Anna Lee will be leaving Johnstown High School with many academic honors and athletic prizes, including a field hockey championship and a basketball scoring record.
Both, however, came after much trepidation.
“Roller-coaster experience,” she said of the second half of her four-year high school career. “Some real high points. Some not so much, like when we didn’t know if we could play.”
Lee can speak for all of the seniors at Johnstown whose scholastic experience was jolted first by a budget crisis and afterward by the COVID-19 pandemic, and somehow came out at the other end, as Lee would say, better prepared for whatever comes their way.
“As much as it stunk to have it thrown at us, it made us ready for the real world,” the senior class treasurer and yearbook president said. “Things won’t always go your way. You make the best of the situation that’s given to you.”
Lee and her teammates on the Johnstown field hockey team took full advantage of the fall 2019 season that came about only after a huge, summer-long $300,000 fundraising campaign that restored athletics and a bunch of other extracurricular activities after initially being voted down. Lee’s team not only won Section II and regional championships, but came within a goal of what would have been the program’s fifth state championship.
“Imagine if we didn’t have that,” Lee said.
For quite some time the Johnstown student body wasn’t sure what was going to happen — or not happen — in the 2019-20 school year. That students were in that quandary baffled Lee.
“I honestly didn’t get it,” the 18-year-old Lee said. “People show up at the games, and the art shows and the concerts, and to see the ‘No’ vote, it was mind-blowing. It was upsetting.”
After much sweat, tears and effort, Johnstown was able to fund its sports and other activities.
“We did everything we possibly could to show how important sports and the other extracurriculars are to us,” said Lee, who for three years was Johnstown’s student council events coordinator. “It goes beyond games and the activities themselves. It’s an outlet. It relieves stress. It’s something kids should have. Take that away and you’re left with nothing but books.
“We faced adversity head on, and had to take back what was ours.”
Lee anchored Johnstown’s basketball team in the winter of 2019-20, and in its final game in Section II Class B semifinals, she became the school’s second female to reach the 1,000-point mark. Soon after, scholastic sports across the state were shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic,.
“The Johnstown kids got hit with a double-whammy,” Johnstown field hockey coach Christine Krempa said. “They had to grow up fast, and although it was difficult, they will be better for it.”
As Lee’s senior school year dawned, she wasn’t feeling confident that she would get an opportunity to compete a last time for the Lady Bills again on the field or the court.
“We had plans to go far in both sports. Then COVID hit and it’s, ‘We’re not going to get a chance,’” Lee said.
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Johnstown’s medium- and high-risk sports eventually did get the go-ahead to play but not until this past winter, when Lee’s basketball team played an eight-game season with no postseason opportunities. Afterward, in the “Fall II” season, the field hockey team played in a shortened 14-game campaign with no playoffs.
“We were all motivated because we finished second in the state [in 2019]. We wanted to show what we were made of,” Lee said. “Both seasons didn’t seem complete.”
But Lee certainly did compete, like she always had, with maximum effort.
“What really impressed me about Anna is that field hockey was never her No.1. Basketball was her thing, but she never used that as an excuse,” said Krempa, who saw the youngster pile up 144 points in her four seasons playing varsity field hockey. “She always gave me 110%. She did a great job in two sports, and if she stayed with lacrosse, I think she would have been special there, too.”
Lee moved to the top of Johnstown’s all-time scoring list for girls’ basketball during her senior season when she served as a team captain.
“I didn’t have that as my main focus,” said Lee, who will be playing basketball at SUNY Brockport while working toward a degree in the medical field. “My focus was more on being a good teammate and a good leader, and making the short season the best it could be for everyone.”
“Anna is a great athlete, but the thing I’ll always remember about her is that she was a great teammate that always brought energy to practice, and that she was always smiling,” Krempa said. “That’s a kid you wanted at practice.”
All of the trials and tribulations of the last few years made a profound impact on the academic and athletic standout, who described her time at the high school as “impactful.”
“All of the adversity, the resiliency, the successes — those things shaped me into who I am,” Lee said.