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WHS Triple “A” award recipients named

WHS seniors Stewart Merrigan and Jessica Darling will represent their school in the MSHSL Region 2AA Triple “A” award scholarship competition. The award recognizes students for achievements in academics, athletics and the arts. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Seniors Jessica Darling and Stewart Merrigan have been named the 2018 Worthington High School (WHS) nominees for the Triple “A” award.

The Triple “A” award, annually coordinated by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), honors students throughout the state who excel in the trifecta of academics, athletics and the arts, with special regard given to MSHSL sports and fine arts activities.

“This may be one of the best awards within the school system because it displays what high school is all about, and that is allowing students the opportunity to grow as individuals,” said Josh Dale, ISD 518’s activities director.

“Our district has done a great job of providing students with a wide range of activities to choose from, and these Triple ‘A’ candidates took full advantage of that.”

Darling and Merrigan have indeed amassed a wealth of student involvement between them, with points of commonality and divergence not unlike their respective heights — 5 feet, 1 inch for the diminutive Darling and 6 feet, 6 inches for the lanky Merrigan.

Athletically, Darling is a six-year varsity distance runner for the WHS track and cross country teams. Merrigan, too, is a track standout (as a high jump, 400, 4 x 800 and 4 x 400 competitor) and a three-year harrier, but he’s also capitalized on his height as a four-year varsity basketball player.

“Basketball is my favorite sport,” admitted Merrigan, who hopes to continue playing in college — possibly at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he may study mathematics in preparation for a potential future as a high school math teacher.  

“I like the team aspect of it, and it’s a lot of fun,” he added. “Then again, cross country is a lot of fun, too.”

The WHS marching and concert bands have benefited from the duo’s participation, with Darling a percussionist and Merrigan a clarinetist.

“I’ve been a section leader in band for the past two years,” mentioned Merrigan.

The intrepid Darling, meanwhile, capably totes a bass drum during marching band season.

“Music is definitely one of my favorite areas,” she said. “It’s a great way to express yourself and I’ve made so many good friendships in music classes and activities over the years — plus it’s nice to improve your playing and singing skills.”

In the WHS Concert Choir, Darling is an alto section leader who has sung in Bel Canto throughout her high school career and in the select Trojan Express ensemble for two years.

Merrigan, a baritone, has similarly sung in WHS choirs since ninth grade, as well as in the male ensemble Vox.

Darling rounds out her full days with STEM club (she’s an officer this year), Student Council, musicals (she’ll portray Cinderella’s mother in the WHS production of “Into the Woods” from March 1-4) and involvement with her church youth group — which has helped lead her to consider her future profession.

“I’m going to attend Northwestern College in Orange City, and I want to major in youth ministry and worship arts,” said Darling, who is on track to graduate in May from both WHS and, due to PSEO classes, Minnesota West with an associate’s degree.

“I appreciate God’s guidance in my life, and I see how He’s made my life better, and I want to help other kids find that, too.”

Unlike Merrigan, who favors math, Darling said she is a stronger student in English/communication arts — but both achieve highest honors on a quarterly basis when it comes to grades, and they are National Honor Society members (Merrigan is the chapter’s current president).

Even with all this to their credit, Darling and Merrigan acknowledge they are fortunate to be the 2018 WHS Triple “A” selectees because their peers provide plenty of motivation.

“I was kind of surprised because I have a lot of classmates who have achieved great things,” said Darling, who hopes to continue as an orchestra member and runner during her college years.

Added Merrigan, “I was surprised and humbled, with so many kids in my class who do a lot. To be recognized this way is pretty cool.”

Commented Dale, “This year the numbers in our applicant pool were higher, and it was good to see so many strong candidates.

“We have a lot of talented students in our district, and the Triple ‘A’ committee was impressed with the depth of all the candidates and what they have achieved.”

Darling, the daughter of Becky and Merlyn Darling, and Merrigan, the son of Ellen Baker-Merrigan and the late Jeff Merrigan, are focused on finishing their senior years while maintaining the level of involvement they’ve cultivated since starting high school.

“It feels like high school has gone pretty quick, and it’s weird to be coming up on the finish line,” noted Merrigan.

“I’d remind younger kids that you’re only in high school once so do it all if you can because the more you do, the more people you’ll meet and the more fun experiences you’ll have.”

Suggested Darling, “Find enjoyment in the activities you do and try not to get too stressed out about the homework because, in the end, it’s there to help you learn and figure out what you want to do in life.”

On Jan. 28, Merrigan and Darling will travel to St. Peter, where they will be recognized at a banquet along with the Triple “A” candidates from the other MSHSL Region 2AA schools. At that time, male and female Region 2AA representatives will be selected for advancement to the statewide Triple “A” competition.

“Students like Stewart and Jessica who are engaged in multiple activities seem to develop self-reliance, communication, teamwork and time-management skills that will benefit them when they graduate from high school,” said Dale.

And they’re also likely to realize that success doesn’t come without the help of others.

“I’d like to thank my parents for always supporting me in everything I do,” said Merrigan.

Credited Darling, “I’d definitely like to thank my teachers and coaches—especially Henkels, Smidtty and Myrom — for always encouraging me to improve myself and be the best I can be.”