It's a no-brainer of a question, but it is asked anyway.
"So, what has been the highlight of your basketball career here?" Cook Inlet Academy senior Noah Shields, all 6-foot-4 of him, is asked last week during practice in the Eagles' gym.
The obvious answer would appear to be the events of late March 1999, when Shields had eight points and nine rebounds as CIA defeated Anderson to win its first Class 2A state title.
But that obvious answer overlooks how much Shields, who said he is president of CIA's senior class "just because I enjoy doing stuff like that," relishes and studies leadership.
"That was a highlight," Shields said of the state title. "I just kind of expected us to win last year. We definitely had the team for it.
"I think the big highlight is this year. Everybody's stepping up and we're doing a lot of growing as a team. We're young, but we're doing really good."
With four freshmen and two sophomores on their roster, the Eagles are two-thirds underclassmen. Shields and junior Eric Minelga are the only two returning starters from last year.
Yet, with Shields as their leader, the Eagles have gone from losing to Seldovia 51-33 in mid-December to knocking off the Sea Otters, ranked No. 1 in Class 1-2A, Friday by a score of 44-43.
Seldovia came back for a Saturday victory that left the Eagles with a 10-3 overall record. CIA was ranked fourth in the latest prep poll.
"We have some real young players, with two freshmen in the starting lineup," Shields said. "I've seen the team grow a lot since the beginning of the year.
"Before, other people took control. This year, it's my job to score points and make sure everybody's playing well."
While CIA's continued solid play this season has surprised some people, it has not startled people who know Shields.
"He's been to state three years in a row playing with older players," said CIA coach Tim Keener, who gets over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game from Shields. "Now, he's basically the leader.
"It's been the first time he's had to be the go-to guy. He's really stepped up into that position."
Dan Shields, who is Noah's father, said he has noticed his son developing into a strong leader throughout his high school career.
"There have been many areas where he has taken leadership roles," said Dan, who teaches sixth grade at CIA while his wife, Jan Shields, is a substitute teacher. "He's been able to lead the team, and he's been able to lead his church youth group.
"When you put him in a group of people, he's got the characteristics that are best for leadership."
Terry Bonner, the youth pastor at Soldotna First Assembly of God, said Shields has developed his own ministry.
"That takes some big leadership," Bonner said. "Most kids can't do that."
Every Tuesday at 6:45 a.m. in a restaurant, Shields will meet with kids from ages 12 to 18 for devotions that he develops by himself.
"That's one of the things he tries to pride himself on -- learning leadership principles and applying them to life," said Bonner, who also mentioned Shields is one of three top leaders in the youth church of 40 kids.
Oddly enough, during Shields' sophomore year it looked like he would never apply his leadership abilities to basketball.
"As a sophomore, he missed the first game," Keener said. "Once he saw a game, he couldn't stand it.
"He came to me and said, 'I made a mistake, I want to play.' It takes a pretty big man to admit that."
Shields, who Keener said has character and faith so strong that it has helped him on occasion, has excelled in more areas than basketball and church.
He has a cumulative grade point average of about 3.8, and is running a 4.0 this year. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce recently honored Shields, who would like to pursue engineering, with a $1,000 scholarship.
"Academics are stressed at this school," Keener said. "He has a genuine thirst for knowledge."
Shields won the Region II/1-2-3A cross country meet as a junior, and also competes in the 400- and 800-meter runs in track. He finished first in the 800 and second in the 400 last year at the Region II Track and Field Championships.
"The highlight for me in track was the 800 last year at boroughs," Shields said. "There are a bunch of little schools in our region.
"The highlight was getting to race with the bigger schools from the area at boroughs. I finished third and didn't run a particularly good race, but it was still a highlight."
Shields also has garnered a great deal of perspective by doing ministry work in other countries. He has been to Peru twice and Russia twice.
"With all the junk people have here, down there they basically have nothing," said Shields of Peru, where he worked with orphaned children. "But they can still find enjoyment in life."
In Peru, Shields said he also admired the ability of people to stand up for their belief in God in the face of danger and their desire to proclaim that belief each day as if it were their last.
In Russia, Shields worked with teen-agers and said the situation is different.
"Not many people talk to people in high school there about God," Shields said. "They end up getting in trouble and messing up their lives.
"We try to shed a little light into their lives by telling them about God."
While Shields admits it is "kind of a shock" how fast his high school years have gone, Keener prefers to look to his big man's future, not past.
"He has a lot of knowledge of spirituality, what it means to have faith and how to share that with people," the coach said. "He's one of those kids where I can't wait to see what happens when he goes out into the real world."
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