The first time Michelle Stone tried to pole vault, she said it was "completely unnatural."
"That first time, it was, &‘What on Earth is this sport?'" said Stone, an Ursuline High School senior.
Apparently she got the hang of it.
Stone finished seventh in last year's state track meet with a 11-foot-10-inch vault. She since has upped her personal best to 12 feet and is ranked fifth in the state.
And that's after trying out in the event as a sophomore and taking it up seriously only last season.
"She is a special person," said Pat LaFortune, head track coach for Ursuline and Cardinal Newman high schools. "Outstanding work ethic, a very positive young lady, supportive of everyone. You couldn't get a better person."
Stone not only shines on the track team, she excels in the classroom.
A 2010 Coca-Cola Scholar, she won $10,000 from that foundation for her academic and civic excellence. She also is a National Merit Finalist and Ursuline's Class of 2010 valedictorian, with a 4.4 grade point average.
Stone spends it volunteering at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, working with youth and music groups at St. Eugene's Cathedral, giving presentations about organ donation and serving as a docent at Bouverie Preserve.
For the past three years, she has spent summers at the 130-year-old Calvary Catholic Cemetery, where she has undertaken the mammoth job of updating the 20-acre burial ground's recordkeeping and burial mapping systems.
"I get a lot of weird looks when I tell people about it," she said.
Stone is converting the operation's paper filing system to a computerized, searchable database. But first she had to walk the grounds, checking and confirming spellings, dates and locations of thousands of graves.
"She is really detail oriented, very conscientious and very caring," said Kathy Donley, associate director of the cemetery. "It's really great to have somebody who is dedicated about it. She is making something that will obviously have a lasting impact."
Meantime, Stone's future could be in New York, North Carolina or California. She was accepted at Cornell, Duke, Cal and UCLA.
That was the easy part. Deciding where to go? A little tougher.
The East Coast universities are interested in her as a pole vaulter, but despite her nearly instant success in that endeavor, she isn't sure she will have time to pursue college athletics.
Stone's first priority is studying biology in pursuit of a nursing career. Grad school also is on her to-do list.
"I like to learn," she said. "I don't think you can ever stop learning."
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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