• State champions.
• Perfect ACT scores.
• Multi-sport all-state student-athletes.
• 5.0 grade-point averages on 4.0 scales.
• Community service and volunteerism.
These credentials are found annually among the 26 individuals honored by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) on its All-State Academic Team.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that these same accolades will also be found on the resumes of many candidates who will not make the cut for the IHSA’s highest student honor.
“It may sound cliché, but this group is the best of the best,” said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Stacey Lambert, who administers the program. “Success in athletics or in academics doesn’t carry more
weight for being selected. The program is about finding the students who have taken advantage of the full high school experience, and the result is an incredibly accomplished and well-rounded group. Picking
this team is a daunting task to say the least.”
Luckily, that responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of Lambert, as she engages a group of principals and athletic directors from across the state to select the team. The group assembles on a single day, where they filter through 500-plus applications and initially select 14 team members, one male and one female student from each of the IHSA’s seven geographic Board Divisions. The committee then rigorously reviews the remaining applications to select six male and six female at-large members to complete the team. An additional 50 students are also honored with Honorable Mention status.
“The selection day is always exhausting, but truly rewarding,” said Rockridge High School Principal Katy Hasson, a long-time member of the committee. “Every year it amazes me to see the number of quality
candidates that we have to try and narrow down during the process.”
Each IHSA member school is allowed to nominate one senior male student and one senior female student. To be eligible, students must have participated in at least two combined IHSA sports and activities in both their junior and senior years of high school. The application process also includes an essay portion where students reflect on the values and lessons learned through high school participation.
The winners are selected in February, with each member of the 26-person team being interviewed in March. A culminating banquet is held in April, where the winners are joined by their parents, teachers,
coaches and school administrators. The video interviews are edited into three- to four-minute highlights, which are played for the assembled group following dinner that evening. Peoria, Illinois-based earth-moving company Caterpillar Inc. has served as a presenting sponsor of the IHSA All-State Academic Team for more than a decade, generously adding a scholarship component for each winner.
“Without a doubt, the All-State Academic Team is one of the most important things we do each year,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Not only does it allow us to honor the students for their
accomplishments, but also gives them the chance to recognize the individuals in their lives who were vital to their success.”
Not surprisingly, the winners often go on to have significant impact in their chosen careers and on their communities. Recent All-State Academic team members have gone on to work at jobs ranging from high school teachers to a Hollywood producer to a U.S. State Department Foreign Affairs Officer in the European Bureau. While the magnitude of the award may not dawn on these accomplished individuals in the moment, the importance of the recognition becomes apparent down the road.
“Being named to the IHSA All-State Academic Team was an amazing honor,” said 2006 Carbondale High School graduate Iboro Umana, who recently completed his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine with a focus in neurobiology. “To be recognized as a student who excels in the classroom and on the field was one of my proudest high school moments. Looking back, this award reminds me of the many qualities I began to develop as an IHSA student-athlete: discipline, drive and an appreciation to collaborate with others.”
Matt Troha is assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association and is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.