By CONOR NICHOLL
Kelly Crissman was a farmer and lifelong resident of St. John before his passing on March 26, 2016 at the age of 52. He and his wife, Marcia, had one child, Erin, a St. John-Hudson graduate this spring.
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 vividly remembers talking to him about school or the two would have a debate “about random things.” Although he and Marcia never attended college, Kelly always seemed to have an answer for any topic. The family bought books and relished studying.
“I thought he was just the smartest person in the world,” Erin said.
Additionally, Kelly and Marcia were passionate about music, especially Fleetwood Mac. They always had Fleetwood Mac on in the car and played Fleetwood Mac records. Erin still currently loves Fleetwood Mac. They had Erin in sports camps and swimming lessons taught by longtime SJ coach Trish Wade. In addition, Erin enjoyed the arts.
“I didn’t really think that I had a good voice when I was young, but I loved to sing,” she said.
Once Kelly passed from illness, Erin elected to keep learning. She looked to excel in everything: academics, athletics, singing, 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.”
Kelly and Marcia’s tutelage and Erin’s desire yielded an outstanding high school career. Crissman, who will attend Stanford, was a multi-year starter in volleyball and basketball.
In basketball, St. John made the state tournament her sophomore year and sub-state title this past winter. In the ‘20 sub-state semifinals, St. John upset Montezuma-South Gray, 38-32. Crissman had 10 points against the 21-3 Rebels, ranked ninth in the final 1A coaches’ poll. St. John finished 15-10, though lost three times to rival Central Plains, which is a state record 135-game winning streak.
“South Gray, which is a team that statistically we were not supposed to beat, we handled their pressure very well,” Crissman said. “They are very long and lanky and fast, and that’s kind of how Central Plains was, and so playing Central Plains prepared us to step up to the level of South Gray in the postseason and beat them and make it to the championship.”
In track, her best event was the triple jump. As a sophomore, eventually qualified for state and finished 14th. Last year, she set the school record with a leap of 34 feet, 9.5 inches. She took fifth at the Class 1A state track meet with a jump of 34-7.5 and ran on the 1,600-meter relay that earned 11th at state.
Crissman improved as a vocalist and held many parts in school theatrical productions, including the role 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 Dec. 2019, Crissman was one of three Tigers to earn all-state choir. It marked the second straight year she picked up the honor. SJ tied Berean Academy for the most ’19 all-state choir selections among 1A schools, according to St. John choir teacher Malachi Knight. Via Twitter, Knight 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 served a waitress on Sundays at the diner in Hudson. The holistic approach yielded a Kansas’ Governor Scholar honor and acceptance into Princeton, Harvard and Stanford.
“She was always driven, and always worked hard in all of her studies and her athletics, stay, put in the extra time,” Wade said. “I think she has just been a very driven girl. She will stay on it until she succeeds.”
Crissman first elected to attend Princeton. This spring, Crissman and all Kansas high schoolers had its years halted in mid-March because of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. 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, among other activities. St. John has rescheduled prom for June and graduation in July.
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 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. 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, though, believed she would attend Wichita State or KU, and was OK with that. Her father passed away when Crissman was in eighth grade. Marcia is a para in the St. John school system. The two have relied on each other after Kelly’s passing exacted a financial and emotional toll.
“Senior year is just super stressful, and she has done everything she can to make sure I’ve been comfortable and I get everything done,” Crissman said. “And yeah, sometimes she has a rough patch, and sometimes I just have to take over, but I think we both depend on each other a fair amount, and it’s been rough sometimes. It’s been really rough, but we couldn’t have done it without each other.”
As a sophomore, Crissman took the ACT, 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 the elite colleges.
“She was strong throughout,” Wade, who serves as St. John’s head volleyball and track coach and assistant girls’ basketball coach, said. “I never saw her break down. She’s so strong. Very, very, very strong. She has been strong ever since she was a little girl. Very strong willed. Very confident. Just a very good student-athlete.”
Crissman spent nearly all of the summer after her sophomore year studying for the ACT. She took it in September ’17 and raised it to a 32, though it wasn’t high enough. In December, she had the ACT a third occasion – on the same day she had a basketball game. Crissman had to rush back to make the contest. She tallied a 34 ACT and knew her chances increased.
“I think it’s such a great honor for her getting to go experience the world and do some amazing things,” Wade said. “She has got high expectations for herself, and I think when that happened to her dad, I just think she just really wanted more. She didn’t want to be held back.”
Last summer, Crissman spent weeks at Princeton, as a LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) Scholar. The program focuses on underprivileged kids, generally first-generation students, and helps them understand and work through the intense 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 several months long process of writing great college essays. She turned in Princeton’s application on Nov. 1, the early admission deadline. Harvard and Stanford received theirs in December. In late March, Crissman gained acceptance to all three schools.
“I spent months, hours, and it was so 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, and so I think 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 believed Princeton, a town of 32,000, was too small. Harvard’s atmosphere “didn’t feel right” and the campus wasn’t large enough. Plus, Harvard is just a few minutes from Boston. Crissman didn’t want to be in an urban environment after she went to high school in a town of 1,295 people.
Stanford is located in Palo Alto, Calif. (67,000 population) with a bigger campus. As well, 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 just felt like I’d be happier there.”
On May 16, Crissman and her close-knit senior class were originally supposed to have graduation and cap her outstanding career. Instead, it was an unremarkable day in a remarkable career.
“We didn’t do anything, honestly,” she said. “It was just kind of like another day. It was bittersweet, because you know you had that thought in the back of your mind that, hey, I was supposed to be graduating today, but I am just so thankful that my school is trying to reschedule that date.”
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