Choosing a pair of outstanding senior student athletes each year from Emmett High School’s graduating class is never easy. The criteria of exemplary performance in the classroom, the community and on the competitive field in multiple sports narrows the choices somewhat but its never simple.
Fortunately a couple seem to rise to the top over their four-year careers and become sterling examples of all-around student athletes.
This year’s honorees actually took different paths but arrived at the same destination this spring as the Messenger Index Senior Student Athletes of the Year. Gemma LaVergne broke on to the scene as a District III champion cross country runner as a freshman. Riley Weekes grew in various roles on the football field and the basketball court during his high school career before establishing himself as a impactful senior in both sports.
For each the journey required overcoming challenges and changes they had little control over — except with their perseverance and mindsets.
When LaVergne started challenging school distance running records as a freshman it would have been easy to have buttonholed her as a runner. She won the District III title and placed fifth at State. Her sophomore year was quicker times, a second District crown, and a third place State finish.
In the spring seasons she was also making tracks in the middle and distance races — she reset the school records her freshman season in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs. She posted those marks at State with two second place finishes and a fourth.
But things changed for LaVergne over the next couple of years as her body continued to grow. Nearly 6-feet tall by her senior season she was no longer the prototypical build of a distance runner. It didn’t stymie her commitment to her running, however, and she still maintained All-State levels of performances her final two cross country seasons. She was denied the chance to add to her seven All-State track medals with the cancellation of the spring sports season this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Gemma understood fully that you have to work at it every day,” her cross country coach Chuck Alexander said. “Without much challenge daily in training, often running with the boys, she still kept her focus on running to her potential everyday. Gemma is a very self-critical runner who analyzes every aspect of each performance — not to get down — but to find places for improvement. It may be years before anyone comes close to challenging the records she has established here.”
While her body was growing away from the iconic distance runner image, it was maturing into a force in her other sporting love — basketball. She saw plenty of time on the court as a sophomore and was solidly in the starting lineup her junior and senior seasons. Despite her height she was not relegated to a post position, however. Her athletic nature, long arm span, mental toughness for the game, and an uncanny outside shot made her a menace to Southern Idaho Conference foes. She was selected to the All-SIC first team her senior year and has taken a wide lead in the EHS record books for more three-point shots made in a career. Her senior season she led the team in scoring, three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and blocked shots.
Her basketball coach Stu Peterson says “she has the mindset of a champion and she is a rare talent in this day and age. Gemma excelled because she puts in the work to be great and she leads by example.”
Peterson said “the most fun part of coaching Gemma was knowing that you were going to get everything out of her for every single second she was on the court.”
Peterson and Alexander have no doubts she will take those attributes with her to Salem, Oregon this fall where she plans to pursue her studies in kinesiology at Corban University. She plans to keep playing basketball and running track.
That only follows what her mother, Kathy, observed about her daughter. “Gemma loves to compete. She lives for high-pressure moments — the tight finish in a race, the clutch free throw with the game on the line. She always has since she was a little kid.”
Weekes didn’t burst onto the athlete scene as a freshman like LaVergne. He played multiple sports and was always near the top of his class in whatever he took on but wasn’t a record setter. What he does exude, like LaVergne, is a penchant to compete.
He’s played baseball, football and basketball most of his life. He’s known among his friends as one always willing to face the challenge and do it cleanly but aggressively. He has also exhibited the willingness and ability to adapt to what is needed for team success.
That has been exemplified the past two years as he has adapted to different positions in his primary sports of football and basketball.
Weekes played quarterback much of his junior high and early high school years. Coach Rich Hargitt asked him to refocus on a defensive position the last two years and the results were profound.
“When I came here Riley was used to being either the quarterback or a wide receiver,” Hargitt explained. “I asked him to help shore up an area we were thin at — defensive back. He could have put his head down and complained or worked half-heartedly at it. He did just the opposite. He worked as hard as anyone. He became the meat and potatoes of our defense his senior season. He was a major factor in the defensive improvement we made in a single year.”
Weekes was named All-SIC second team at safety his senior campaign — recognition Hargitt said was because “nobody out-hit Riley on the field.” He led the team in interceptions and was a leading tackler as well.
It wasn’t just on the field that Hargitt witnessed Weekes’ impact.
“He is what high school athletes are supposed to be about,” Hargitt said. “I am proud of him as a leader, a student, and an example to his teammates off the field as well.”
Weekes faced the same kind of transformation on the basketball court. His junior season saw him playing a wing position and concentrating on being an outside threat to complement a stronger inside game. The inside presence was diminished his senior year and coach David Dust asked Riley to move into the paint and become more of a defensive influence.
His response was the same on the hardwood as it was on the turf. Get the job done.
While his three-point shots were less frequent his senior season, he lead the team in rebounds and steals nearly every night as he honed his skills to the requests of his coach.
“What makes Riley special is his tremendous heart,” Dust said. “He was a super hard worker and willing to put in the time and take on the challenge. He probably took 50 charges on the basketball court. He was a great defensive player but more importantly he was caring, loyal and selfless.”
Weekes’ future is a little bit in limbo currently as he is prepared to take a church mission but awaiting assignment that is pending due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just another challenge and change for him to tackle.