March U.S. Army Top Performer awards to Piper’s Wayne, SMN’s Stitzer & Future Soldier Halbirt

Piper Jessica Wayne Top Performer

MARCH 2016 – Each month Kansas City Sports & Fitness Magazine teams up with the U.S. Army to honor High School Top Performers. This month we visited Piper High School, Shawnee Mission North and Mid-Buchanan High School to honor a Top Performer from each of these schools.

Jessica Wayne, Piper High School, Student/Athlete Top Performer

The Piper girls’ basketball team finished the regular season at 18-2 and features several standout players, but coach Shane Stout did not hesitate when asked which player keys the squad’s success.

“Jessica Wayne is one of the top players in the metro area,” he said.

U.S. Army Top Performer Wayne is averaging 25 points per game in her senior season and recently topped 1,300 career points, a Piper record, although she missed most of her sophomore season with a torn ACL.

Wayne said coming back from the knee injury was a big challenge, but she returned with two robust seasons.

“It pushes you physically and mentally, but it has definitely made me a better player,” she said. “(Coach Stout) really supported me and has throughout my whole career.”

Though a prolific scorer, Wayne prides herself on defense, which she says leads to offense. She averages an eye-popping seven steals per game.

“She gets her hands in the passing lanes a lot and gets a lot of steals defensively, which does translate into easy points,” Stout said. “A lot of her points have come in transition because of our work on the defensive end.”

Piper is ranked third in Kansas Class 4-A Division I entering postseason play. Piper is seeking a third straight trip to the state tournament, but to return will have to survive a brutal sub-state that also includes No. 1 and defending state champions Bishop Miege and 10th-ranked Sumner Academy.

“Obviously our goals are to get back to the state tournament, but it’s going to take a heck of an effort,” Stout said.

Though a trip to state will not be easy, Piper has Wayne to lean on.

“It’s been amazing,” she said of playing at Piper. “I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s been a lot of fun.”


Steven Stitzer, Shawnee Mission North, Basketball Coach, Top Performer

Steven Stitzer guided the Shawnee Mission North boys basketball team to a 16-4 regular season, Sunflower League title and No. 3 ranking in Kansas Class 6-A, earning him U.S. Army Top Performer Coach of the Month recognition.

The Indians were 8-0 in February and have not lost all year to a Kansas team. After a 2-2 start in December, Stitzer’s team is playing its best basketball heading into March.

SMN Steven Stitzer Top Performer“I’d rather be playing well later than earlier,” Stitzer said. “Early on we had to find ourselves and find out who we really were. Coaches have to fine tune things and make changes. I’ve gotta give the coaches, my staff, a lot of credit. We’ve made the right changes to help the team win. Now I think the guys know pretty much what their roles are. We play quality opponents. The Sunflower League is not a joke.”

Included in the current win streak was a 71-62 road victory over the top-ranked Lawrence Lions.

“We’ve just gotta bring our ‘A’ game every night,” Stitzer said. “We’ve got the bullseye on our back after we beat Lawrence. That’s a quality team but my team stepped up that night.”

Stitzer came to Shawnee Mission North three years ago from Hogan Prep, where he coached 13 seasons.

“When we were there we expected to go to state every year and that’s what we expect here,” Stitzer said. “I tell the kids, my expectations are very high. I figure to go to state every year and that’s what I want to do.

“Last year we got there and finished in fourth place. I think we were just happy to be there as a team. I wasn’t but I just think you set your highest goals and go for it and I’ve tried to get the team and the program to understand that.”


Madison Halbirt, Mid-Buchanan High School, Future Soldier, Top Performer

Madison Halbirt is from a small town, Faucett, Missouri, attends a very small high school, Mid-Buchanan, and wants to see the world. She decided the best way to do that was to join the Army and has blossomed into a Future Soldier Top Performer.

FS Madison Halbirt Top Performer“I’m not one to want to stay in one place for too long so I’m itching to go,” Halbirt said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully travelling because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl, to travel the world, and the Army seems like a perfect way to do that.”

She plans to run the 400 and 800 meters this spring.

“I’m mainly doing track to stay in shape before I go in the military,” Halbirt said. “If I get a few medals along the way it would be cool.”

Halbirt ships out for Basic Training in early June, a few weeks after graduation.

“Right now my job is 25 Quebec, which is a multi-channel transmission systems operator and maintainer,” she said. “It means communications. I build satellites and keep communications established on the bases.”

Ultimately, Halbirt thinks she might enjoy a law enforcement career.

“It really depends how my Army contract goes, how I feel about it,” she said. “I at least know what I want to do after, so I have a backup plan.”

Halbirt feels very positive about her Future Solider experiences, not only as preparation for military life but also for the camaraderie.

“It’s been great,” Halbirt said. “I really like it because it’s interesting to be around people that actually want to be in the military and do the things you want to do. It’s different from going to school with a bunch of people that are doing different things. There, everyone gets along and knows what they want to do in life. It’s kind of nice.  I don’t know how the other kids feel, but I think it’s going great.”


Articles by Nick McCabe.

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