Andrews, DeBalsi named Staples ’16 valedictorian, salutatorian
Updated 3:51 am, Saturday, March 19, 2016
WESTPORT — Two high-achieving students in the Staples High School Class of 2016 — both in academics and athletics — have been named the class valedictorian and salutatorian.
William Andrews, the co-captain of the school’s championship tennis team, is the valedictorian, and Hannah DeBalsi, a nationally ranked runner considered the most outstanding female track athlete in school history, is salutatorian.
Andrews will speak at the Class of ’16 commencement in June, and DeBalsi will address classmates at baccalaureate a night earlier. Both have attended Westport schools from their elementary years.
Andrews first attended Kings Highway Elementary School and then moved on to Coleytown Middle School. At Staples, he was influenced by “brilliant teachers, who are also nice,” according to an announcement from the school, citing Joel Kabak, who was once a practicing pulmonologist, while several instructors have degrees from MIT.
A favorite subject for Andrews is chemistry, as well as Advanced Placement language. While Andrews calls himself a “science and math” person, he says he enjoyed English classes as well.
After missing the freshman tennis season with an injury, Andrews played on the two-time FCIAC championship and 2014 state title squads. A year-round player with tournament experience in New England, Florida and Missouri, Andrews appreciates the “mental strength and toughness” that tennis demands. “You deal with failure regularly,” he said. “In a 32-man tournament, only one person wins his last match.”
Andrews also volunteers with Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, which provides instruction and tutoring to underserved youngsters. He has co-chaired an FCIAC league fundraiser for the organization. He also tutors with Top Hat, a student-run business. Three times a week, he helps classmates understand chemistry, algebra and English.
Other interests include film (he writes reviews for a friend’s blog) and juggling (“I drop a lot, but it’s fun”).
Andrews has not yet decided where he will attend college, but in the school’s announcement said, “Wherever I go, I’m sure I’ll get a lot out of it,” he says. He is leaning toward chemistry or the mental health field.
DeBalsi, who also is a National Merit finalist, holds two national distance running records and numerous state records. She was Sports Illustrated magazine’s High School Athlete of the Month in December, and travels frequently to high-level events around the nation.
Running is “fun, not a chore,” she said in the school’s announcement. Coaches Laddie Lawrence, Malcolm Watson and Amanda Parrish Morgan taught her technique and tactics. Beyond workouts though, all three “invested in me as a human being. They helped me become a better person,” she said.
But DeBalsi high-profile experiences are not limited to the track. Last summer, she worked at Yale University’s Flavell Lab, studying immunobiology in transgenic mice, a project designed to help find a cure for cancer.
After Long Lots Elementary School, she attended Bedford Middle School, where she was inspired by Kerstin Rao’s workshop program. “She let us be ourselves,” DeBalsi said. “In middle school, that’s not easy.”
This fall, DeBalsi will attend Stanford University, where she said she “clicked” with track coaches and runners during a visit. Her major is uncertain, though it is likely to be math or science related.