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Kirk, Smith earn the 2013 Clendenen Award

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By Mike Cote

Few, if any, of the winners of Los Alamos High School’s top student-athlete award expected they’d need to clear off shelf space for it.

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Erin Kirk and Dalton Smith were no exception this year.

The Clendenen Student-Athlete Award, which was known for many years as the Virchow Award, is given to the Los Alamos High School student-athlete that best exemplifies leadership, community service and academic excellence. Candidates, who are nominated by a varsity coach at the school, also cannot use alcohol, tobacco or drugs during their high school careers.

The finalists for the award — this year there were three boys and 11 girls — are interviewed in front of a panel of community members, who are charged with selecting the winners.

Kirk said she was stunned that she was selected out of a field of top quality student-athletes.

“It speaks very highly of us, all the finalists there were,” said Kirk, talking about the LAHS athletic program overall. “To be a finalist was so amazing.”

The award was presented as the climax of the Senior Athlete Award Ceremony Thursday night.
Smith was picked from a small but quality field of student-athletes and he said he felt humbled by his selection.

“It’s more than being a great athlete,” he said. “It’s about character, morals, being the best man you yourself can be.”

For Smith, his morals are his way of life.

On one hand, Smith wears a black ring with the letters “CTR” inscribed on it. The initials stand for “Choose The Right.”

It isn’t a catchy slogan, but rather the way he conducts himself.

“It helps me be the man I can be at all times,” Smith said. “It helps me make the choices that will become meaningful in life.”

Kirk, too, said she’s tried hard to make the right choices in her life by working hard both on the field and in the classroom.

She has been involved in the Los Alamos Youth Leadership throughout her high school career and worked with young athletes in camps to help them develop their evolving athletic skills.

She is one of the most accomplished athletes at the school this year, being selected to two North-South All-Star Games, basketball and softball. She led Los Alamos’ softball team with a .453 batting average, one of the top offensive performers in District 2-4A and helping the team overcome the loss of Monika Teter, ace pitcher from a year ealrier and the 2012 girls Clendenen Award winner.

She was also among the Hilltoppers’ top defensive players in basketball, helping them secure a state tournament berth and a trip to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, which were played in The Pit, the college haunt of older brother Alex.

Perhaps her best moment of her senior year was, in her role as team captain, helping the basketball team through a trying time at the midpoint of the season. With a few days, two key players and head coach Tarah Logan both left the team, leaving the team to fend for itself about a week before the opening of a tough district season.

“My first thought was, ‘oh, gosh, it’s going to be a long season,’” Kirk said when the problems first broke. “But with the relationship the team had, we weren’t going to let that be a big thing to us. It was the talk of the town for a long time, but we didn’t want all the press to be focused on that. We wanted it to be on how we improve…we had a goal of getting to The Pit.”

Smith, meanwhile, was involved in both swimming and tennis during his senior year and he qualified for the postseason in both sports.

With the Hilltopper swim team, Smith competed in this year’s 100-yard butterfly, but his preliminary time of 1:01.03 wasn’t enough to get him into the final round.

Following the swim season, Smith began his spring tennis campaign.

Smith was named team captain in his junior year and said he felt honored that his coaches and teammates put their trust in him as a leader.

It was a responsibility that he didn’t take lightly and one he felt extended beyond the tennis court.

“It’s not about duty, but it’s about being with the team,” he said. “You go around, say hello to everybody. You find out, ‘what kind of sport are you going to be? What kind of athlete are you going to be?’”

Smith and his doubles partner Nikita Belooussov finished as the runners-up in the District 2-4A championship tournament and advanced to the state championship tournament before bowing out on day one of the Class 4A competition.

While both Smith and Kirk have clearly been outstanding achievers in high school, both of their immediate futures are still a little up in the air.

Smith will soon be going on a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although he hasn’t been told where yet. Following his mission, he plans to attend BYU.

Kirk, meanwhile, has been accepted at the University of New Mexico, but she said she’d love to play sports in college.

She’s waiting to see if she’s contacted for her services following the June 7 All-Star girls basketball game or the All-Star softball game the following week. If she is contacted, she’ll give serious consideration to those coaches who’d want her to join their team next year.