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KU's Zenger comes home to honor students

10/12/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

It's not unusual for students from the same family to be among the list of KU Honors Program every few years, sometimes even in consecutive years. That means they are in the top 10 percent of their class.

Apparently, it's not uncommon either for Hays High School siblings with the same birthday to be honored the same night.

For the second time in three years, a pair of twins from HHS were among those who attended Thursday's banquet and program sponsored by the University of Kansas Alumni Association since 1971.

This year, it was Connor and Courtney Hess who were among the 20 honorees from Hays High.

Just two years ago, twin sisters Angela and Ashley Moore were among Hays High's list of 18 scholars honored in 2010.

All Kansas high-school seniors who rank academically in the top 10 percent of their class are asked to attend as guests of the alumni association with their parents, principals and superintendents. KU alumni gather in more than 37 locations across the state for similar presentations, and the Hays location included students from Ellis, Rooks, Rush and Trego counties.

Among those in the crowd Thursday were Connor's and Courtney's parents, Steve and Leslie Hess.

"We were excited," Leslie Hess said of learning her twins, who both are 4.0 students, were being honored.

The Hess family moved to Hays from Dodge City about seven years ago, and Leslie Hess said it was a good move for her family, which includes an older son, Spencer.

"We love Hays," said Hess, a local attorney. "This has been a great community; Hays has great schools."

Each Kansas Honor Scholar receives a certificate and a special edition of Webster's New College Dictionary, and has a chance to qualify for a $4,000 Woodward scholarship to KU.

A special guest at the event told the students to hang onto those dictionaries.

"In this day and age, you don't always use dictionaries," said Sheahon Zenger, athletic director at KU who graduated from Hays High in 1984. "Even if you don't use it, keep it. It's like a trophy."

Zenger should know. He still has the dictionary he received during his senior year as a KU Honor Scholar.

Zenger, who earned his doctorate from KU, said he thoroughly enjoyed walking the halls of his alma mater again.

"I went in the locker room and went and looked at my lockers," he said. "I get to travel the state, and it's very rare you can come and say it's home. This is home."

Representatives of each school handed out the dictionaries and certificates to their students.

It was a special night for Marty Straub, assistant principal at Hays High, who got to present one of the "trophies" to one of his daughters for the third time. Stacia, the oldest of three Straub sisters, is a 2005 graduate of HHS and was one of her school's KU scholars that year, while middle sibling Allie graduated in 2009. This year, it was youngest sister Arin who accepted congratulations from her dad.

This particular night is always special for Straub, regardless of who he is handing a certificate to.

"We honor our kids in so many ways, but sometimes we forget why they're here in the first place," Straub said. "These are our top flyers, and we are proud of them. The only ones who didn't make it were ones who were at other school activities."

Some students were able to make it to the ceremony, on the fly from one of those other school activities.

Courtney Copeland and Shelbe Pywell rushed into the Hays High foyer about 7 p.m. Starters on the Plainville volleyball team, they had been competing in Hoisington. They had missed the banquet, but Shelbe's mom, Ernee Sly, got them back to Hays in time for the rest of the program.

"We didn't want them to miss this," Ernee Sly said.

It was the second major academic honor in as many months for two Hays High seniors. Last month, Christopher Rooney was named to the semifinalist list of the National Merit Scholarship Program, while Corinne Ziegler was a National Merit commended student.