Photo: Recognized for leadership on and off the field, Connor Blend (third from left) is presented with a Marine Corps letterman jacket. /Photo by Joe Snell
With 300 meters to go, Connor and a teammate found themselves racing toward the finish line of a cross country race. Running hard toward the line, Connor, a Cistercian Preparatory Junior, became an image of vocal leadership.
“Throughout the entire race we were running together,” Connor said. “At the last I told [my teammate], ‘Buddy come on, you’ve got to go! You’ve got to go!’ And I started pushing him. I took my hand and started pushing him. I was trying to push him, and I was trying to push myself. We ended up doing really well that race.”
Connor, who runs cross country and plays soccer and tennis at the Catholic preparatory school as well as competes in club hockey, was honored Tuesday, Dec. 6, with the MaxPreps High School Male Athlete of the Month for November. Connor was awarded the prestigious national recognition for his achievements both on and off the field.
MaxPreps, a source dedicated to covering high school sports on a national level, has partnered with the United States Marines Corps in their inaugural award program. One male and one female athlete are named each month from September to June.
“The United States Marine Corps, through the MaxPreps High School Athlete of the Month program, is committed to recognizing students that embody the fighting spirit which enables them to win battles and overcome challenges they face, both on and off the field,” said Captain Sean Pangia. “We’re proud to partner with MaxPreps in this powerful program showcasing student athletes that have a positive influence in their community.”
Special guest presenter Marty Turco, a former NHL player who played nine seasons with the Dallas Stars, was on hand to introduce Connor alongside two Marine Corps Staff Sergeants and present him with a Marine Corps letterman jacket.
“Leadership is so revered but so hard to do,” Turco said. “To do it properly and to really be selfless, to really listen properly, and equally put the time in. That’s really what it boils down to.”
While playing hockey this past season, Connor experienced two injuries that forced him to sit out a portion of the year.
“He had a really tough year this last year,” said Connor’s father Bob Blend. “He had a concussion last fall from playing hockey and then in the spring he had an accident on the ice where he broke his collar bone. The next morning we were in surgery and he has a plate in there, eight screws and an incision. It kind of changed his plans. He wanted to help out youth hockey and coach the real little guys.”
Instead, the accident started Connor thinking about what else he could do. That led him to getting involved as a volunteer for the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Cyclones Special Olympics bocce ball team.
“And (Connor) says, ‘My left shoulder, the collar bone is cracked, I can’t do anything with my left arm, and I’m left handed; but I can throw the bocce ball right handed.’ So he started doing that, and it was like an unexpected gift. He was actually shifted to where he should be,” Bob said.
Connor’s experience with the Special Olympics team also encouraged him to assist teenage children in Colombia and parts of South America. Through volunteer and athletic opportunities, Connor and his family have looked carefully at juggling all of his activities.
“He’s had to give up a lot of things,” Bob said. “We sit down at the beginning of the school year and we say, ‘Where do you want to be at the end of the year grade-wise and with athletics?’ Every now and then we will remind him, ‘Remember this is the plan.’”
Connor considers time management the most important part of his life and has had to make decisions on what to cut out of his life in order to complete his goals.
“Don’t waste any time,” Connor said. “It’s all about productivity. Homework. Sports. I mean, I don’t really do much else. I don’t play with my phone. I don’t watch TV that often. It’s just really about putting the time into stuff you want to do.”