NEW PORT RICHEY — Growing up, Mary Kujak had five role models in sports.
Her older sister and four older brothers were always playing basketball, soccer or another sport. Being the youngest, Kujak developed her skills quickly so she could participate.
“I wanted to do whatever they did,” Kujak, 19, said. “At first, I was often roughed up, but in a loving way. … Later, as I got older and better, they let me play with them.”
In middle school, Kujak played basketball, softball, soccer and was a cheerleader. At Ridgewood High, she was a four-year varsity member of the basketball team. She was selected all-conference all four years. Her 23 rebounds in a game broke a more than three-decade-old school record.
Kujak excelled in other sports at Ridgewood, too. She was a varsity tennis and softball player, earning all-conference recognition in both sports. In track, she threw discus and shot put, qualifying for district and regional competition the three years she participated. As a three-year captain of the varsity volleyball team, she lead the Rams to the district championship her senior season.
“The happiest moment in my sports career was when we won the districts in volleyball my senior year,” Kujak said. “It was the epitome of what should happen your senior year in your favorite sport. I had been playing religiously with six teammates since freshmen year. We accomplished something that we had spent so long talking about and it was an indescribable feeling.
“Plus, we defeated our rival school, Fivay. In the championship match, we had lost the first two sets and were playing very tentatively, afraid to make a mistake. However, something changed during the third set. We started to gain momentum and finally began playing the way we had been the whole season. We realized that the title was ours for the taking. We came back and took the next three sets to win the district title. I have never felt any more joy after a sporting event than I did after that game. Together as a team, we accomplished something we had dreamed about for four years.”
Kujak was also an honor student with a 4.67 GPA, the recipient of the President of the United States’ Outstanding Excellence award and an AP Scholar with Distinction. She was selected as Ridgewood’s top student-athlete and, as a result of her academics, was accepted into Baylor University’s Honor Program and is now a pre-med major. Her school schedule limits her time, but she still manages to play intramural sports, volunteer and work out daily. She is also driven by her strong faith.
“Sports can only take you so far in life,” Ridgewood’s 2013 valedictorian said. “While sports develop the qualities to succeed in life, it is an education that instills the knowledge to be successful. Athletics can get someone far in life. However, it is education that accompanies someone throughout their entire life, no matter what stage they are in. … I hope to make a positive impact in the world, leaving it better off than how it was when I came into it.”
Correspondent Cliff Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ReporterCliff.