Cherokee senior Courtney Escudero has an all-around game in basketball, doing a little of everything and contributing to what is expected to once again be among the top girls' basketball teams in South Jersey.
A 5-foot-11 forward, Escudero averaged 12 points and four rebounds a game last year and earned second-team all-conference honors for a Cherokee team that went 19-7, was No. 5 in the final Inquirer South Jersey rankings. This season, Cherokee isexpected to be improved with four starters returning.
Escudero isn't sure if she will play basketball in college. So as a senior, she will savor every game, every practice.
At times, we are so preoccupied anticipating what a person may do at the next level that we don't stop to appreciate what is happening in the present.
Escudero is just one of many examples of youngsters who are getting the most out of their high school experience, not just in athletics but overall.
Among her other activities, she was also an all-star in volleyball, is the vice president of student council and a member of the National Honor Society.
While it's easy to look at a basketball player and try to judge whether they will be a power forward or a small forward at the next level, one views Escudero in different terms – future leader.
Many youngsters who enjoy success in athletics are also accomplished in the leadership department. It's quite possible that one reason Escudero exudes leadership is that she takes the subject so seriously.
In January, she attended the Presidential Youth Inauguration Conference in Washington.
Escudero first attended that conference as a seventh-grader and was originally selected to attend due to her achievement in academics and school-related activities.
Attending January's conference enabled her to witness President Obama's inauguration, which she described as an unbelievable experience.
This past summer, she returned to Washington for another leadership conference about government.
"That was also a great experience," she said.
It was also another experience that has continued to give her a well-rounded view of the world, one that takes her far past the basketball court.
Anybody knows that the best leaders are those who lead by example, which means not only playing hard on the court, but doing all the necessary things away from it.
"Courtney is a fantastic student and person," said Cherokee coach Shannon Bretz, who is also her teacher in an honors World Cultures class. "She pushes herself so hard both on the court and in the classroom."
Escudero admits that she has no choice. Her parents laid down the law at an early age.
"If I don't do well in the classroom, then I don't play," she said.
So when practice ends, Escudero heads straight home to study. As a senior, her course load, along with honors World Cultures, include honors German 4, Art 4, physics, English 4 and pre-calculus. This is not a curriculum that would allow anyone to coast.
And just because she spends so much time studying, doesn't mean there isn't the same type of intensity when it comes to basketball. She lives especially for the Olympic Conference games, usually against fellow Top 10 teams. Of all her high school experiences, performing in a packed gym, before an animated group of fans, will be near the top of the list.
"We have some great rivalries, especially with teams like Washington Township and Eastern," Escudero said. "Your heart is pumping so much, all you want to do is win and play defense."
With the South Jersey basketball season beginning Friday, we'll witness many youngsters who have traveled the same high academic road as Escudero.
As we prepare to follow another season, this type of all-around student athlete is common-place around South Jersey. And they shouldn't be taken for granted, because many of these youngsters will one day be leaders in society. That has to make an awfully lot of people feel good about the future.