyday. The more privileged have many possessions, but we are still unsatisfied.”

Brad Affholter, a teacher and coach at Reading Community Schools had this to say about Smith at the conclusion of his letter for recommendation: “Steven is one of the most outstanding students I know. His leadership, humility, and respect ensure his future success as an individual. My best endorsement is this…I will consider myself very blessed if my three boys grow up to be just like Steven Smith.”

Smith played a vital role in the Ranger football team’s success in 2008, as they made it all the way to the state semifinals, and this year he is once again one of the area’s top athletes in his field events.

Competitive athletics may be a thing of the past for Smith, although he is considering continuing his track and field career at Trine University in Angola Ind.

There he will pursue an bachelor’s and master’s in engineering, with a minor specifically based around Aeronautical Engineering.

Smith’s mother Tara said Steven considered playing football at Trine as well, but he wasn’t completely sold on the the experience by the coaching staff.

His presence will be missed in Reading, but he certainly will not be forgotten.

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About rjwalters

I am what you think I am — a journalist. Actually when I was hired at my current job, which by the way is Sports Editor of the Hillsdale Daily News in Hillsdale, Mich., I applied for a position titled "Wordsmith", so at my best I'll call myself a writer attempting to be a wordsmith extraordinaire.

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