Coaler seniors lauded for academic achievement

Photo by Ann Gill
THE ILLINOIS STUDENT Assistance Commission has announced 19 students from Coal City High School’s class of 2020 have been named Illinois State Scholars. Recognized were (seated from left): John Majesky-Wills, Josh Michalak, Trevor Hanson, Jace Haas, Luke Cairns, Dominic Curtis, Tyler Polarek and Jacob Shumaker. Kneeling: Keaira Williams, Peighton Gill, Lillian Best, Kit Clayburn, Aspen Johnson, Sydni Bortles and Kelsie Norris. Standing: Kaitlyn Forehand, Abrielle Whitaker and Rose Feeney. Not pictured is Cody Rogers.


Coal City High School is home to 19 Illinois State Scholars, an academic recognition bestowed on high school seniors by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
“State Scholars are among the best and the brightest of Illinois high school seniors,” ISAC executive director Eric Zarnikow wrote in a congratulatory letter sent to each of the honorees.
This year’s recipients — Lillian Best, Syndi Bortles, Luke Cairns, Kit Clayburn, Dominic Curtis, Rose Feeney, Kaitlyn Forehand, Peighton Gill, Jace Haas, Trevor Hanson, Aspen Johnson, John Majesky-Wills, Joshua Michalak, Kelsie Norris, Tyler Polarek, Cody Rogers, Jacob Shumaker, Abrielle Whitaker and Keaira Williams — join the ranks of other exceptional Illinois high school students honored with this prestigious designation.
This is the 61st year of the Illinois State Scholar program. Introduced in 1958, Illinois State Scholars are recognized for their superior academic achievement. State Scholars rank in approximately the top 10 percent of high school seniors from across the state of Illinois. Honorees are chosen based on a combination of exemplary college assessment examination scores and record of high school achievement through six semesters of study.
Each of the students recognized locally are also active in school and community programs, and have plans to continue their education after graduation in May 2020.
Best, the daughter of Ron and Amy Best, plans attend Illinois State University where she will double major in graphic design and marketing. At CCHS she is involved in National Honor Society (NHS), Spanish Honor Society (SHS), art club, crochet club, color guard and winter guard.
Bortles, is the daughter of Jeff and Melissa Bortles. She plans to study architecture. Her high school activities include four years of varsity soccer, math team, scholastic bowl, art club, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and ping pong club.
Cairns, is the son of Shannon Baer and John Cairns, he plans to attend a four-year university to major in game design with a minor in sound design. As a Coaler he has participated in speech, scholastic bowl, band, math team and NHS. Highlights of his four years include qualifying for state speech finals, winning the scholastic bowl regional in 2019, serving two years as drum major and earning his Eagle Scout.
Clayburn, the son of Warren and Dawn Clayburn, plans to attend a four-year university to major in animal sciences and pre-veterinary medicine. He is very active at school participating in track, speech, musical, play, Footnotes, Madrigals, drama club, student council, student ambassadors, philanthropy club, NHS, SHS and math team. He also appears at various events as the school’s mascot, Charlie Coaler.
Curtis, the son of Allison Mitchell, plans to attend a four-year university to major in chemical engineering. He serves as president of NHS and is a member of SHS, scholastic bowl, speech, student ambassadors, science club, math team and performs as a member of the marching, concert and jazz bands.
Feeney, the daughter of Kevin and Peggy Feeney, plans to study occupational therapy at a four-year university. At CCHS she plays volleyball and softball, and participates in NHS, student council, student ambassadors, philanthropy club, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Coalers with Character.
Kaitlyn Forehand, the daughter of Eric and Merridy Forehand, plans to further her education at a four-year university studying pre-optometry and then continuing on to obtain a doctorate in optometry. She is involved in student ambassadors, science club, SADD, NHS and SHS.
Gill, the daughter of Anthony and Amanda Gill, plans to become a video game designer. The CCHS senior is a member of the speech team, scholastic bowl, art club and debate club.
Haas, the son of Thomas and Lynn Haas, plans to major in environmental science at a four-year university, hopefully Stanford, to become an environmental consultant. He currently participates in scholastic bowl, math team and ping pong club.
Hanson, the son of Michael and Nancy Hanson, will attend the University of Maine to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering. During his four years at CCHS he has participated in scholastic bowl, math team and ping pong club.
Johnson, the daughter of Jeff and Tonya Johnson, has plans to attend a four-year university to study elementary education. Her current schools of choice are Central Michigan or Eastern Illinois. At CCHS she is involved in band, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), student ambassadors, link leaders, book club, tennis, scholastic bowl, math team, speech, NHS and SHS. Highlights include serving as a leader in FCA and being a flute section leader in band.
Majesky-Wills is the grandson of Roger Wills and Linda Yott-Wills. He plans to study computer science at a four-year university. He is a member of the school’s scholastic bowl team, math team and ping pong club.
Michalak, the son of John and Janine Michalak, will attend the University of Missouri to study biological sciences. During his four years at CCHS he has participated in football, basketball, track and NHS.
Norris, the daughter of Joe and Rene Norris, plans to major in elementary education at a four-year university. For the past four years she has been a member of the Coaler pom squad serving as a captain the past two years. She is also involved in link leaders, student ambassadors, served as a representative to the district’s learning leadership team and is currently vice president of NHS.
Polarek, he son of Michael and Christine Polarek, plans to major in psychology at the University of Illinois. During his time at CCHS he has participated in band and pit band, chess club, PALS, art club and tennis. In addition to his studies he works at Dairy Queen and during the Halloween season he’s on staff at Hellsgate Haunted House.
Rogers, the son of Steve and Amy Rogers, has plans to attend a four-year university majoring in journalism with double minors in anthropology and Latin American languages. An active member of his high school, he is a member of student council, drama club, FBLA, speech, Madrigals,, NHS, SHS, scholastic bowl, student ambassadors, philanthropy group, and participates in varsity tennis, musical, play, band and jazz band.
Shumaker, the son of Bradley and Erin Shumaker, plans to major in finance and accounting at a four-year university. At CCHS he is a member of the varsity math and scholastic bowl teams, is a member of NHS and SHS, serves as a student ambassador and participates in speech.
Whitaker, the daughter of Melissa Whitaker and Jim Santangelo, has plans to major in communications and pre-law at a four-year university. She is a member of the school’s SADD, science club, NHS and is captain of the pom squad.
Williams, the daughter of Delon and Letitia Washington, will attend a four-year university to study biology. Her plan is to become a dermatologist. This Coaler senior is involved in NHS, SADD, student ambassadors and Coalers with Character.
In addition to a congratulatory letter, each of the students will receive a certificate of achievement from ISAC. Honorees can also download a digital Illinois State Scholar badge that can be displayed on their online profiles and social media platforms. There is no monetary prize that comes with being a state scholar.
The mission of ISAC, is to help make college accessible and affordable to students throughout the state. The organization strives to provide comprehensive, objective and timely information on education and financial aid for students and their families; giving them access to the tools they need to make the educational choices that are right for them. Then, through the state scholarship and grant programs ISAC administers, ISAC can help students make those choices a reality.