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Family, Football, and Dedication: The Shank Way

Posted June 8, 2017

Connor and Cara Shank have been a part of South High long before they became students here thanks to something very important in their lives - family.

By Brayden Leather

Family. One word that carries a powerful meaning.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists eight different definitions for the word family. Everyone has their own definition of the word and their own understanding behind it.

Family is an important word in the vocabulary of Connor and Cara Shank. It is a word they hold near and dear to their heart because of the people they associate it with.

From the time Connor began playing football at the Washington County Junior Football League and Cara began cheering at the WCJFL, their family has always been behind them with undivided support.

“You know there are people there supporting you and your brother… your mom and grandmother and the rest of the family are supporting you in the stands. Its shows being a coach's family is something you take to heart,” Cara said about the family support at every game. The coach of the family is Connor and Cara’s father Jeff Shank, a football coach of 22 years and health and physical education teacher of 19 years.

South High has basically shaped the Shank family. It is where Coach Shank and his wife Stephanie went to school and where all three kids - Corey, Connor, and Cara - have all attended.

It is everything they have known for virtually their entire lives. They have grown up around South High.

Connor started helping out at South High long before he became a student. Whether it was working in the concession stands or riding along with the late Jimmie Winters as he mowed the athletic fields on campus, Connor was sure to lend a hand any way he could.

His volunteer work was recognized when he was named this year's recipient of the Jimmie Winters Memorial Scholarship by the Class of 1963 and the South High Alumni Association and became the second recipient of the Jimmie Winters Award, both major honors that Connor took personally.

“I grew up knowing Mr. Winters… he was always lending a helping hand. If the field would need mowed before the game or a line was crooked and needed to be repainted, he was always there to help. It made me proud to receive the scholarship and award in his name,” he said. Connor plans to use the scholarship to attend Hagerstown Community College for two years before transferring to a four year school now that he, like his parents and brother Corey, is a South High graduate.

There are many ways you can describe the Shank family and what South High means to them. Coach Shank prefers to describe it using country artist Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” but instead of saying the school built the Shank family into what they are today, it was the school that helped mold the family.

“When you’re a coach, you don’t get to see your family a lot. To have my kids here is really something special,” Coach Shank said.

When Connor and Cara were not lending a hand around the school, they could be found on the football field with their dad or on the softball diamond.

Connor played football and lacrosse throughout his time in high school while Cara, who will be a sophomore this fall, was a cheerleader during football and basketball season and played first base for the varsity softball team.

Prior to the season, Cara was primarily a shortstop but there were holes around the field that would need filled such as right field and first base. She stepped up and filled those roles going from shortstop to right field then, right field to first base, major position changes that pose a challenge for most baseball and softball players.Cara Shank playing first base“Moving from short to right was pretty difficult because I had never played in the outfield before… I settled in at first because I’m more comfortable playing in the infield,” Cara said. She would like to eventually move back to shortstop one day but she says she will enjoy her new position at first base for as long as the team needs her to play there.

For Connor, playing a different position in football is practically a daily routine. One moment he would find himself playing on the offensive side of the ball at tight end only to stay on the field after a drive to play defense at the linebacker position. An intense moment can come at any given second keeping you on your toes and alert while out on the field.

Connor was playing tight end during the game winning drive in overtime against South Carroll last fall. He remembers the adrenaline and nail-biting action leading up to Taliek McKenzie’s walk-off touchdown.

“At that moment there was nothing going on in my head,” he said. “We were facing the scoreboard so you could see you are playing in overtime and you are on the 1-yard line on offense… I knew all I had to do was block so Taliek could run right off my butt and get into the endzone.”

He did exactly that and the Rebels won.

Even though Connor did not score the winning touchdown himself, he played a big role in helping the ball get in and his biggest fans, his family, were there to celebrate with him.

The man who doubled as a father and one of Connor’s football coaches throughout high school in Coach Shank was there that night calling plays from the press box just like every other Friday night. His mother Stephanie and sister Cara was in the bleachers. Having them there every step of the way solidified the meaning behind family and football as Connor had mentioned.Connor Shank playing footballCoach Shank will remember it as touching at times and how at one moment during a game he had looked down from the press box and saw Connor and Cara in his line of sight and thought about how special of a moment it was.

Cara along with a group of other fellow JV cheerleaders were invited to join the varsity squad as football season came to a close. Being on JV gave Cara the opportunity to cheer on the tack behind her dad who is the head coach of the JV football team but none of those games will ever replace how special it was to cheer for varsity with her brother on the field in addition to father coaching and mother cheering from the bleachers. “Football is basically our life both at home and at school so it was really special,” Cara said.

Although Connor has graduated and has moved on to college, it is almost absurd to think he will be gone long. Chances are with his sister and father still at the school and the years of dedication already put in by Connor and his family, he will be back on campus enough to still be considered a regular at sporting events.

The Shank family has made a lasting impact on the South High community. They are part of an elite group of families that extends deep into South High’s rich history and will impact generations to come like the Winters and Nicewarner families. That is why they are part of a rare breed of people who know their family and friends are important aspects in their lives and it isn't about what you know in your head is right to do but it is your actions and how you do it that matter most.Shank Family