Athena Awards honor female athletes for their dedication and excellence in sports. One athlete is selected at each metro-area school. Here is a look at three athletes receiving the award this year.
kellie winchell minneapolis south
For most of her high school life, Minneapolis South senior Kellie Winchell would go from tennis to hockey and then to golf, routinely moving from sport to sport as easily as changing classrooms.
But unlike others who define themselves through athletics career, Winchell never saw them as a way of life. For her, they were a conduit to something else, whether as simple as friendships or as meaningful as her future. There were times when she wanted to be anywhere but the tennis court or hockey rink, but there was value in sports and she knew the payoff would come.
“It seems like every season, about two-thirds of the way through, I would feel like ‘Let’s get this over with,’ ” Winchell said. “But my parents’ philosophy was always that if you sign up for something, you have to make the best of it and finish it all the way through. Then, if you don’t want to do it again, don’t.”
Winchell admitted there were times when she almost didn’t come back.
“Hockey is the biggest time commitment,” she said. “After my sophomore year, I wasn’t going to come back. But they didn’t have a goalie. So I gave up my free time and took one for the team to be the goalie again. And I’m really glad I did.”
While practices may have been drudgery, they were a small price to pay for the lasting friendships she developed.
“It really sounds cliché, but it’s been my teammates that bring me back every year,” she said. “The pasta parties, the out-of-town trips, the little things that make it worth it. For example, our hockey team was so close that we still talk and get together [almost] three months after the end of the season.”
Winning the Athena Award for Minneapolis South is the last little bit of justification for her persistence. It’s also a nice way for her to wrap up her athletic career before heading off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York to study engineering.
“This tops it all off,” she said. “After 10 years of putting all of my efforts into sports and countless play dates and family functions I couldn’t get to, this is something that makes me realize it’s all been worth it. Now it’s time to move on. I’ve got other fish to fry.”
tasha feigh osseo-maple grove-park center
Tasha Feigh’s considerable vision problems used to mean lots of striking out and tears during adapted softball games.
A narrowed field of vision and multiple visual cuts — imagine looking both through a paper towel tube and out a barred window — made Feigh unable to track the ball from a normal batting stance.
Turning her stance to face the pitcher transformed Feigh from easy out to automatic. She entered her senior season with a .961 batting average, a record for cognitively impaired (CI) athletes in the Osseo-Maple Grove-Park Center program.
Similar success in soccer and floor hockey, coupled with Feigh’s team-first attitude and sportsmanship, made her Osseo’s first-ever CI athlete to win an Athena Award.
Winning signified how far Feigh had come — from a seventh-grader standing at home plate with a bat in her hands and tears in her eyes, to joyful weeping with coach Kelli Waalk-Gilbertson when the award was announced.
Feigh hopes being acknowledged “gives girls the chance to prove how much sports mean to them and the school,” she said. When her challenges made her ponder quitting, Feigh decided, “I really liked the sport so I told myself to keep going.”