In two weeks the Minnesota State High School League will be announcing the 2020-21 ExCEL award recipients in two weeks and Owatonna High School juniors Connor Ginskey and Ava Hess are among the nominated students.

The Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership (ExCEL) award recognizes state high school juniors who are active in school, fine arts and athletics while displaying leadership skills and a commitment to their community. Every school in the league is welcome to nominate one junior boy and one junior girl for the award.

Ginskey and Hess have now joined several other nominees as they wait for an independent panel of judges from schools throughout the state to determine the recipients, which will be announced on the league’s website on Feb. 1.

To enter students were required to apply with a listing their involvement in activities and their community, write an essay and answer question prompts. While the two said they are honored to be selected, they also admit that the nominee announcement came as a surprise.

“I was pretty surprised when I found out, because there are a bunch of other awesome students and leaders and peers of mine that are very involved too,” Ginskey said.

Hess agrees, adding that some of the previous nominees have been people she has looked up to. She is hopeful that she will leave a similar impression on other younger students.

Hess is involved in band, soccer, student council, National Honor Society and volunteers for her church among other activities. She hasn’t always seen herself as a leader. In fact her first two years of high school she was reserved when it came to accepting leadership roles.

“Since then I’ve grown into being a stronger leader during high school by being myself and knowing that that is enough,” Hess said.

Ginskey’s leadership skills shine during his athletic activities. As an upperclassman, younger athletes look to him for guidance. He said he is actively working on becoming a leader in other activities he is involved in, but admits it’s difficult because many activities have been canceled or changed this year due to the pandemic.

“Luckily, we are getting to have sports right now, so I’m thankful for that,” Ginskey said who is also involved in DECA, cross country, basketball, band and volunteers for a number of organizations.

Despite the challenges and changes, Ginskey and Hess are choosing to maintain a positive mindset. While sport practices and extracurricular meetings have been rather uncertain this year, they are trying to make the best of what they can.

“Even though everything has been different, I’ve learned to appreciate the small things,” Hess said.

The juniors are already looking forward to what the future holds. Ginskey pictures a normal senior year, complete with sports, fine arts and leadership experiences. He doesn’t know yet what he would like to pursue after high school graduation, but has time to figure that out.

Hess is starting to think about college and desires to continue her activities for as long as she can. She’s hoping to continue her musical activities into her college career.

Winners of the ExCEL award will be featured on 45TV during the 2021 winter tournament and be invited to participate in a ceremony during the Class AA girls basketball state tournament in March, according to the MSHSL website.

{div class=”asset-tagline text-muted”}Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.{/div}

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