La Jolla Country Day School inducts four alumni into the Torrey Hall of Fame

LA JOLLA – It was a day of inspiration and nostalgia at the La Jolla Country Day School last Friday (Dec. 5).

The school inducted four alumni into the Torrey Hall of Fame at an assembly attended by the schools Upper and Middle School students and faculty. The current students heard from alums who had managed significant athletic accomplishment – including regional, national and international accomplishments – while overcoming a wide variety of challenges.

Former San Diego Charger Rolf Benirschke was the keynote speaker and reminded the Torreys of a special connection between the Chargers and Country Day. The school, he told them, had allowed the 1982 Chargers to use its practice field to continue team workouts during the seven-week players strike that year.

Benirschke went on to recount a number of stories of athletes who had managed to overcome failure before reaching success. His own ten-year career as the Charger kicker began with a horrible start in which he missed more fields goals than he made. His first piece of fan mail came at the depth of that poor play – a note from a 12-year-old boy who believed things would get better for him.

They did.

Benirschke said he believes he learned perseverance from that 12-year-old boy and he was able to go on to a career that landed him at last weekend’s gathering of the greatest Chargers of all time.

But Benirschke went beyond sports, pointing to a recent survey that showed today’s students believe the world is “pretty messed up,’' but that they also believed they could correct its problems.

“You guys believe you can fix this world,’' he told the students, “and you can. . .But whatever you do, do it with passion. Do it with purpose.’'

The inductions to the Hall of Fame followed Benirschke’s speech and included:

n Danny Gabriel ’92

n Michele Hall Greene ’85

n Jeri Wigley Shepard ’85

n Alexandra Stevenson ’99

Ms. Stevenson particularly inspired the students with a brief talk that recounted her remarkable rise from the Country Day campus to tennis prominence.

Two weeks after graduating, she told the students, she was in London trying to qualify for Wimbledon, arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. While she was poised to attend UCLA on a tennis scholarship, her heart was in tennis and she made a deal with her mother: “If I make it to the semi-finals, I could turn pro.’'

Despite the long-shot odds, Stevenson electrified the tennis world by fighting through before losing in the semi-finals.

Since then she has pursued professional tennis but has had to overcome a debilitating shoulder injury.

When you are injured, she told the students, you lose everything – you agent, your friends. “All you are left with is your character.’'

She said she fought through, has rehabilitated and plans to be back at Wimbledon again in June.

But as she looked back on her time at Country Day, she said she particularly appreciated that she had what many other tennis prodigies had to give up. With the support of her Country Day teachers, whom she thanked personally, she was able to dance, act and participate in a full high school life.

“I gave up the French Open for the La Jolla Country Day prom,’' she said to great applause. “I’m glad I did. French Opens come and go, but the prom at Country Day is a once in a lifetime thing.’'