One of the most compelling arguments for keeping extracurricular activities intact occurred Monday when Skyview's Tony Lewis accepted his diploma.
"I'm not exactly super smart, but athletics made me apply myself because I wanted to play," Lewis said. "I learned some things and had a great time (in class), but sports, athletics, that's the highlight of my high school career. It's that way for a lot of people."
Lewis didn't apply himself just enough to get by -- he excelled, finishing high school with a 3.9 grade point average. Lewis is headed to Montana State University in Bozeman next fall and has plans to study engineering.
Lewis' father, Russ, said it wasn't just Lewis' involvement in athletics in and of itself that provided the motivation for academic success, but also the support network created from being part of a team.
"The friends he had in sports, the web of friends that were high academic achievers and sports-oriented, they helped each other a lot," Russ said.
"Josh (Rowell) and Mark (McGarry), they're great to have on your team," Lewis said. "We've been friends, and there's a really good bond there, not only on the court, but off the court, too -- they're great people to hang out with, and great influences."
Still, the academics didn't come easy, and Lewis put in plenty of hard work.
"He has to work very hard," Russ said. "He puts in a great amount of time and effort. Never once did he say it wasn't fair -- he just knew what he had to do."
That same work ethic made Lewis a standout on the Skyview basketball team -- just because he now stands 6-foot-5 doesn't mean the sport came easy.
"Freshman year was the first time I really ever touched a basketball," Lewis said. "My height helped -- I guess that's why they kept me around. I was 5-11 as a freshman, then I grew 5 inches my junior year. That helped out a lot."
Lewis said he tried a lot of different sports through middle school, including wrestling and skiing, before finally picking up a basketball in high school.
"We tried to get him involved in junior high, but he never found his niche," Russ said. "We were excited about (playing basketball), and that it ended up being something he was driven by in high school. I was excited that he found a sport that fit his personality, his body type, and his desire."
"In high school, I was looking for my thing," Lewis said. "Freshman year, I tried basketball and found I really liked it."
Teammate Rowell said Lewis' personality was a good fit for the Panthers.
"He puts everyone in a good mood -- when he's not in a bad mood," Rowell said. "He has a good work ethic. He's a good teammate, works hard, and he's improved a lot since freshman year."
Lewis went from riding the bench on the junior varsity team as a freshman to starting with the varsity as a senior, forming a pretty impressive frontcourt with Rowell. The Panthers finished the regular season on a winning streak this year, but came up short in their bid for a berth in the state tournament with a loss in the third-place semifinal at the Region III/4A tournament.
"It was up and down," Lewis said of the basketball season. "We were hoping to have a better season, but it was a lot of fun, too. Things didn't turn out in regions like we planned, but it was a lot of fun."
Lewis added football to his high school athletic resume this year, jumping into the sport as a senior and playing tight end and defensive end.
"It was something I really wanted to do, and I never got around to it before," Lewis said. "It's my last year, so why hold back? I had fun -- I wish I would have done it all four years. And it kept me in shape for basketball."
Lewis said that while he's always enjoyed watching football, he'd never played organized football before, and participation in the sport turned out to be a little different than what he'd expected.
"I expected it to be a lot of work, and it was quite a bit of work, but it was a blast working that hard for something," Lewis said. "And there's a lot of camaraderie -- more than other sports."
Despite all of Lewis' hard work, he said there is some athletic talent in the family -- it just skipped him and ended up with his sister, Katie, a freshman at Skyview.
"She plays basketball, volleyball and soccer," Lewis said. "She got more of the athletic ability than I did. She doesn't have to work for it. I'm jealous."
Lewis will spend the summer working as a state park ranger, and while he's disappointed that he won't be allowed to carry a firearm, he is looking forward to the experience of working outdoors.
Lewis' father said the family has spent a lot of time enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer, and he's thrilled to have passed that passion on to his son.
"I love the outdoors, I love to be outside, I love to hike," Lewis said. "I think that's why I'm going to (college in) Bozeman. It's similar to here."
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