Sweet surprise: East senior with local ties a Heisman finalist


When Stacie Pagnard scheduled a meeting for her Columbus East volleyball team in the middle of the school day Tuesday, Cortney VanLiew was a little confused.

When she arrived in the school’s lecture hall and saw about 60 teammates, coaches, friends and family members, she was even more perplexed.

A couple of minutes later, East principal Mark Newell announced that the gathering was to honor VanLiew for being a state winner for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award. Then came an even bigger announcement.

Wendy’s representative Rebecca Beavin introduced VanLiew as one of 10 national finalists — five boys and five girls — for the award.

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“I was extremely shocked,” VanLiew said. “I just thought I was going to be able to check the online website. I didn’t know anything about this. I was so confused all day on why we even had a meeting for volleyball. So it’s just a huge surprise for me.”

VanLiew was picked from among more than 20,000 applicants. She was announced as a state winner two weeks ago.

As a national finalist, VanLiew will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York for the Wendy’s High School Heisman activities and ceremony, which will be televised on ESPN2 at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 11. VanLiew has never been to New York.

“I’m still kind of processing it right now,” VanLiew said. “I guess it hasn’t really hit me. It’s such an amazing experience, especially since my brother (Chad) won the state one. It’s awesome to be able to have two of us from the same family, and then for me to go on to the national level. It’s just crazy. It’s hard to believe.”

Chad and Toby VanLiew, both of which played basketball at Trinity Lutheran, were at the ceremony, along with their parents, Mike and Janet VanLiew. Chad spent four years as a basketball manager at Indiana University, and Toby is a sophomore on the IU-Kokomo basketball team.

Mike VanLiew called Cortney’s honor a proud moment for the family.

“She has put in the time,” he said. “She’s obviously tremendously blessed with talent and has worked hard. It’s nice to see some recognition that comes with that achieving the success and the results that she has.”

His wife agreed.

“I think it shows that her hard work is definitely paying off, and it’s being recognized,” Janet VanLiew said.

Cortney VanLiew has been a three-sport athlete since her freshman year at East. She led the volleyball team to four sectional and two regional championships and was a state qualifier in swimming as a sophomore. In the spring, she is one of the Olympians’ top track and field athletes.

Over the past couple of winters, it hasn’t been uncommon for VanLiew to participate in swim practices before and after school, then drive to Plainfield for club volleyball practice and get back to her Seymour home late at night, only to get up and do it all again the next day.

“The reason I can make it to all those practices is because of my teammates and my coaches,” VanLiew said. “They really help me look forward to practices, even when I’m having a bad day, to work myself to know that I’m doing it for them, not just myself.”

Academically, VanLiew ranks 13th in her class with a 4.2 GPA. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, LEAP Mentor Program, C4 Leadership and IHSAA Student Leadership.

Both Newell and East athletics director Pete Huse called VanLiew a model student-athlete by being a multi-sport athlete, by succeeding in academics and for the volunteer work she puts in.

“This, for anyone at any school, is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we’re just fortunate enough to share with Cortney,” Huse said. “She’s very dedicated to the community, does anything she possibly can, not only for her teammates but for other kids in the building and for people in the community. I think a lot goes to her family and the upbringing she had. It all starts in the home, and the example that she got from her mom and dad and two brothers, I think it goes a long way to her character.”

VanLiew has committed to play volleyball and beach volleyball at Florida Gulf Coast University beginning next fall.

“It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been this blessed,” VanLiew said. “But then again, every day, I thank God that I am this blessed.”

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Name: Cortney VanLiew

School: Columbus East

Year: Senior

GPA: 4.2

Sports: Volleyball, swimming, track and field

Other school activities: National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, LEAP Mentor Program, C4 Leadership, IHSAA Student Leadership

College choice: Florida Gulf Coast (for volleyball and beach volleyball)


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