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    By Todd Martin

    Strong athletes with high academic performance from Ellison High School received as reward a day of outdoor games at the picturesque Variety's Peaceable Kingdom Retreat in the hills south of Killeen.

    For the fourth year, Academic All-District athletes, making up Ellison's Plus One scholars, joined in the team-building fun, ate lunch in the retreat center dining facility and ended the day in the theater or the pool.

    Ellison junior Amani Bradshaw, a varsity basketball player, said the time at Peaceable Kingdom was a good reward for a lot of effort.

    "It's a reward for us," she said. "A lot of hard work and dedication goes into keeping grades up."

    The two-year Academic All-District athlete said she often gives up weekend time with family and disciplines herself to keep up with the rigors of advanced academics while practicing and competing in a demanding sport.

    "It takes time management," she said, "because it's easy to get behind. I practice and study, sometimes I do homework on the bus (to and from games) and read and take a test the next day in school."

    A group of 67 current freshmen, sophomores and juniors from all Ellison sports took part in the outing Monday. A group of 55 seniors made the trip May 2. They rotated through miniature golf, archery and a game called ga-ga ball.

    Student athletes said the activities served as bonding time for students who relate to one another well, but don't necessarily see each other in their variety of sports and various classes.

    The Plus One group formed from a collaboration between Ellison's athletics and curriculum departments to reward hard-working students who perform at a high level in sports and the classroom. A 90 average in every class is required for academic all-district honors.

    "It's really difficult," said Ellison junior Tucker Sills, a soccer player. "You go on trips, play a game, come back and have homework or projects due," he said. "You have to set priorities."

    His teammate, Ellison sophomore Alberto Castelan agreed. "It's difficult. You have to keep your priorities straight. It's a lot of late nights studying."

    "It's nice they recognize the hard work and dedication," Sills said.

    Variety's Peaceable Kingdom Camp Director Michelle Adler said the visit from high school athletes is in line with spreading awareness of the special needs community. The center hosts students regularly for environmental lessons and teambuilding, but mainly serves children with a variety of disabilities.

    "This allows students to, for a little while, get a feel for walking in someone else's shoes and navigate life with different obstacles," the director said of the high school athletes' visit.

    During the games, retreat staff members challenged the athletes to try some activities in different ways. In golf, one hole required sitting in a wheelchair. Others called on players to use the club like a pool cue or wear boxing gloves while gripping the putter.

    May 14, 2018

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