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Shane Fenske, ranked No. 1 in his senior class at Blackduck High School, has been accepted into Yale University. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Managing time and talent: Blackduck High School senior Shane Fenske excels as a leader, student and athlete

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Perhaps it’s fitting that both the robots Shane Fenske has helped make have involved sports.

Last year, Blackduck High School’s robotics team – the Quack Attack – was challenged to make a basketball-playing robot to compete at the FIRST Robotics regional competition in Duluth.

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This year, the team built a robot that could play ultimate Frisbee.

In its second year of competition, the Quack Attack’s robot placed 15th of 60 teams in the regional competition.

“They basically give you a task six weeks before it’s due, and you have to build this robot from the ground up,” said Fenske, a senior. “For a second-year team, that’s pretty good.”

In general, it was a great year Blackduck High School teams.

The Drakes’ baseball team made the state tournament for the first time last spring, finishing fourth. The football team snapped a 30-game losing streak dating back to 2008. The basketball team made a nice run in the section playoffs, upsetting a few teams along the way.

Fenske was a member of all those teams.

He is also first in his class, plays trombone and is treasurer of National Honor Society.

“I don’t have a ton of free time,” Fenske said with a laugh. “I try and manage my time as much as I can.

“But I enjoy all of it.”

All of that hard work has paid off for Fenske, who will receive the 2013 Scholar-Athlete Award presented by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation on April 28.

“He’s a nice young man who is really a good leader, not only for our team but also in the community,” said Dwight Kalvig, Blackduck’s head baseball coach. “He’s one of those student-athletes that you hope every town, every community would produce.”

His hard work also helped Fenske accomplish one of his goals of getting accepted into a top-notch college: Yale University.

“I’ve had Shane in class since he was in, oh, seventh grade,” said Andra Vaughn, Blackduck’s athletic director and Fenske’s National Honor Society advisor. “He’s just a bright kid, and one of those kids that you’ll ask him to help you out and he’ll do it without hesitation.”

Three sports, no problem

Playing three sports in three seasons can be a chore for many athletes, but at smaller high schools, athletes don’t usually have the luxury of focusing on just one.

“That’s one thing I really love about Blackduck,” Fenske said. “I don’t have to specialize in one sport. I love them all … if I had gone to a bigger school I might not have been able to play all three and do all the other things I do.”

Last spring, in baseball, Fenske hit .299 with two home runs and 23 runs batted in for the Drakes, who finished 23-5 and qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history.

“That’s definitely the highlight of my high school career,” Fenske said. “Going to state was awesome. It’s the first time our school has been to state in a long time in any sport. I’ll always remember that.”

Later that year, the Drakes lifted a curse off the football field. Blackduck, which hadn’t won a game on the gridiron since 2008, snapped a 30-game losing streak in the fall with a 50-8 win in September over Lake of the Woods. The Drakes kept going, winning five in a row, finishing the regular season 5-3 and winning a playoff game for the first time in more than 10 years.

Fenske starred on the football field on both sides of the ball and was named Defensive Lineman of the Year in the North Star conference.

In basketball, the Drakes finished 18-11 before falling to Mahnomen in the Section 8A East semifinals. Fenske scored his 1,000th point during the season.

Engineering, ‘Moneyball’

That lack of specialization extends to the classroom – he’s not a one-dimensional student.

Those robotics competitions in Duluth inspired him to want to dedicate his life to building things, so Fenske plans on studying engineering in college.

“I like the creative process that goes into accomplishing a task like that,” he said. “I love math and science; love technology and computers.”

Cody Nord, a calculus teacher, said Fenske has a real knack for problem-solving.

“One thing I appreciate about Shane in calculus is that he’s not afraid to ask questions,” he said. “He’s just an inquisitive guy.

“I think he’s just one of those kids where, if I handed him a calculus textbook and disappeared he could probably figure it out.”

Fenske hopes his love of sports and technology can translate into an eventual job in sports.

“That would be something I’d love to do down the line,” he said. “A lot of pro general managers these days have engineering degrees and are getting better at analyzing numbers – I think the Houston Astros GM has an engineering degree. It would be really cool to get into that.”

Fenske recently read a pair of books (“The Extra 2%” by Jonah Keri, about the Tampa Bay Rays, and “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, about the Oakland A’s) detailing how math and technology have gotten into sports.

He’s also a big fan of sportswriter Bill Simmons.

“I try and read a lot when I have time,” he said. “But it’s hard to read for fun during the school year.”

A modest example

Fenske said he’s a little nervous about the possibility of attending Yale. It is, after all, nearly 1,500 miles away.

“It’s going to be weird for sure,” he said. “But I think I’m ready. I’m pretty excited for the opportunity.”

Vaughn and the rest of his teachers think so, too.

“He’ll definitely be missed around here,” Vaughn said. “His personality will be missed, his sense of humor. He’s a very modest kid.

“But he’s so driven to do well that he’s going to get there and he’s going to blossom. There’s going to be a whole new world open to him.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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