Neither Kathy Niles nor Bryce Odegard was expecting to win the Nevada Athletic Directors Association Essay Scholarship contest.
News of the honor, which comes with a $500 scholarship and the chance for more scholarship money in two more rounds of competition under the auspices of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, caught both Pahrump Valley seniors by surprise.
“I was upstairs watching Netflix when I found out, and my mom came up and asked me to listen to the message,” Niles recalled. “I was kind of shocked that I won. It’s like (applicants from) Vegas and Reno and everywhere, so it was just kind of weird that I won, from of all places.”
Rose Niles played another role in her daughter’s award.
“The first essay that I wrote, my mom did not approve of, so I had to completely rewrite it,” recalled Kathy Niles, who said she had to be reminded by Larry Goins, the school’s athletic director, to enter the contest. “So it’s kind of thanks to my mom that it was picked.”
Odegard learned the good news in similar fashion.
“My dad is always so ambiguous about everything,” Odegard said. “He goes, ‘well, congratulations.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ I was sitting there playing the PlayStation, and my dad told me I won the NIAAA scholarship. I was not expecting him to say that, so again I was like, ‘What?’ My first question for him was, ‘How many kids actually applied?’ ”
Niles and Odegard shared another reason for their surprise.
“Honestly I didn’t think I was going to get it because, well, both of us didn’t make it past the first round of the Elks scholarship, which is just a local one,” Niles said. “So it was surprising that we made it through to the state level.”
“This is my first scholarship competition that I’ve been awarded money for, and I’ve applied for tons of national scholarships,” Odegard said. “It feels good to finally get one.”
Goins might have been more excited than either of the two winners.
“The primary qualification to enter the contest was being a multiple-sport athlete,” Goins said. “I think there is certainly an advantage at smaller schools for this award. I’m really excited about it, simply because I’ve been the president of the NADA, I’ve been the executive director, and I’m the only person in the state who has attended all 27 or 28 athletic directors conferences. I’ve never had a kid win it, and never has it been won by two students from the same school.”
The contest was open to seniors who had played at least two sports for at least two years each, with at least one varsity letter in each sport. They also needed the recommendation of an athletic administrator and had to meet specific academic requirements.
Niles and Odegard had little trouble meeting those requirements, and they agreed their classes helped prepare them to write the essay, which was the biggest factor in each applicant’s score. Niles focused on how she learned from adversity to bring a positive attitude into each season, whether it was dealing with injury or an unexpected loss of playing time.
She wrote about isolating herself from teammates during one frustrating season and how she spent the summer deep in thought, returning with a new outlook.
“This one silly season led me to think that nothing mattered anymore, besides the glory of playing,” Niles wrote. “I was very much wrong in my way of thinking. Soccer started up and I helped every player play to their best ability, and we even made it to state. Softball has yet to come, but even if I play or don’t play, I know and trust in myself that I will have a positive attitude and will help the younger girls get better.”
Niles wrapped up her essay by, without irony, giving credit to the difficulties she faced.
“Without this year of struggle, I would not be the person I am today, or be surrounded by the people I love and love me,” she wrote. “So for that, I tip my softball visor and take a curtsey in my soccer uniform to hardships.”
Odegard said he went into the task of writing his essay thinking about the people he has met through sports.
“I feel like we’re always striving to find happiness in life, so I mentioned how sports has helped me develop relationships and how many people believe that relationships are the key to happiness,” he said. “My relationships I’ve built through sports are huge, and I’ll have those forever.”
“Because of my experiences in athletics, I developed relationships that led me to run for student council all the way back in sixth grade and I have been involved with student government nearly every year since then,” Odegard wrote. Athletics “have assisted me in developing essential skills that I will be able to use for the rest of my life in my career, with my friends and when I decide to build a family someday … gaining an understanding of what makes a relationship successful has helped to shape my values and the way I carry myself and live.”
Niles, who ranks second in a class of 252, has earned five varsity letters while playing three sports. She has been involved in student government all four years, including one year each as student body president and vice president. Much of her volunteer work centers around the holidays, and she and Odegard have both been involved with Youth Advocates Changing the Community.
Odegard, a top-30 student who became the first Pahrump Valley runner to win a state cross-country title, is an 11-time letter winner and an eight-time team MVP or co-MVP. He has been named all-state four years in cross-country, and in track and field he was first team all-state in the 800 twice, 1,600 twice, 3,200 twice and as part of the Trojans’ 4×800 once. He also has been honorable mention all-state two years in basketball.
The three-time class president’s application for the scholarship lists seven items under community and volunteer service, along with participation in multiple community organizations.
The awards will be presented today at the NADA conference in Reno, although Niles has soccer commitments and will not be in attendance.
Niles and Odegard next will compete with the winners from Arizona, California, Hawaii and Utah in NIAAA Section 7 for a $1,500 scholarship. Male and female winners from the eight sections then compete for a national prize of a $2,500 scholarship plus a trip to the national conference in San Antonio, Texas where they will present their essays.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at email@example.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes