High School Sports

Airport athletes aim high

Some go seeking glory and headlines. And then there are student-athletes such as Jana Eichelberger, Heather Smith, Heather Shumpert and Lara Backman, four sports standouts at Airport High who, as they take the next step into college athletics, have different outcomes in mind — an education, enjoying the experience and, yes, competing fiercely in the sports they love.

Last month, they signed national letters of intent in a ceremony at Airport, as proud parents, coaches and friends looked on.

Eichelberger, an all-region basketball star headed to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, sees her responsibilities at IUPUI extending beyond the game.

"I just want to be able to, as soon as I go on campus, help out immediately, on the court and off the court," Eichelberger said.

Not that the competitive fire doesn't burn within the Division I-bound hoopster.

"I feel we have a great chance of getting into the NCAA tournament this year,” she said. “We can have a run.“ Smith will be taking to the pitch next year for the Columbia College soccer team, but athletics were just one factor attracting Smith to the school.

The other draws? "The teaching, the major," Smith said. She is eyeing a degree in early childhood education.

Smith's transition to the college game should be eased by the presence of a recognizable face: Airport teammate Shumpert is not only a future Fighting Koala herself, but she and Smith will be roommates.

What's more, Smith and Shumpert will likely find the other's motivations familiar.

"I'm just looking forward to playing and ... getting an education," Shumpert said.

Backman will head to Erskine College in Due West. .

"The environment is very welcoming," Backman said. "It's a good educational program."

A hopeful athletic-training major, Backman's goals on the field are strictly team-oriented.

"I just want to be a good attribute to the team and hopefully help them win a conference championship," Backman said.

Airport athletics director Kirk Burnett said the school emphasizes the importance of being not just an athlete, but a student-athlete. "We try to instill it," Burnett said.

Character, too. "We talk about being a good person. These four girls, I'd put up against anybody."