HIGHLAND – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most people used their time at home to pick up a hobby or learn a new skill. For Amber Sobkowicz and her friends, it was the perfect time to start Highland’s newest club.
The Sustainability Club was launched in 2020 with the goal of making a more environmentally conscious Highland High School. Since its inception the club has already gotten the school to re-implement recycling and ballooned in popularity.
“We like to spread a lot of words about fast fashion or other environmental issues,” Sobkowicz said. “Things that you can do to your part in helping the planet.
“Its a really good place to be. Its inclusive, its friendly, its really nice.”
Sobkowicz also used the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on another of her passions: running. Just a sophomore when COVID-19 wiped away her season, Sobkowicz saw an opportunity to step up as a leader at a point when the team needed one.
With the next track and cross country seasons still up in the air, Sobkowicz and other members of the team stepped up, organizing socially distanced workouts at local parks as an opportunity for the team to get better.
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It’s things like Sobkowicz’s initiative and leadership that earned her the Bobby and Kathy Cox Post-Secondary Tuition Scholarship from the IHSAA Foundation.
Sobkowicz, who graduated from Highland this spring, was one of four recipients of the scholarship statewide and one of two girls.
“I was honored that (Highland Athletic Director Ryan Harrington) thought of me to represent the scholarship if I were to get it for the school,” Sobkowicz said. “When I found out that I got it, I was super excited about it. That was a big deal.”
The scholarships were awarded to first-generation college students who participated in multiple sports in high school and showed “teamwork, leadership, and good character,” according to the IHSAA’s press release.
Andrea Cunningham, Highland’s girls track and cross country coach, doesn’t think the scholarship could’ve gone to a more deserving athlete.
“From the first day I met her as a freshman seeing her work ethic, her drive out here on the track or on the course and then even more so in school,” Cunningham said. “When she earned (the scholarship), I was very prideful about it.
“I was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ Because you see a kid out here really busting their butt trying to do everything possible to do well in cross country, do well in track, but also do well in the classroom, and that’s huge. “
Sobkowicz’s hard work paid off as she got into her “dream school,” St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. At St. Norbert Sobkowicz plans to major in biology with the hope of maybe being a physician’s assistant one day.
In her time at Highland, Sobkowicz did more than start a club and organize practices during the pandemic, she was also a valuable contributor to the Trojans cross country and track teams.
Highland cross country won the Northwest Crossroads Conference title this past season, and Sobkowicz was a key part in it. Sobkowicz posted her season-best time of 21: 58.8 at the conference meet to help the Trojans edge past Lowell for the title.
“I feel like it was deeper than just winning a conference,” Sobkowicz said. “It was like the first time I’ve ever felt the team be so close and fight for each other.”
For Cunningham, Sobkowicz was a large part of that mindset shift. She credits Sobkowicz with having a team-first approach – something not always seen in track and cross country – since the moment she joined the program as a freshman.
“She is what cross country and what track is all about here.”
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Emily Nannenga 2
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