Just as their paths to the same high school were different, so are the circumstances soon to place Kimmy Sullivan and Conner Stapleton on the same college campus.
The prime beneficiary is the University of Notre Dame, which in time will welcome the two Center Grove seniors with open charms.
“I committed to go there January of my sophomore year,” said Sullivan, a fixture at third base for the Trojans’ softball program the past few seasons. “I knew for sure the first time I saw the campus. It was so beautiful, and academics are very important to me.”
Talk about the grand slam of understatements. Sullivan holds a 4.8 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and is on course to serve as either valedictorian or salutatorian when Center Grove conducts commencement exercises May 24.
Both Kimmy Sullivan and Conner Stapleton have enjoyed outstanding athletics careers at Center Grove High School even before their final spring seasons have begun. Here is a recap of their accomplishments thus far:
In 2012, hit .495 with 99 hits, six home runs, 12 doubles and two triples for a 27-2 team
In 2011, batted .429 with seven home runs, six doubles and two triples for a 22-4 team
Rushed for 1,067 yards on 101 carries (10.6 avg.) and 15 touchdowns in football
Placed third in the state in the 300-meter hurdles in 2012 in a time of 38.07 seconds
Placed eighth at state in the 300 hurdles in 2011 in 38.96 seconds and was part of fifth-place 400 relay team
Stapleton also is an outstanding student with a 3.8 GPA, and he plans to major in finance. He shakes his head in amazement listening to Sullivan discuss plans to major in biology while playing for a Fighting Irish softball program that is a top 25 mainstay, having won 77 percent of its games the past three seasons (133-39).
While Sullivan has known for more than two years where she would be attending college, Stapleton, a two-time state qualifier in hurdles in track and field, only recently plotted his course to South Bend.
“If you talked to me five or six months ago, I never would have thought I had a chance to go to Notre Dame. It’s just so prestigious and so selective. I doubted myself,” said Stapleton, who as a sophomore placed eighth in the 300-meter hurdles at the state meet before returning to take third last spring.
Then Stapleton received in the mail a questionnaire from the Notre Dame men’s track and field program. He filled it out and sent it back, and interest from both sides grew from there.
Stapleton also is an accomplished sprinter at the prep level. He envisions possibly being part of the Irish’s sprint relay teams a year from now alongside the likes of Patrick Feeney and Chris Giesting.
“They brought (associate) coach (Alan) Turner in about three years ago, and he’s really brought that program up,” Stapleton said of the man who coaches sprinters and hurdlers for the Irish. “They have a great recruiting class coming in, too, so I’m really excited to be part of this team.”
Sullivan has been part of the Center Grove school system since fourth grade. Interestingly, the well-traveled Stapleton, whose family lived in seven different cities before settling here when Conner was a sixth-grader, counts South Bend among the stops.
Soon he’ll be returning to begin living out a dream.
“Academics are the No. 1 priority (at Notre Dame), and that’s where he’s always wanted to go,” said Center Grove football and boys track coach Eric Moore, who has watched Stapleton excel in both sports. “He totally exemplifies what a student-athlete is. Maybe as good a student-athlete as I’ve coached in 30 years. Just a very, very humble kid.”
Stapleton and Sullivan both laugh when asked if they’ll acknowledge the other the first time their paths cross on Notre Dame’s campus. Both are far too friendly not to. Besides, the Center Grove connection isn’t one to fade anytime soon.
As for these next few months, Sullivan, who batted .495 with six home runs and 12 doubles as a junior, will try to lead the softball program to its first Class 4A state title since 2009, as Stapleton focuses on becoming this state’s undisputed hurdles king.
The adage about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone fails to apply when it comes to these seniors. Center Grove knows.
“Kimmy is an invaluable member of any team/class/activity because of the type of person she is. Her athletic prowess is just a bonus. No one out-prepares, out-hustles or out-thinks Kimmy. She is full-heartedly dedicated to whatever activity she is a part of, regardless if it is in the classroom or on the athletic field,” Trojans softball coach Russ Milligan said.
“Given that, she is an exceptional role model and a physical leader that will be used as an example for years to come. One in a million is a cliché thrown around often. However, Kimmy is that one in that million.”