By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – The attention paid to NorthWood girls golf over the years has typically gone to its superstars. For good reason, players like Cybil Stillson and Bre Goss generate the headlines, or the success of the Richner sisters, Summer Stillson, Heidi Morganthaler, the list could go on. Not many people have paid much attention to the No. 5 on the Panthers’ roster.
Now introducing Bella Sechrist, the 2021 Mitchel Winger Courage Award recipient.
Sechrist isn’t the most vocal person in coach Adam Yoder’s program. She’s not the best driver, or chipper, or putter. But she does lead the team in one category – positivity. You’d be hard pressed to find Sechrist without a smile on her face on the golf course, or in the classroom, or at the grocery store. She’s just a happy person.
“A lot of it this year has been finding the fine line between pushing myself and learning how to take a break,” Sechrist said. “I think that’s helped me a lot this year with my score and just being able to endure through the season and through the school year.”
Sechrist has had her bumps along the way of her senior season on the golf course, finding scores north of 100 on occasion. She wasn’t a scorer at Saturday’s sectional tournament, shooting 102 to sit as the fifth score on the team that shot a 325 to win its fourth consecutive sectional title. But rather than complain about it, Sechrist finished turning in her scores then went to watch her teammates finish out.
Conversely, it hasn’t been all coattail riding for Sechrist, as she was an Honorable Mention All-Northern Lakes Conference performer, and has been a scorer on a team that has won conference and sectional titles, as well as a NorthWood Invite title among its fantastic 2021 campaign.
Where Sechrist was recognized with the Winger Courage Award is her personal battle with Hashimoto’s Disease. A constant push and pull with the disease attacking her thyroid through her immune system, Sechrist can have a perfectly fine start to a day, but go downhill quickly as the thyroid typically coordinates several other aspects of bodily function.
“My biggest symptom is fatigue,” Sechrist said, who also mentioned asthma is a problem among her Hashimoto’s.
Yoder, who nominated Sechrist for the award, has often checked on Sechrist before matches to make sure she’s ready to go. And every time she’s asked, she goes out. And refuses a cart, to which the IHSAA granted permission for her to use, but she doesn’t want to use the perk.
“My biggest fear is people seeing it as an excuse,” Sechrist said. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone who is making an excuse. I think it helps with my mental toughness. Definitely getting diagnosed I’ve been able to become more mentally tough and it’s built a lot of character.”
The Mitchel Winger Courage Award is named for the 1978 Whitko High School graduate who adapted to physical impairments to compete in golf. The award is given to a varsity golfer (boys and girls) who contributes to the success of their team despite of physical impairments and/or medical conditions. The focus of this award is on the player’s accomplishments not on the specific “handicaps”.
Sechrist is also an exception student, currently carrying a 3.9 GPA and ranked 32nd in her senior class. She will be the 2021 co-recipient of the award with Richmond’s Esther Etherington and formally recognized in October at the Golf Club of Indiana in Whitestown.
“I have witnessed Bella deal with her health issues with amazing character and grace,” Yoder said. “I have had to learn to beg and plead with her to give me how she truly feeling and how we can support her, because she absolutely refuses to let her condition be an excuse or a detriment to our team. She also refuses to use a riding cart, despite her doctor, NorthWood, and the IHSAA’s approval.
“In a program that has had so much success the past several years, Bella has continued to strive to be an excellent teammate, be a servant-leader, and to improve her skills as she has climbed the ladder into our varsity rotation. She is an outstanding candidate for this honor and is what student-based athletics should be about.”