By Tyler Allen ExploreBigSky Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Tucker Shea knows there’s an important connection between sports and academics.

Shea, an 18-year-old senior at Lone Peak High School, is one of the first to attend every year of school in Big Sky and was a standout running back and kicker for the Big Horns football team. He was honored this November for his academic and athletic accomplishments.

Shea was awarded with a Football Academic All-State Selection thanks to his 4.08 GPA; an All-Conference Player Selection along with Jake Cruse and Haven Morris; and was one of two statewide finalists for the All-State Player Selection, according to Big Horns coach Tony Beardsley. Shea was also chosen to play in the Class “C” 6-man Senior All-Star Football Game in June, 2013. But his accomplishments don’t stop there.

In October, Shea represented LPHS in the Graduation Matters Montana Student Advisory Board. Nominated for the position by Big Sky School District Superintendent Jerry House, Shea is part of a 40-student board from 36 schools that aims to increase the number of kids graduating from Montana high schools.

House nominated Shea because, “Tucker’s very bright, sociable, polite and knows the difference between right and wrong,” House said. “He’s comfortable in his own skin.”

Shea agreed to participate, he said, “Because I know kids, good friends, [whom] have dropped out of LPHS. And I have a basic knowledge of what dropping out can do to you in the long run.”

“These kids that dropped out aren’t dumb by any standard, but decided they should go out to the workforce earlier… Maybe it works in the short-term, but in the long-term it’s much more effective to get a high school diploma.” Career, income and living conditions are much improved for high school graduates, Shea said.

Most of the other students at the conference in Helena came from schools much larger than LPHS.

“It was interesting when I went [to Helena],” Shea said. “Because many students felt as if their teachers didn’t care, that they were just a number. That’s the total opposite of our school. Teachers care about the students in my small school, and it gives the teachers and students a stronger connection. I think that if a student feels a connection to the school, sports, a teacher, a friend group… they’ll have a lot harder time walking away.”

Athletics have pushed Shea to do his best on the playing field, something he says transfers over to academics. “Sports have really helped by giving me the mindset I should always try my hardest and do my best.” It’s also a good stress reliever, he said.

Shea plans to apply to colleges across the country and hopes to continue his sports career. “I’m definitely going to try to play [football] in college, as just a kicker or a running back. I would love to play any position. I just want to play football.”

Kelly Shea, Tucker’s mother, says there certainly are challenges to raising kids in a small community like Big Sky.

“To be involved in sports [here] you have to travel quite a bit,” she said. “To be involved in the things you want to be involved in, resources can be limited in a small town. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would much rather be raising my boys here in a small community than in a large town or big city. Everybody watches out for your kids.”

Before Shea leaves Big Sky for his next pursuits, he plans to do a Graduation Matters event at LPHS sometime after Christmas or this spring. He will also meet with the Student Advisory Board again in June, bringing his unique Big Sky perspective to Helena with him.

Find out more about Graduation Matters Montana at graduationmatters.mt.gov/index.php?pg=2&sub=1&subset=3.

See the full list of LPHS 2012 Fall Athletic Teams Academic and Athletic Accomplishments at ophirschooldistrict.org/apps/news/show_news.jsp?REC_ID=256106&id=0.