'Student-Athlete' Wheaton Combines Elite Academics with 3-Sport Success

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

May 9, 2023

She’s perhaps the definition of student-athlete.  

Southeast & BorderAddison senior Kahlen Wheaton’s athletic career is winding down, but she’s leaving a legacy at the southern Lenawee County school, not so much for record-breaking sports statistics, but for her drive, determination, and classroom success. 

This fall, she’ll enroll at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, one of the most exclusive colleges in the nation. 

“They accept only 4 percent of the students who apply,” said Barbara Brown, Addison volleyball coach and a teacher in the district. “I have had her in my Advanced Placement English classes the last two years, and she has turned in some of the most impressive work I have received in my 27 years of teaching. She goes above and beyond in everything she does.” 

Wheaton has played sports since grade school. At the varsity level, she’s played volleyball, basketball, and softball. She played three years of travel softball in high school and rarely missed summer workouts in the other sports.  

Always competitive, Wheaton said she used sports to relax from the rigors of her academic calendar. She estimates she spends 3-5 hours a day on homework or taking college classes online. 

“I definitely enjoy it,” she said about sports. “It’s nice to be able to hang out with people. I really like the game itself. It’s a stress reliever. I have that two hours a day where I can kind of chill.” 

Wheaton will graduate Addison as its valedictorian. She has a long list of scholarships and academic awards, from being named the Cascades Conference Scholar Athlete to being named outstanding senior in mathematics, English and science at Addison. 

“Kahlen is truly one of a kind,” Brown said. “Her work ethic is impressive, and I never heard a single complaint from her. Kahlen is a very quiet young lady, but she is also kind and encouraging to everyone.” 

Wheaton, 17, finds time to study every chance she gets – on the bus, in-between games at volleyball and softball tournaments, and just about all her downtime. 

“My teammates can attest to this,” she said. “On the bus to games, I’ll be doing my homework, or between games at softball tournaments. I try and stay off my phone when I get home so I can get all my work done.” 

Wheaton is playing softball this spring for Addison, which has vastly improved over the last couple of seasons. Head coach Kelly Gahn said Wheaton is a leader who has spearheaded fundraising efforts for the softball program and serves as the team tutor in math.  

“She is a completely selfless person,” Gahn said. “She leads by example, and as a senior she is still working harder than ever. In the weight room, on the practice field and on game day Kahlen is working to be better. She is giving to her teammates any help they might need.” 

Wheaton begins her swing during a volleyball match. Brown said Wheaton missed part of her freshman year of volleyball due to a concussion she suffered during a softball game the preceding summer. Not playing a lot due to that injury didn’t deter her. 

“She worked extremely hard to catch up and by the time she was a senior, she was one of my two middle hitters,” Brown said. “I knew every time she got a set, she would put the ball in play.” 

Wheaton grew up in the Irish Hills area of southern Michigan, the daughter of Glen and Dawn Wheaton.  

Getting into MIT wasn’t on her radar until her senior year started and she began comparing some of her college entrance exam scores with those of MIT applicants. She gave it a shot and applied. 

“I really didn’t think I was going to get in,” she said. “I applied early, in December. When those decisions were released, I was deferred. I was planning on going to the University of Michigan, then on March 14 they released their regular decisions and I found out I got in. I was super surprised.” 

Her being accepted goes beyond her 4.2 GPA and test scores, but she’s not entirely sure what set her apart. On her visit to Cambridge, she met students from across the country, most from much larger schools than Class C Addison. She will study engineering with a focus on sustainability. She’s been interested in green energy and solar panels for several years and feels that is the direction her career could be headed.  

“I’ve always had a passion for the environment,” she said. “It was my sophomore year where I started thinking about a career in that field. I love math and science so I thought engineering would be a good path to go. Everything I’ve learned about it so far has seemed awesome.” 

Her academic schedule hasn’t been set for the fall, but she’s peeked at the freshman year requirements.  

“Physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, two humanities – that is my freshman year,” she said. 

Whatever the class load, she’s prepared for it.  

“I anticipate it being hard. I’m excited for the challenge. I’m going to have to adjust to school being harder,” she said. 

“I want to get involved with on-campus sustainability clubs. Research is a big thing at MIT, so I want to get involved with a research project. Other than that, I just want to explore the Boston area and meet new people.” 

While her athletic career is winding down, Wheaton takes a lot of lessons from volleyball matches, basketball games and time on the softball diamond.  

“The main thing I’ve learned from sports is how to communicate with people,” she said. “I wasn’t close to the girls on my sports teams when I was starting high school. Learning how to communicate with people in different ways has made me more sociable, for example. I used to be way shyer than I am now. Being able to work as a team will be very useful in college and in the workplace.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Addison’s Kahlen Wheaton readies for a pitch during a softball game this spring. (Middle) Wheaton begins her swing during a volleyball match. (Softball photo by Barbara Brown; volleyball photo by Mike Dickie.)

More Big Moments Ahead as Midland's Schloop Caps Career District Sweep

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

June 5, 2024

Grace Schloop has thrown the final pitch in four straight District Finals for the Midland softball team. But that doesn’t mean the lead-up to them got any easier.

Bay & Thumb“Absolutely not,” the Midland senior said. “I think, as I get older, I get more nervous for these games. As an upperclassman, there’s more expected of you. You have to do what people have seen you do, and you don’t want to fail.”

This past Saturday, Schloop did again what people have seen her do her entire career, striking out 14 batters in Midland’s 7-2 Division 1 District Final against arch-rival Midland Dow, adding to her school record total and keeping her senior season and tremendous Midland softball career alive.

Schloop has been a four-year star for the Chemics, re-writing the record books both as a pitcher and a hitter. Her 801 career strikeouts tops Midland’s list, as does the 294 she’s accumulated this season. She’s also set the school mark for home runs in a career (29) and season (11 as a sophomore) for the Chemics.

This spring, Schloop is hitting .426 with a .496 on-base percentage, 13 doubles, three home runs and 40 RBI for Midland. In the circle, she has a 1.01 earned-run average to go along with those 294 strikeouts in 145 1/3 innings pitched. She had a 19-strikeout game against Division 3 No. 4 Evart, which is also a school record.

“We knew there was a lot of talent there and that she had a high ceiling,” Midland softball coach Matt Starling said. “But I don’t know if we saw this coming. She worked her way to becoming the pitcher that she is. We knew she was going to be good, but this good – I’d love to tell you we knew this was going to be a thing. She’s put in the extra time to be this good. She’s really earned this.”

Schloop entered high school as someone the Chemics were almost immediately counting on to deliver, as – thanks to the pandemic wiping out the previous season – they didn’t have a pitcher on staff who had recorded an out in a varsity game.

Luckily for her, she had help when it came to transitioning to a higher level: her older sister Gabby, who was a senior on that 2021 team.

“I knew that it was very intense, and that I was going to have to take on a very different role than I had in middle school,” Grace Schloop said. “But I had my sister there with me, and I kept looking to her, and I had one of my best friends there, and they had so much faith in me. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today had I not had (Gabby), or the other senior, Taylor Sanborn. They were both very intense and hard-working, great athletes. To be able to look up to that, we were able to push ourselves to be like them. I wanted to be like how they were.”

Schloop makes her move toward the plate. Gabby Schloop is playing shortstop at Northwood, while Grace has signed to play at Saginaw Valley State. The two are scheduled to meet next season.

“We have had many dinner talks – rivalry dinner talks – already,” Grace said. “The games are scheduled to be played at Northwood, and we have discussed it many times. Throughout the entire winter, I pitched to her, so she pretty much knows my weakness, and I know her weakness. She thinks I’m going to hit her. But I’m not going to.”

While her big sister has been away, Grace has taken on the task of being a role model for younger players, something she doesn’t take for granted.

“I help do pitching lessons with the little girls, and people around me say they look up to me,” she said. “It makes your heart so warm. That’s probably the coolest thing ever, that people look up to you.”

She’s providing an excellent example, not only with her in-game performances, but the work that goes into them. When Schloop entered high school, she was a power pitcher. Now, she has a full arsenal of pitches to get hitters out.

“She’s certainly a power pitcher, for sure, but she’s developed her secondary pitches now,” Starling said. “She has an element of changing her speed and has just become more refined with her pitches. Her movement has improved a lot since her ninth-grade year. As a ninth-grader, she could throw the ball hard, and you really can’t teach that. Her development of the other skills has been off the charts.”

The result has been plenty of wins for the Chemics, including the four-straight District titles, which was the goal; and the long list of records, which is a nice addition.

“Half of them, I didn’t even realize I was close to until it happened,” Schloop said. “Sometimes, I’d go home after a game and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was me. I did that.’ It feels very out of body. I’m just there to pitch and do what I need to do.”

Next on the to-do list is a matchup with Saginaw Valley League rival Grand Blanc in Saturday’s Regional Semifinal. The teams split their season series and shared the conference title along with Dow. 

While Schloop is sure to be dealing with those same nerves heading into Saturday, history tells Starling that she’ll be more than ready for the moment.

“Her competitiveness, as with all kids when they get older and mature, she certainly has it,” Starling said. “She seems to relish those big moments.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Midland pitcher Grace Schloop begins her windup during a game this season. (Middle) Schloop makes her move toward the plate. (Photos courtesy of the Midland athletic department.)