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A recurring series on WGLT's Sound Ideas about the central Illinois athletes who do incredible things, even after the game is over.

Beyond Sports: Sports Commission honors Bloomington-Normal's top student athletes

High school graduates posing with plaques
Eric Stock
The Bloomington-Normal Sports Commission presented its top annual awards to (from left) Jack Weltha, Averie Hernandez, Taylor Nowaskie and Tyler Dwinal during a banquet on June 21 in Bloomington.

Tyler Dwinal doesn't waste time. Dwinal recently graduated from Normal Community High School. Before that, he graduated from college. And even before high school, he started taking college-level courses through a dual credit program at Heartland Community College.

"I applied for that my eighth-grade year and I was one of the lucky few to get it and then I looked into it and I decided to do it because it set me up great for college," Dwinal said.

That doesn't mean it was easy.

"A lot of work, a lot of long nights, a lot of frustration throughout the process," Dwinal said. "It was very hard balancing, especially as the classes for the college got harder, the sports got more intense."

The tight rope dance took Dwinal from classwork to football and basketball to the National Honors Society and a school leadership club. He juggled well enough to be the sports commission Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Dwinal plans to attend the University of Iowa, where he wants to study mechanical engineering.

The Bloomington-Normal Sports Commission recently honored some of the top student-athletes in McLean County. In this edition of Beyond Sports, the honorees show how they balance life in the classroom and on the field of play — and excel at both.

All the honorees say family has helped them stay focused while managing school and sports.

Taylor Nowaskie recently graduated from Olympia High School in western McLean County. Nowaskie was a National Honors Society member, along with 4-H and Student Council and four sports. Nowaskie is the area's Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Nowaski said she couldn't do it without mom and dad.

"My parents have definitely helped me a lot. They never put any pressure on me and have always been there if I needed anything," Nowaskie said. "It was always pretty easy for me, I was very lucky."

Nowaskie's top sport is basketball. There's another family connection. Nowaskie's mother was one of the top scorers in Olympia basketball history. Taylor passed her mom on the way to setting a school record.

Nowaskie said she'll go to Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield and play basketball.

"I just hope to keep working hard and see where that takes me. I'm very excited for the next two years," Nowaskie said.

Male and Female Athletes of the Year

For Jack Weltha, you could say athletics runs in the family. The recent Bloomington High School graduate, and this year's Male Athlete of the year, is the latest in a long line of Welthas to achieve sporting success. Weltha's father was an All-American football player at Western Illinois. His siblings have game too. Brother Austin Weltha was an All-American football player at McKendree College near St. Louis. Sister Ellie was a standout basketball player at Truman State University in Missouri.

Jack Weltha said he followed their footsteps. They too were nominated for Athlete of the Year when they were in high school.

"My brother and sister have been up for (the award) but never won it, so just to be able to win it, I'm super blessed and humble," Weltha said. "They are great athletes too so I just try to look up to them."

Weltha was a state champion wrestler at BHS and a state qualifier in the shot put. Jack is following his sister's path to Truman State, but he will leave his wrestling singlet behind. Weltha said he will focus on football and academics at Truman State.

"To maintain really good grades and just to be the best (in football) too and try to get on the field as soon as possible," Weltha said.

Weltha was a Big 12 conference scholar athlete award winner at BHS.

Averie Hernandez had a special senior year at Normal West. She was a leader on the Wildcat volleyball team that took third at state, a school-best finish.

Hernandez said the season was special for another reason too. She got to play with her sister Sydney. Hernandez said the whole team felt like a family and they shared a common goal.

"Everyone gave up whatever they needed to give up to be able to work as a team and to have our own team goals," Hernandez said. "I feel like everyone was all in with what the captains had to say."

Hernandez set several school records on her way to the award for Female Athlete of the Year in McLean County. Her coach, Kelsey Mueller, was named Coach of the Year in a Female Sport.

The Athlete of the Year award typically goes to multisport stars, but Hernandez gave up basketball two years ago to focus on volleyball. The move paid off. Hernandez ranks as one of the top volleyball players in the country. She has a scholarship to play volleyball at Northwestern.

Hernandez said she hopes to become a leader there too, but later. For now, Hernandez said she wants to learn from athletes she admires.

"I'm super-excited honestly to be the youngest again just because I look up to these girls and have watched these girls on TV," Hernandez said. "To be able to play with them is insane, but being able to listen to what their feedback is that will only make my better is my biggest goal."

The future is always uncertain. It emerges from striving and living. What's clear is there is no goal these student athletes can't meet.

The Bloomington-Normal Sports Commission also recognized its top teams of the year; University High School’s girls track and field and Central Catholic boys soccer. U-High placed second in the state finals. CCHS took third at state and finished with a school-best record of 25-4-1.

Boys basketball coach John Shippert of Cornerstone Christian in Bloomington was named Coach of the Year in a Male Sport.

Updated: July 6, 2022 at 11:19 AM CDT
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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