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Murray Journal

AISU names its outstanding athletes of the year, just before closing its doors

Jul 03, 2019 04:42PM ● By Carl Fauver

Leo Alves fires up a short shot at an AISU boys’ basketball game last winter. (Photo courtesy McKinlee Covey)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]  

Like so many things that went before it – in what may be, who knows, a “jinxed” space – the American International School of Utah (AISU) has gone the way of the old Pacman machines, miniature golf putters and bowling shoes.

After five years operating in what once was the 49th Street Galleria, AISU has closed – amid a well-publicized financial scandal.

The school’s board of directors’ vote to close displaced about 1,300 students (except those departing with a diploma anyway) along with 170 full- and part-time employees.

Besides shuttering an academic institution, the closure also ends an ambitious effort by school administrators to develop a well-rounded athletic department. After spending the first year focused solely on classroom curriculum, AISU began to introduce sports teams in its second year – growing the number of teams and participants each year.

Along the way, administrators also made it a goal to construct a full-fledged gymnasium, claiming such a facility would allow them to move beyond competition in their small Utah Schools Sports Association (USSA). Ultimately, the Dragons hoped to compete for “real” state titles, under the sanctioning of the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA).

As a part of that athletic evolution, this year – for the first time ever – AISU named its Male and Female Athletes of the Year, and their two runners up. Three of the four are seniors. But even the fourth will not be personally encumbered by the school closing, because she rapidly earned enough credits to graduate as a junior.

This, then, is a profile of the only Athletes of the Year – and their runners up – to ever be named at the American International School of Utah.

Claire Richardson, senior – 2018-19 AISU Female Athlete of the Year 

“Our whole school is full of students who came here, because they didn’t fit in anywhere else,” Claire Richardson said. “Participating in sports gave me the chance to meet a diverse group of people, and to learn how to work toward a common goal, with students I might not know at all, otherwise.”

Richardson attended AISU all five years it was open, and competed all four seasons the girls’ volleyball team was in existence. The Dragons won the 2016 USSA state championship, when Richardson was a sophomore. 

“I also played two-and-a-half seasons of girls’ basketball,” she added. “I was just watching a game one day. It looked like fun and like they could use another player. So, I asked the coach if I could join the team, even though I had never really played basketball before.”

Richardson caught on quickly.

“In my very first game, the very first shot I ever took was a 3-pointer – and I made it,” Richardson added. “I decided right then, ‘I love this game.’ But it was not real well organized until Covey became our coach.”

Covey is McKinlee Covey, the volleyball and basketball coach at AISU for the past two years. She arrived at the Murray school from Arches Academy, a K-9 private school in Orem.

“I was part time three years and full time two years at Arches,” Covey said. “My final two years I was also the school’s first-ever athletic director and developed their first athletic program.”  

Covey calls Richardson one of the best athletes she has ever coached.

“Claire is amazing, with so much heart and hustle,” Covey said. “She’s a little bit feisty on the court, and really embodies what an AISU athlete is.”

In addition to playing volleyball and basketball, Richardson also played soccer her freshman and sophomore years. But, as she now turns her attention to college, Richardson said athletics is not in the picture.

“I will attend the University of Utah,” she said. “They don’t have a premed program, but I will take classes to hopefully get me into medical school. I want to be a dermatologist.”  

Richardson said she got that idea “watching Dr. Pimple Popper,” a program on the TLC.

Leo Alves, senior – 2018-19 AISU Male Athlete of the Year 

Unlike Richardson, Leo Alves does hope to pursue athletics in college – but not for a year.

“I am taking a ‘gap year’ before I start at Utah Valley University,” Alves said. “I plan to work and also take some online coaching courses. When I get to UVU I definitely plan to try out for the soccer team, and possibly volleyball as well.”

Alves becomes AISU’s one and only Male Athlete of the Year after playing four years of soccer for the team, three years of volleyball and a single season – the past winter – on the boys’ basketball team.

“I just decided since it was my senior year, I didn’t want to miss out on playing, so I went out for basketball,” he said. “I also wanted to get in better shape for soccer, which is my primary sport. Because I am tall, I earned a starting position pretty quickly. People may not think 6’3” is particularly tall for a basketball player; but I was the tallest person on my team and one of the tallest in our league.”

As a member of the AISU soccer team, Alves played in three consecutive USSA state championship games – winning the title in 2017 but falling short a year ago, and again this past May.

“We were undefeated (7-0-1) entering the state soccer tournament, and had beaten the school (Layton Christian Academy) that beat us for the state championship, earlier in the year,” Alves added. “But our tournament also began just as we were learning the school would close at the end of the season. That hit a lot of us hard and, I think, hurt our play. I know I took it hard because I was hoping to assist as a coach in the future (at AISU).”

Covey agrees that coaching is in Alves’ future.

“He is super motivated and very helpful,” Covey said. “At the same time he was playing for the boys’ basketball team last winter, he was also a volunteer student assistant coach on my girls’ team. He assisted at practices and games whenever his schedule would allow.”

Alves is not yet sure what his UVU major will be, when he begins there in 14 months.

Hannah Jonas, junior – 2018-19 AISU Female Athlete of the Year runner-up 

Hannah Jonas attended AISU for only three years, playing on the girls’ basketball team each of those years and on the volleyball team for two years. In addition to those extracurricular activities, Jonas also accelerated her studies in order to graduate as a junior.

“It was an ambition of mine to graduate early when I first arrived at AISU, and by the start of my sophomore year I knew it was a realistic goal if I kept working at it,” she said. “I took a lot of online classes and was able to work through them rapidly.”

Like Richardson, Jonas also believes competitive sports are behind her – for identical reasons.

“I will start at the University of Utah this fall, pursuing a biology major,” she added. “I would like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.” 

Angel Cardenas, senior – 2018-19 AISU Male Athlete of the Year runner-up 

“I considered Angel to be an assistant coach for the volleyball team,” Covey said. “He was a team captain both of my years here. And he was also my girls’ basketball team manager each of those years.”

Angel Cardenas is proud of the fact that he was a team captain for every AISU team on which he competed.

“I attended AISU four years and was a soccer team captain each of those four seasons (in which the teams placed fourth, first, second and second),” Cardenas said. “I was also a team captain all three years our school had a boys’ volleyball team.”

Under Covey’s direction, the school also established an athletic council, featuring eight students representing different sports. Not surprisingly, Cardenas was its first and only president.

“We met once a week, implemented a lettermen’s program for the first time and worked to strengthen our athletic programs,” Covey said. “Angel did a great job as president – very well organized.”

Cardenas hopes to do in two months what Alves is putting off for a year.

“I am moving down to UVU with two friends and will definitely try out for the club volleyball team, I think in September,” he said.

The AISU Athletes of the Year were selected by a vote of the school’s coaches, athletic director and assistant athletic director (Covey). School administrators then approved the selections.