Soldotna senior Ben Histand has learned a lot in high school. He's learned so much in math that he couldn't even find a math class to take in town this year. He also learned what it feels like to win two state championships.
But this season in basketball, Histand has had to learn something that his father, Stan, considers just as valuable. He's had to learn to lose on a team that had just three wins entering the weekend.
"I love to win. I play sports myself. Few people are more competitive than me," said Stan, a devoted wallyball player. "It's been fun to see Ben win state championships.
"But at my age, I've realized life's not like that. You have those heartbreaking losses, also. I really think this basketball season has been good for Ben and those guys. They've had to struggle to keep good attitudes and not get discouraged."
And, according to Soldotna coach Bill Withrow, Histand has been one of the keys in keeping the team's attitude in the right place.
"With wins so hard to come by, it can be easy to get frustrated and start lacking effort," Withrow said. "He doesn't have a problem with that. He's very self-motivated."
And that self-motivation makes Histand a valuable part of a team, whether it's running to a state championship or going through a losing season.
"Kids like Ben are easy to coach," said Soldotna cross country coach Mark Devenney. "At the end of the day, win or lose, you feel confident he gave everything he had to give you.
"If any coach can get all the athletes to do that, everything else will take care of itself."
In the case of the cross country teams during Histand's junior and senior years, everything did take care of itself.
It all started when Histand broke his left leg right below the knee during soccer season his sophomore year.
"It was a good break as far as breaks go," Histand said. "It was just a hairline fracture.
"It didn't hurt me at all. I just had to take Ibuprofen."
Although the break wasn't a bad break, it was still enough to push Histand out of football -- where he had played running back and wide receiver -- and into cross country.
In his first race, Histand finished fifth behind four other Soldotna runners in the junior-senior boys race at the Nikiski Class Races.
"Nobody knew how good he was going to be," Devenney said. "He worked out with us in the summer, but we didn't know he'd do that good."
The Stars went on to win the state title -- their second in a row -- and that only whetted everybody's appetite for one more.
With teammates at his side, Histand ran more than 300 miles to get ready for this year.
"It was one of those things where everything fell in place at the same time," Histand said. "We had a coach with unbelievable experience in running.
"We also had guys -- it was Brandon Newbould who started it -- who started out doing the right things, so they were great leaders."
Soldotna's work paid off with a third straight state championship.
"He definitely bought into the philosophy that if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail," Devenney said.
From that, Histand went to basketball, where Withrow was in his first year coaching the team and all five of last year's starters were lost to graduation.
"There's so much as a team we've improved on, but that's hard to notice without us winning some games," Histand said. "It's hard for this team to stay focused and confident.
"That's the hard thing about losing. I've had to learn to deal with a losing experience, and I suppose that's good."
In soccer, Histand patrols the midfield and also spends a little bit of time at forward. He's played soccer since second grade, and has started on varsity since he was a freshman.
Histand said Soldotna's soccer team is still smarting from a 2-1 overtime loss to Kenai at the Region III tournament last year.
"That was a big disappointment," he said. "We're looking to get to state after what happened last year."
Histand, who Withrow says is one of the hardest working kids he's been around, doesn't drop that characteristic once he gets out of sports.
"He's very talented, but he works hard at everything," Devenney said. "That's his secret. All the good things that have come to Ben through sports and academics are the result of hard work."
In school, Histand carries a 4.0 grade point average and is in line to join his sister, 2000 graduate Sarah, as a Soldotna High School valedictorian.
Ben said his parents, Stan and Carol, never pushed him hard in school.
"What I would say we try to do, and Carol maybe wouldn't agree, is to encourage our kids to be involved in participatory kinds of things," Stan said. "We want them to be in family games or athletics, or music, or whatever, instead of watching television and movies, which means they're being passively entertained."
Histand is one of two people in teacher Al Howard's 11 years at SoHi to complete pre-calculus as a sophomore. Histand then did calculus his junior year, leaving him with no math option this year.
"Across the board, he's pretty gifted," Howard said. "It's not just math. But as a math teacher, I know difficult concepts for most people are not that difficult for him."
Histand is a National Merit Scholar finalist, the senior class treasurer and the president of the National Honor Society. He also finds time to play trumpet in the band and to play piano.
With so many talents and interests, Histand is a bit like a food lover in New York City as he contemplates his next move.
"As for a career, my interests are pretty broad," he said. "I like all my classes equally.
"I think it's impossible for me to sit here right now and say what I want to do with the rest of my life."
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