Give Nixa’s Paige Sportsman a challenge and she will not only do everything she can to meet it, but find out if there’s a way she can make it even harder for her to accomplish.
“That’s my personality,” she said. “I always want to do the hardest thing possible. That sounds weird to so many people. But I want challenges.”
Most high school students will tell you their junior year is their toughest academically. Well, Sportsman has been meeting that challenge the past few months and at the same time doing one better. She’s combining her junior and senior years into one in an effort to graduate a year early and accelerate the start of her aspiring career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Thus, this upcoming basketball season will be Sportsman’s finale as a Lady Eagle.
“I want to get a head start on my career as a Marine,” said Sportsman, who will enlist once she turns 17 years old next summer. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and am passionate about.
“I’ll miss basketball a lot. In fact, it was the one thing that could have possibly kept me from (graduating early). I talked to my parents about it over the summer and we decided if joining the Marines is what I really want to do, I should do it.”
Sportsman is taking a full schedule of classes this semester and will do the same next semester, while also enrolled in two on-line classes, a senior English class and an elective. She’ll complete her high school studies by taking a summer-school class.
“I’ll get the equivalent of my diploma in June,” she said. ‘I could still walk with my class in June (of 2020), if I want to. I’m thinking about doing that.”
Actually, there’s more on Sportsman’s plate.
“I have to balance my classes, basketball, JROTC and a job,” she said. "I feel like it’s helping me as an individual to grow up. “
Sportsman is part of a group of juniors for Nixa who were forced to grow up a bit sooner than most freshmen and sophomores. They’ve logged their share of minutes the past two seasons while helping the Lady Eagles win the Class 5 District 12 championship last season.
Coach Jennifer Perryman said it’s a bit bittersweet to know this will be her final season to call upon Sportsman.
“I’m so proud of her and support her,” Perryman said. “But at the same time I’d love to have her another year. I can’t complain. Being a Marine is what she wants to pursue ultimately. So, we’re just happy to have her one more year.”
Perryman values the spark Sportsman provides the Lady Eagles.
“She’s an unbelievable defender, a great ball-handler and one of the best passers we’ve seen,” Perryman said. “She’s a ball of energy. That’s contagious. She loves to press and face-guard. I think the rest of the team feeds off of her.”
Sportsman’s energy surely will be tested as she begins her path toward becoming a Marine during a 13-week boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.
“It will be very difficult,” she said. “I’m mentally and physically preparing for it.”
Sportsman certainly isn’t lacking motivation to be a Marine.
“You earn that title,” she said. “I’ll always be able to call myself a Marine once I get the title. I’ve been interested in the Marines because of the challenge and the brotherhood and sisterhood.
“I’ll go in for a shorter enlistment,” she added. “If I like it, I’ll stay in it and make it a career. If I don’t, I’ll have the experience and will always be a Marine.”