By Steve Williams
Ahjanai Stephens picked participation over specialization in her high school athletic career at Austin-East.
The Lady Roadrunners’ Student-Athlete of the Year participated in three sports plus band her senior year.
I think that’s great. It may not be for everybody, but it fit Ahjanai’s needs. It also led to the first question I had for her in an on-line interview.
How did you do so much plus your academic work?
“Well, I participated in sports as well as band to stay focused,” she answered. “In order to keep up everything I’ve done, you have to have good grades and great time management.
“I would split times for different practices if needed, and academic-wise, I would finish homework during class, right after school if I had late practice or just wait until I got home.”
Stephens was a “dancing doll” in the band and on the soccer, basketball and track and field teams.
“One sport wasn’t enough for me,” she said “I wanted to try everything, every sport and I succeeded. The sports that I participated in I tried my best, because you never know who’s watching.
“People would say, ‘It’s too much. She will get tired of it’ or they’ll ask, ‘How was it possible,’ but I say, as long as you put your mind to it and have self-motivation, anything is possible.”
I also heard Ahjanai played on a co-ed softball team with her mom and dad, Robin and Charles, at Caswell Park this past spring. That was neat, and I wanted to hear more about that.
“Playing on a co-ed softball team is very fun,” she said. “One day the team just needed an extra person or they’d have to forfeit. My dad called me and asked, ‘Hey, can you come play this one game with us, so we won’t have to forfeit our game? If we do forfeit, it’ll end our season.’ So of course, I agreed to play this ONE game.
“After game one, I was welcomed to the team as a permanent player. I didn’t have a problem with it though, because I feel like it brought me closer to my parents. We had a funny story to tell each other after every game and just seeing us out there playing was nothing but smiles, and that’s what I enjoyed the most.”
Your favorite number must be 22, I told Ahjanai. I saw that on your basketball uniform and in your e-mail address. But then I also saw No. 2 on your soccer uniform. Any story behind 22 or 2?
“There’s many stories behind the No. 22 and 2,” she replied. “When I was younger, in the majority of my pictures, I held up the peace sign on both hands. I have no clue why I did it so much – maybe I thought it was fun and cool. After seeing those pictures, I feel like it was a sign to get No. 22.
“Another story about that – I was planning on changing my number from 22 to something else until my grandma Jackie bought this jersey. My grandma is a great supporter and she bought a jersey with the number 22 on it.
“She said, ‘Now that I’ve paid a good price for this, you better not change your number. It should be 22 for every sport.’
“So I had no choice but to keep it. We had a great laugh after that. I said, ‘Well, I can’t change it now. She laughed, ‘Oh well!’
“When it came to soccer, the team didn’t have big numbers, so I settled for number 2. Grandma was fine with that.”
Stephens, who had a 2.9 GPA, will be leaving Aug. 18 to begin her freshman year at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
She said she will go into nursing for two years, “but that might change. I’m still kind of undecided.
“My career goal is to be an athletic trainer, physical therapist or a massage therapist. I really enjoy helping others get back on their feet from injuries.”
Stephens said she most likely will get involved in a sport at TSU but will focus on academics her first year.