It all began back in 2006 and 2007. A group of young fifth and sixth graders signed up for cross country, their first school sport at St. Peter School in Geneva. They are now seniors, preparing to graduate with the high school class of 2014. Within that group were three relatively anonymous St. Peter student-athletes who looked forward to competing in their school colors. They were unaware of the impact they would have on so many as their futures unfolded. Ethan Young, Tessa McKenna, and David Gagnon would all eventually move on to become team leaders in their teenage years. Their journey started at the ripe young age of 10 while running circles around Wheeler Park and racing in St. Peter Rocket Red.
Ethan Young was a natural leader from day one. The St. Peter Cross Country team has no designated team captains but Ethan took on that role both on and off the race course. He ran in two IESA State Meets for St. Peter and in eighth grade was designated the Most Valuable Runner for his efforts, his tenacity, his leadership skills and his tremendous work ethic. Those skills would prove valuable while running cross country at Marmion Academy in Aurora.
In his sophomore year as a young varsity runner Ethan earned Academic All Conference and First Team All Conference. He also competed at the IHSA Class 2A State Cross Country Championship Meet helping his team to an eighth place finish. After his early high school success, Ethan continued to be a team leader, repeating his Academic and First Team All Conference designations his junior and senior year. The leadership skills that he honed and perfected during his grade school and high school years were not unnoticed by his coaches as they named him the captain of the Marmion Academy Cross Country team during his senior year.
Tessa McKenna was always known for having remarkable spirit and commitment from the very beginning. When she won the Most Spirited Award during her eighth grade year at St. Peter, I commented that “she is happy go lucky, smiling, eager to improve, and eager to work hard. . . yet the only smile her competitors see is the smile on her face as she beats them to the finish line.” Tessa carried that spirit into her high school years at St. Francis in Wheaton. As a senior she won the Spartan Award which recognizes an athlete who demonstrates positive sportsmanship, a high level of participation and achievement, an extraordinary work ethic and is a positive role model to those around her.
Long time St. Francis Cross Country Coach Scott Nelson commented that “Tessa is a true leader who leads by example through her dedication and helps her teammates grow and better themselves.” So it was no surprise that she was a co-captain of the 2013 girls team and one of the 2013 top seven runners. This capped a stellar four year high school career in which she was an IHSA State alternate as a freshman and an IHSA State Qualifier her sophomore and junior years. Rooted in her formative St. Peter years, Tessa McKenna grew to become a great leader and an inspiration to all of those who followed.
Unique for a young student-athlete, David Gagnon quietly set lofty goals for himself while still in elementary school and never let them go until they were achieved. From the very beginning I could see David had great potential. Even though he wasn’t always with the fastest group of runners while at St. Peter, he was unwavering in his focus to play a major role on the team. That dedication paid off when he finished in 16th place at a major invitational during his eighth grade year and earned the Most Improved Runner award before heading off to Aurora Central Catholic (ACC) in Aurora for high school. While David played fall soccer and ran spring track his first three years of high school, he decided to make the switch to cross country before his senior year.
In 28 years of coaching cross country, this was the first time ACC Coach Troy Kerber ever made an athlete a team captain in his first year of participation in the sport. Coach Kerber had this to say about David. “Dave is the exemplary model of what a student-athlete is all about. . . .Dave served as a positive role model to his underclassmen teammates by personally taking them under his wing and playing a vital role in guiding them. . .not only on the cross country course, but also in the assimilation into high school. Dave stands out due to the fact that he possesses a lot of the intangibles needed to be a successful leader.” Not only was David a great leader but his athletic skills and dedication led him to a 15th place finish in this year’s Charger Invitational leading the team to a second place finish. He consistently was ACC’s third runner and hopes to pursue a running career at the collegiate level.
In just a few short months Ethan Young, Tessa McKenna and David Gagnon will find themselves in cap and gown, graduates of their respective high schools and looking forward to beginning their new careers. They've all come a long way since earning their eighth grade cross country awards at St. Peter, and all three of them can be proud of their perseverance, effort and determination. The road to becoming high school varsity team captains wasn’t an easy one but took many years of ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments and a steady course through the peaks and valleys of high school sports and the teenage years. Through it all they earned the respect of coaches and peers alike.
Congratulations to Ethan Young, Tessa McKenna
and David Gagnon! After nearly eight years of hard work and dedication since
running that first loop in Wheeler Park for St. Peter at the young age of 10,
they’ve built themselves into successful leaders and mentors that have inspired
many to strive for excellence.