Two Wilton students win scholar-athlete awards

WILTON — Sports and academics don’t always mix, but two Wilton High School seniors have been recognized for not only juggling those two responsibilities but excelling at them as well.

Paula Perez Pelaez and Andrew Smith have been named the CIAC Scholar Athletes of the year.

According to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, this program “recognizes two high school senior student-athletes — one boy and one girl — from each member high school whose academic and athletic careers have been exemplary, whose personal standards and achievement are a model to others, and who possess high levels of integrity, self-discipline and courage.” The honorees are chosen by the member schools and are submitted to the CIAC.

Paula is captain of the varsity cross country and indoor and outdoor track teams. Andrew is captain of the varsity basketball and golf teams.

Paula Perez Pelaez

While she is not among the fastest runners Wilton High School has had, Paula’s coach Jeff Gee said, “when you look for a captain to lead the team to good performances, she’s one of the best we’ve had.”

Gee, who’s been Paula’s coach for four years, said he was not surprised at all to see Paula would receive the award.

“In terms of her determination and ability to influence others and her contribution to the team in terms of leadership, she’s right up there,” Gee said.

Paula said she started running in fifth grade and tried out for the team in high school. Cross-country running is her strength, particularly the mile and two miles. For track, the 1,000 meters is her go-to event.

Cross-country is the most difficult of the running sports, Gee said. “It’s up and down hills, in snow, in mud, it can be hot, it’s extremely difficult. That gives you an insight into her character.”

To train for the nine season meets and then FCIAC and state tournaments that extend the season to about 12 events, Paula runs four miles at a minimum and sometimes as many as six Monday through Friday, she said.

“I try to do six to seven miles one day on the weekend,” she said, saying she often runs on the trails at Merwin Meadows.

This is all the more impressive considering Paula has made the high honor roll throughout high school and her average is 3.98.

This score is built on a foundation of challenging courses based in math and science, including AP Calculus, and AP Environmental Science, two of her favorites. She’s also taken AP Economics, AP Government and AP Spanish Literature and Culture where she reads novels in Spanish.

Paula will attend the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering in the fall and is planning “right now” to major in bio-medical engineering.

“I like building things and how prosthetics work. I’m hoping to do something of that nature,” she said, explaining that choice. She is hoping to continue running in college at the club level.

Paula said she wanted to emphasize “how much the team means to me, how much it means to have success as an athlete and in school. Being a captain is a lot more work than I thought it would be … I have such a passion for the sport. It’s definitely a great experience.”

Andrew Smith

Golf coach Jack Majesky had nothing but praise for Andrew Smith, whom he called “a fantastic kid.”

“Andrew is first class in all respects. He’s been a starter for the last two years, and is team captain this year,” Majesky said, adding that unfortunately for the team, he did not think there would be a season this year since golf in Wilton is a spring sport.

“Andrew is a quiet leader. He’s not a big talker or hollerer at the other players, but that’s not golf anyway,” Majesky said. The golf coach also goes to Andrew’s basketball games, where he is one of the team’s top scorers.

“It’s been a joy to watch him out on the court,” he said.

Andrew, who wears No. 22 for the Warriors, has been playing basketball since elementary school. As captain, he said, “I loved doing it. A lot of it had to do with off-season workouts and teaching the underclassmen what to do.” It was a job he shared with three teammates: Tucker Walden, Kyle Hyzy and John Walsh.

As for golf, Andrew said, “My Pop was always into golf and wanted me to play. He passed away a year before I started. I started thinking about it and said, ‘if I’m going to play for the rest of my life, I should start getting good at it right now.’”

Asked to assess his game, Andrew said driving is his strong point, “although I can definitely be a little off sometimes.” Putting is more difficult. “It looks so easy but yet it is so hard.” He puts his handicap at 9 or 10.

In the classroom, Andrew is most interested in history and math and is taking AP Statistics this year.

“For some reason, I like dealing with numbers and solving equations. It sounds very weird to a lot of people but it’s very soothing for me,” he said.

Last semester he took AP U.S. History and counts the 1920s and progressive era among the most interesting periods.

To maintain his 3.8 GPA, Andrew said he takes advantage of his free programs during the day. “That’s one and a half less hours of homework a night,” he said.

Organization is key when, during the basketball season, he has to fit in daily practices of drills, plays and “a whole lot of running.” Before the pandemic, as soon as basketball ended he was on the golf course three or four times a week.

When he goes to Northeastern University in September, Andrew plans to double major in business administration and psychology, and maybe join intramural or club basketball.

Back on the golf course, Majesky said, “Andrew has all the talent in the world — a great golf swing, and a great competitive attitude. If I were blessed with another son, I couldn’t hope for anything better than cloning Andrew Smith.”