By CONOR NICHOLL
Sports in Kansas
ST. JOHN – Kelly Crissman was a farmer and lifelong resident of St. John before his passing March 26, 2016 at the age of 52. He and his wife, Marcia, had one child, Erin, a St. John graduate this spring.
Kelly and Marcia’s tutelage and Erin’s desire yielded an outstanding high school career. Erin Crissman achieved a dream of attending Stanford University with a fearless positive spirit.
Erin and her dad enjoyed an excellent rapport. Kelly started Erin’s love of learning. Erin liked to sit with her father at the dining room table once he returned from a long day farming.
She always wanted to show off and “impress him” with her grades.
Erin fondly remembers talking to him about school and the two would debate “random things.”
Although Kelly and Marcia never attended college, Kelly always seemed to have an answer for any topic. The family bought books and relished studying.
“He was the smartest person in the world,” Erin said.
Additionally, Kelly and Marcia were passionate about music, especially Fleetwood Mac. Fleetwood Mac constantly played in the car and Erin loves their music.
They placed Erin in sports camps and swimming lessons taught by longtime St. John coach Trish Wade.
In addition, Erin enjoyed the arts.
“I didn’t think that I had a good voice when I was young, but I loved to sing,” she said.
Once Kelly passed from illness, Erin doubled down on learning.
She looked to excel in everything – academics, athletics, singing and drama.
“After he died, I was like, ‘Well I can’t just let down now,’ ” she said. “I have to keep my grades up. Even though I am not impressing him anymore with my grades, I need to do it for myself, so that I put myself in a good position after I graduate high school.”
Crissman was a multi-year starter in volleyball and basketball.
In basketball, St. John made the 1A state tournament her sophomore year and sub-state finals this past winter.
In the 2020 sub-state semifinals, St. John upset Montezuma South Gray, 38-32. Crissman scored 10 points against the 21-3 Rebels, ranked ninth in the final 1A coaches’ poll. Ingalls edged the Tigers 42-39 in the 1A substate championship. St. John (15-10) lost three times to powerhouse Central Plains, which owns a state record 135-game winning streak.
“South Gray is a team that statistically we were not supposed to beat. We handled their pressure very well,” Crissman said. “They are long, lanky and fast, and that’s kind of how Central Plains is. Playing Central Plains prepared us to step up to South Gray in postseason and beat them to make it to the championship.”
In track, her best event was the triple jump. As a sophomore, she qualified for state and finished 14th. Last year, she set the school record with a leap of 34 feet, 91/2 inches. She placed fifth at the Class 1A state track meet (34-71/2) and ran on the 1,600-meter relay that earned 11th at state.
Crissman improved as a vocalist and portrayed many parts in school theatrical productions. She played Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel” as a junior. This year, Crissman had the lead as the baker’s wife for “Into the Woods,” a play that had a lot of set changes.
“That was by far one of the most difficult productions our St. John High School theatre has put on in a long time, so we were really proud that we pulled that one off,” she said.
In December 2019, Crissman was one of three Tigers to earn all-state choir. It marked the second straight year she picked up the honor. St. John tied Berean Academy for the most 2019 all-state choir selections among 1A schools, according to St. John choir teacher Malachi Knight.
Knight aptly noted that Crissman was the only student in 1-6A to finish in the top-five in the triple jump and be a member of all-state choir.
Crissman improved her ACT score and eventually earned a 34. She serves as a waitress on Sundays at the Hudson diner.
Her holistic approach yielded a Kansas’ Governor Scholar honor and acceptance into three prestigious schools – Princeton, Harvard and Stanford.
“She was always driven, and worked hard in her studies and athletics. She puts in the extra time,” Wade said. “She will stay on it until she succeeds.”
This spring, Crissman and all Kansas high schoolers had its years halted in mid-March because of the coronavirus. Crissman missed out on graduation, prom, track, the junior/senior spring play, St. John’s sports banquet, and the Governor’s Scholar’s banquet with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly.
She was supposed to take a visit to Stanford but couldn’t because of COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, she heavily researched all three highly prestigious schools and used its virtual software.
During the quarantine, St. John set up a signing day celebration for Crissman, who announced she would go to Stanford. Crissman, a 4.0 student, expects to major in political science.
“Very, very studious,” Wade said. “Very nice girl. Of course, she’s smart. Friendly, very well-liked in school and all of the sports, volleyball, basketball and track, and always came in the summer for our summer program. She is just a very neat girl. She is going to do big things. She’s got a very bright future.”
When Crissman was younger, she had a thought about attending Harvard, even though she didn’t know how the college application process worked.
“That was the school you heard about,” she said.
In her junior high/early high school career, Crissman believed she would probably attend Wichita State or the University of Kansas.
Her father passed away when Crissman was in eighth grade.
Marcia is a paraprofessional in the St. John school district. The two have relied on each other after Kelly’s passing exacted a financial and emotional toll.
“Senior year is super stressful, and she has done everything she can to make sure I’ve been comfortable and I get everything done,” Crissman said. “Sometimes she has a rough patch, and I just have to take over, but we both depend on each other a fair amount. It’s been really rough, but we couldn’t have done it without each other.”
As a sophomore, Crissman took the ACT test, mainly because she wanted to have it done early. Crissman scored a 30 – six points away from a perfect score.
Crissman realized, “I can do this,” and have an opportunity for acceptance at some elite colleges.
“She was strong throughout,” said Wade, who serves as St. John’s head volleyball and track coach and assistant girls basketball coach. “I never saw her break down. She’s very strong willed and confident. She was a very good student-athlete.”
Crissman spent nearly all of the summer after her sophomore year studying for the ACT. She took it in Sept. 17 and raised it to a 32, though it wasn’t high enough.
In December, she took the ACT on the same day she played a basketball game. When she tallied a 34 ACT, she knew her chances of being accepted at a major university increased.
“It’s such a great honor for her getting to go experience the world and do amazing things,” Wade said. “She’s got high expectations for herself. When that happened to her dad, she just really wanted more. She didn’t want to be held back.”
Last summer, Crissman spent weeks at Princeton University, as a Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America Scholar. The program focuses on underprivileged and first-generation college students to help them work through the college admissions process.
“I knew that (34) would get me into the door at these universities,” she said. “Certainly, that would not be the deciding factor. But I would at least be able to get into the door.”
In August 2019, Crissman started a lengthy process of writing great college essays. She turned in Princeton’s application Nov. 1, the early admission deadline. Harvard and Stanford received their applications in December.
In late March in the midst of the coronavirus, Crissman gained acceptance to all three schools.
“It was hard balancing writing essays, finishing homework, doing school and sports at the same time,” Crissman said. “But I have a very eclectic combination of interests and clubs and sports. Putting all that stuff together is what got me in.”
Crissman said missing senior activities and track “sucks,” but one positive the quarantine allowed was the opportunity to make a college choice.
“I have had a lot of time to do research on what school would be the best fit for me,” she said. “I can’t imagine if I was in school right now and having track and having to make that decision.”
Crissman thought Princeton, N.J., a town of 32,000, was too small. Harvard’s atmosphere “didn’t feel right” and the campus wasn’t large enough. Harvard is a few minutes from Boston and Erin didn’t want to reside in an urban environment after living in a town of 1,295 people.
Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. (67,000 population) showcases a larger campus. Crissman liked Stanford’s “great school pride” for its sports teams.
“Stanford’s culture is much more chill and relaxed, and Harvard’s more formal and traditional culture, same as Princeton,” she said. “I felt like I’d be happier there.”
On May 16, Crissman and her close-knit senior class were originally supposed to celebrate graduation and cap her outstanding career. Instead, it was an unremarkable day in a remarkable high school career.
“We didn’t do anything, honestly,” she said. “It was kind of like another day. It was bittersweet. Hey, I was supposed to be graduating today. But I‘m thankful that my school is trying to reschedule that date.”