Besides playing the violin, Kevin Huang and Tess Trinka had very little in common.
But last month, they both became members of a select group named to the Illinois High School Association All-State Academic Team.
Athletes from around the state must be nominated before going through a rigorous application process, which includes letters of recommendation and an essay. Each school nominated one boy and one girl and the IHSA selected 26 students — 13 boys and 13 girls — from a pool of more than 450 applicants.
Huang, a senior cross country and track runner from Hinsdale Central, and Trinka, a senior tennis and soccer player from Oak Park-River Forest, were the only honorees from the Pioneer Press/The Doings area.
Huang said the essay asked, “What sports has meant to you?”
“I borrowed from my speech after the [team] banquet,” the Willowbrook resident said. “I focused on what my teammates have meant to me, how sports has allowed me to overcome the challenges of running in my own life.”
Huang heard about winning the honor from Downers Grove North’s Zachary Smith, another member of the team, who told Huang during an indoor track meet. Smith and Stephanie Urbancik, a runner at DGN, were one of three pairs of athletes from the same school honored.
The other pairs came from New Trier and Downstate Williamsville, while Glenbard West runner Madeline Perez is the only other athlete from the West Suburban Conference named.
Trinka found out during a phone call from OPRF assistant athletic director Courtney Sakellaris, who helped Trinka with the application process. While filling out paperwork, Trinka recalled Sakellaris commenting: “Oak Park has not had much success [at All-State Academic] with so many talented athletes at the school.”
Trinka said, “It’s a huge honor.”
Both athletes are now gearing up for their final prep seasons this spring. Huang started indoor track in January, while preseason practice began March 3 for Trinka’s OPRF girls soccer season. They already have had plenty of success this school year.
Trinka and tennis doubles partner Taylor Arends became the state runners-up in the fall after placed sixth in 2013. Huang earned all-state after placing 24th in the Class 3A state meet to help Hinsdale Central to its first state championship in boys cross country.
“This is a tremendous honor and I hope every student who was nominated takes a great deal of pride in all that they have accomplished,” IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said in a statement. “These students are the embodiment of what it means to take advantage of the entire high school experience.”
Nominees must possess at least a 3.50 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale entering their final semester. They have to participate in two IHSA-sponsored sports during each of the last two years and demonstrate outstanding citizenship.
Both Huang and Trinka take only advanced placement courses. Huang owns a 5.9 out of 6.0 GPA and takes AP physics, statistics, literature, Spanish and micro economics. Trinka’s GPA is a padded 4.84 on a 4.0 scale. She takes AP biology, English, Spanish, psychology and calculus. They both have played in their school’s orchestra for four years.
Trinka is a co-founder of OPRF’s Hephizabah Club, which volunteers at an Oak Park-based group home for children and their families. On Valentine’s Day, Trinka and her classmates made cookies for the children at Hephizabah Home and invited them to OPRF sporting events.
“I’ve gotten a lot of great messages from friends [since getting honored],” Trinka said. “I think my parents [Mark Trinka and Bernadette Diaz] have been very, very supportive helping me with the application. They said, ‘Hope for the best. You never know.’ ”
Huang is Vice-President of the National Honor Society and has volunteered at Stroger Hospital, where his mother Shirley works.
He said he tries to get to bed by 11 p.m.
“It’s all about time management,” he said. “There is a lot of sacrifice and the commitment you make to the team.”
Honorable mention selections included Lyons’ Nathan Kriha (swimming, water polo) and Fenwick’s David Durkin (diving, water polo).
The All-State Academic team will be honored April 21 at a banquet in Bloomington.