Pictured above: Asa Wittwer, Jazell Allen, Allie Ball
By Jake Ten Pas
Dual enrollment typically refers to high school students taking college classes before they’ve finished 12th grade. In the case of this year’s Loprinzi Scholarship recipients, that definition could be broadened. In addition to pursuing rigorous academic studies, competing in athletics, and volunteering, these individuals have navigated the challenging and invaluable school of hard knocks.
As MAC members consider supporting the Multnomah Athletic Foundation’s Annual Fund Drive, a brief look into the lives they fuel toward fruition is in order. Named after legendary local fitness guru Joe Loprinzi, the aforementioned scholarship recognizes one student from every participating Portland area high school with a $1,000 award. For three of those finalists, a total of $8,000 can be applied to one or two years of post-secondary education.
That means relieving financial stress, boosting feelings of interconnectedness, and supporting ambitious goals. The award also can serve as recognition of the years of diligence and faith in self necessary for them to take control of their lives and steer them toward the destinations of their own choosing.
Stability and quality of life are of paramount importance to Jazell Allen, which isn’t surprising given her life experience. Growing up on the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, her parents abandoned her as a child when her father went to prison and her drug-addicted mother simply never picked her up from her great-grandmother’s house. She graduated from Milwaukie High School and has always felt like she walked in two worlds — neither of which fully encompassed all that she was and felt she could be.
“My great grandma used to tell me, ‘I know it feels like you’re going through a lot, but you are being such a good role model to your younger siblings and cousins.’ I set high standards for myself because of that, and I also have a fear of abandonment,” Allen says. “I wrote the essay for my college application about what it’s like being mixed white and Native American and growing up on a reservation. That was the most I’ve ever opened up to anyone I didn’t know. The only other person I showed it to was my grandpa, and he cried because he didn’t know I felt that way.
“I was too native for a bunch of the other community members in the town I moved to (before Milwaukie), which was a majority of white people and Hispanics. Then when I was home, I was viewed as too whitewashed — and that I was losing my culture — when I was around natives.”
Fortunately, she discovered basketball, which she says is a popular sport on reservations, and it became just the outlet she needed to escape the self-destructive behavior she saw all around her. As she grew up, moving from her great-grandparents’ place to her grandparents’, and ultimately living with a friend while she finished high school, her passion for team sports translated to student government. She became the Spirit Commissioner for Milwaukie High School, helping younger students who might have felt alienated by the isolation of pandemic life to feel the power of their mascot, the Mustang.
For all that, Allen says that she often still feels as if she’s in “fake it until you make it” mode. But speaking by phone from the University of Southern California, her carefully constructed confidence comes through in every word. She knows what she wants to do with her life, and she recognizes the personal strength it’s taken to get her to a place where it’s within her grasp.
“I know I don’t want to be overwhelmed with work and that I want to build a family. Looking into high-paying jobs with great schedules, the one that stuck out to me most was becoming an orthodontist. I had braces when I was little, and I thought it was so fascinating. So, I saw the amount of schooling I needed, which is a lot, and I thought, ‘Well, I believe I can do it if I put my mind to it.’”
MAF must have concurred, and the foundation’s belief in Allen has only strengthened her resolve. “The Loprinzi Scholarship has given me the opportunity to one day not stress about any of the financials, whether there’s food on the table or anything like that. It’s supporting me in a dream I’ve had since I was a young girl. If 18-year-old me told little eight-year-old Jazell, ‘If you push yourself, you’ll go to a school that’s far away and be able to have a successful career,’ I would have said, ‘You’re really stupid right now. Reservation’s the only home.’”
Allie Ball describes the experience of moving from Portland, known as being one of the whitest big cities in America, to the campus of a historically Black college, Morgan State University, as “a good kind of whiplash.”
“I’m definitely still adjusting. In Portland, there was one other Black woman in my graduating class at La Salle Catholic, and I knew I wanted to attend a more culturally diverse college. Now, everywhere I look, it’s people who look like me but have different backgrounds, different stories, and so it’s really cool.”
Ball was born in South Carolina and adopted at three months old by Caucasian parents who have shaped her perspective on life through both their struggles and achievements. As a sports writer, her father found himself out of a job during COVID’s initial onslaught, and due to an injury, struggling to find meaningful work. Her mother took a chance on changing careers later in life, becoming a manager at Northwest DEQ, and giving her the opportunity to make a bigger impact related to climate change.
Finding inspiration in her mom’s aspirations and seeing up close the financial challenges that can arise unexpectedly and through no fault of one’s own, Ball determined to find a career shaping public policy. The Black Lives Matter movement also played an important part. In addition to earning a paid internship with the American Civil Liberties Union, Ball spoke in front of 2,000 attendees of a BLM rally, sharing her story and finding common ground with others fighting for justice.
“Even if it’s hard and you face challenges, to know that you’re a part of something bigger is enough for you to keep going,” she says. “That’s what I’m going to take with me when I enter politics.”
Now pursuing a major in political science and a minor in sociology, Ball is committed to understanding individual and societal motivations, getting to the root of what causes issues such as war and terrorism, and doing her best to make a better world. That’s where MAF comes in, and the $8,000 that the foundation is contributing to her college is absolutely instrumental in making her goals attainable.
“I had always known that I was going to be on my own financially. Scholarships like this continue to push me because I know that there are people out there who believe in my goals and dreams and who want to help me succeed. The scholarship really helped a lot, especially in dealing with out-of-state tuition. It just adds just this level of comfort when it comes to money and financing.”
The pandemic plays a role in each of these stories. Asa Wittwer is aware that it landed at a pivotal time for a lot of kids his age and says it taught him the power of a positive attitude, working hard, and seizing the day.
“I’ve always struggled with feeling like I wasn’t a part of something, which is a very weird feeling. No matter how hard I try, I feel like I’m not connected to the thing I’m trying to connect to. I’m also my own harshest critic, and always feel like I can do better,” he explains.
After his freshman year, during which he started to make friends and feel connected to his Jefferson High School community, COVID drove a wedge between Wittwer and the rest of the world. He entered a period of depression and intense feelings of isolation that generally saw him staying up all night playing video games and feeling rudderless. “I didn’t have the outlet I needed to get out there, and so I just kept bundling it all in. I didn’t have any sports to do. I couldn’t really go outside to see people.”
So, he started sewing. Picking up the skill from his grandmother, whom he calls his “biggest teacher,” he began adorning clothing with nature scenes to feel connected to the world being denied to him. Since then, he’s given these “patchwork/collage” creations to friends and even sold some online. But rather than being a career he wants to pursue, he sees it as a potential side hustle to his new mission in life, teaching others.
Citing both a dearth of male teachers in his own educational experience and a male high school math teacher who served as an excellent example of the craft, he determined to attend University of Oregon and major in education. It doesn’t hurt that he comes from a long line of teachers, with parents, grandparents, and a sibling all excelling in the profession.
“The connection I had with this teacher was so strong that, when I left, I was really sad to not see him every day. I want to have that connection with my students when I become a teacher,” he says. Wittwer adds that the process of applying for the Loprinzi Scholarship added another layer of experience and interconnectedness to his life for which he feels incredibly grateful.
“Writing the essay, going to the interview, and then to the celebration, has been such a great experience. I never imagined that it would snowball into this. It’s just like this weight has been lifted because I know teaching doesn’t pay the best, so these student loans are going to hurt. I know that Multnomah Athletic Foundation and MAC are behind me, and it makes me feel more supported in my decision to go to college and become a teacher.”
All of this has left him with a decidedly sunnier outlook on life than he ever could have conceived of during his remote sophomore year. “The things I’ve learned are to just try to live life, have fun, and make sure you’re always excited and have something you’re looking forward to.”
For more information on our scholarships, start here.
Written by Jake Ten Pas
Originally published in the October issue of The Winged M magazine.