Shayla Lyons
Shayla Lyons
Shayla Lyons is a five-sport athlete and a high-honor-roll student at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany - but her parents say it's her compassion for others that makes her a rare breed.

"A new kid comes on a team [and] she's the first one to take them under her wing," said her father, Bill. "She makes them feel wanted, needed. She puts in the time, maintains her marks and is still liked by everybody. She doesn't lose who she is."

When a player from an opposing team falls on the basketball court, Shayla helps them up. "It's just so important to not knock someone down when they're trying their hardest," explained the 16-year-old junior.

Shayla is passionate about her sports and her school. Her first foray into sports was competition cheerleading at age six.

"You work all year on one routine," she said. "If you get kicked in the face, if you cry, you lose points. You're thinking 24/7 about everything. Now, [cheerleading] is in the Olympics, so no one can tell me it's not a sport."

Shayla competed in national and world cheerleading events and now coaches a team at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Delmar, her alma mater.

"It's such a great thing to have kids get involved with sports and be passionate about something," she said. "It had such a huge impact on my life and I wanted to share that with other people. It builds self-confidence. Even if you're not the best, a team is going to tell you, 'Great job.' It's one of the best feelings in the world to know that your work is going somewhere."

Sports also help Shayla focus more in the classroom: "You let everything go when you hit a floor, a track, a court."

When she hit high school, basketball was an easy addition, as she had played on CYO teams. Volleyball was also attractive.

"Softball - I literally have no idea how I started playing that," she said with a laugh.

During her freshman year at Maginn, her global studies teacher dropped a heavy metal ball on her desk and told her she was going to compete in shotput and discus in the spring. "Who ever thought you could love throwing a metal ball through the air?" she says now.

Shayla placed fourth in shotput and sixth in discus in Section II as a sophomore and was undefeated in both events in the Big 10 Athletic Conference last spring - impressive, for a novice whose school doesn't have facilities for her to practice. Mr. Lyons has coached his daughter, spray-painting a circle in Maginn's parking lot. Shayla throws from there into nearby woods.

"I have no idea how far I'm throwing, and I never do until I go to a meet," she said with a laugh. Sometimes they practice at public school facilities, especially in the summer.

Shayla is aware of recent planning for Maginn's future (see www.evangelist.org), but said she "couldn't even imagine leaving" Maginn.

"I would love a track, and proper fields for every other sport," she said. "But I could not let go of the teachers. Our school is the best place on earth. I love it more than anything. It's a family."

The student said she works hard in the classroom - she has a 97-percent average - and volunteers at phone-a-thons because Maginn's teachers "sacrifice their time for us. They spend 15-hour days there. I don't think it's fair for me not to care about school."

Before she enrolled, she envisioned herself in a bigger school - but there are advantages to Maginn's size.

"I can tell you every kid's name," she said. "If you're having a bad day, someone's going to be there. It forces you to fix your problems so there are no grudges being held. [I've learned] to never judge people and not to jump to conclusions."

The diversity at Maginn is also a break from the homogeneity of her hometown of Westerlo.

"It prepares you for the real world," Shayla said. "Not everybody is going to be a farmer. There's so much you can do with yourself. Being an individual is so important, and they've let me express myself" at Maginn.

Shayla has eight varsity and two junior varsity letters and has racked up athletic and academic awards and records. She hopes to play volleyball and track and study psychology at Penn State.

"There's a huge need for people in the mental health [field]," she said. Diseases like schizophrenia and depression are "overlooked things that people think can be controlled."

She's grateful for her parents' support of her athletics: "A lot of people, when they're good at something, take credit, but it's the people who surround us who make us who we are."