by Kalie Ammons
This year, 16-year-old Southwood junior Emily Lehner spent her time competing in track and field, running cross-country, helping with activities in the Optimist Club and working with her youth group. Next year, however, Lehner will be running in the land down under with other students chosen for their athletic talents and community service.
Down Under Sports was founded in February of 1989. It was based on the dream of New Zealander George O’Scanlon. O’Scanlon fell in love with athletics native to his country, but also loved American football, known to Australians as gridiron. Initially, O’Scanlon wanted to promote football in New Zealand and Australia and started the Down Under Bowl. This eventually led to Down Under Hoops Classic and Down Under International Games
According to a press release from the organization, “the Down Under Sports programs use the common language of sports to bridge the continents and provide a forum for athletes from around the globe to compete head to head in the sport they love.”
As many high school juniors and seniors do, Lehner received a letter from Down Under Sports in the mail.
“We almost ignored it because of how much stuff they get in the mail. But this was sent through the school, which was different,” said Annie Lehner, Emily’s mother. “We looked into it and found out it was legit.”
In the letter, Down Under Sports explained that Lehner was chosen for her outstanding athletic ability and her commitment to community service. Lehner currently holds the record for the 800-meter relay run at Southwood High School, where she runs under Coach Troy Andrews. This is the event she will be competing in while in Australia.
“This is my first year as a head coach, and working with Emily has been a great experience. She’s really blossomed with her running talent over the past year. It’s been great to learn about her as a runner,” Andrews told The Paper. “At first she was really excelling in short to mid-distance running, but now she can go out and compete at a full 5K level.”
In order to make the trip, Lehner has a year to fundraise and keep up her athletic ability. Lehner can be sponsored by individuals and businesses willing to help her reach her goal.
“I am honored to be an ambassador of not only my community and state, but also our country,” says Lehner in her sponsorship letter. “I am looking for sponsors to make donations towards the cost of competing Down Under. A major source of funds comes through voluntary contributions of family, friends and business sponsors.”
Lehner will be joining other accomplished athletes by making this trip to the land of kangaroos and wallabies. Some past participants include: Jake “The Snake” Plummer, past quarterback for the Denver Broncos; Ahman Green, running back for the Green Bay Packers; Rob Morris, 2007 Superbowl Champion with the Indianapolis Colts; and Chad Andrews, Northfield cross country coach, who went his senior year of high school. Chad is the brother of Troy Andrews, Lehner’s coach.
“My brother was a state-runner up in cross country in high school. He had a really good experience after he went on this trip and had a great time meeting people and making connections,” said Andrews.
Down Under Sport’s mission is to promote the growth, development and self-esteem of individual athletes through sports, raise awareness and competition to benefit the host country and athletes, and to forge lasting friendships through sportsmanlike competition.
Along with track and field, Sports Down Under will have athletes competing in cross-country, wrestling, football, volleyball and basketball.
With a year to condition and fundraise, Lehner should be prepared for the unique land that is Australia. Luckily, Lehner is quick on her feet and should be able to outrun any Huntsman Spider, a terrifying creature whose leg-span can reach up to 12 inches, allowing it to run up to 3 feet per second. Lehner will also have the speed to escape the view of any Golden Silk Orb-Weaver that happens to be catching birds or snakes in its web.
Lehner has made progress with her fundraising, but still has more than half the work ahead of her. If you are interested in donating, visit www.downundersports.com to donate with debit or credit cards.
Emily is the daughter of Brent and Annie Lehner. If you would like to make a donation via check, give them a call at 260-330-0006 or 260-571-1022. Checks must be made out to Down Under Sports. Students are not allowed to receive any personal money in the name of Down Under Sports.
A strong support group surrounds Lehner. Her parents and coach wish her the best on this trip.
“Being around successful people rubs off, so this will be a really good experience for her,” said Coach Andrews. “I’m proud of her. She met her goal of making it to semi-state this year. She can only improve, and I think this will be a great experience for her.”