Every year, thousands of kids are bullied at school. Ellie Heiden was one of those kids when she attended grade school in Arizona.
Heiden moved schools once, but once the other kids heard her stutter, the tormenting began again. It wasn’t until her family moved to the Tri-Cities when she was in the seventh grade that the bullying stopped and her self confidence began to blossom.
The recent Kamiakin graduate has put her past behind her. She is one of the Mid-Columbia’s most decorated athletes of all-time, and when it comes to track, she ranks second all-time in the state in medals earned.
Heiden was named the Herald’s female athlete of the year for the third consecutive year for her brilliant play on the soccer pitch and dominating performance on the track.
Heiden and Kiona-Benton’s McKenzie Burgess are the only athletes to win the award three times.
Heiden said she didn’t expected the award, but you can’t deny she earned it.
“Each one of these is special in their own way,” Heiden said. “Each year brings new challenges and difficult things happen. When I got this again, I was completely surprised and honored.”
Richland’s Payton Radliff earned the boys’ top honor after a sterling performance on the football field, an unforgettable senior season in basketball and a two-medal performance at state in track.
“He is a fitting selection for something like this,” Richland basketball coach Earl Streufert said of his point guard. “For us, he was one of the pieces that made it go.”
Heiden, the 3A state soccer player of the year, led the Braves to a second-place finish at the state tournament. She led the Mid-Columbia Conference with 14 assists and was fifth in goals scored with 12.
In the postseason, Heiden added four goals in seven games, including the game-winners in the 3A regional title game against Mt. Spokane and in the state semifinals against Bellevue.
She was named the Herald’s All-Area player of the year in both girls soccer and track and field.
While at state track, she caught the eye of a soccer coach from Washington’s team of the Elite Clubs National League.
“The coach came to the state meet to see one of his players compete,” Heiden said. “He came back the next day to watch me. He talked to my coach and then asked if I wanted to play.”
The answer, of course, was yes. Generally, players pay a hefty fee to play on the team, but each team can have one “discovery” player added to the roster, who has the fee waived.
“I got to play for them in Seattle,” said Heiden, whose team finished fifth out of 16 teams as she chipped in a goal and an assist. “All of these girls are going to play Division I soccer. They have been playing together for 10 months to get ready for the tournament. It was so fun to play with them.”
Heiden, who will run track at Brigham Young University, almost got out of the sport before becoming a high school star.
“It was my last year of being able to run in the Hershey (youth) track meets, and I told my mom I didn’t want to run, I just wanted to play soccer,” Heiden said. “Mom said if I ran this one more time that I could be done with track. I got fifth.”
Heiden came into her senior year of track having lost just a handful of races her entire high school career. At the Pasco Invite in April, she won three gold medals and was named the meet’s outstanding female athlete. But what had Edgar Brown Stadium all abuzz was her fourth-place finish in the 100 meters — her first loss at the meet since she was a freshman.
“You get that taste of victory and you will do anything to have it again,” Heiden said. “The losses don’t upset me. I work hard and I’m blessed to have my talent.”
She suffered two losses at state as the Braves’ 4x200-meter relay team finished second and she was third in the 100 meters. She turned her fortunes around with wins in the 400 and 200.
Heiden finished her impressive career with 12 gold medals and 16 overall. She sits second among big-school athletes in terms of gold medals, only behind Cleveland’s Cheryl Taplin, who had 13 from 1987-90. Taplin went on to a Hall of Fame career at Louisiana State University.
“She totally spoiled us,” said longtime Kamiakin track coach Cheryl Schauble. “She was always wanting to do more — workouts were fun. We always went to the limit — we didn’t know what her boundaries were.”
Heiden helped the Braves win three consecutive team titles in track — that after finishing second her freshman year.
“We are going to miss her to death,” Schauble said. “With Ellie, she alone is enough to be terrific, but there were others in support. Ellie brought an element of being better and the kids trained like that every day. They rose to the occasion.”
Heiden may have countless medals and trophies decorating her room, but that hasn’t changed who she is.
“They all respect her,” Schauble said of Heiden’s opponents. “She is the first person to turn and give you a hug and tell you that you did a great job. That is who she is. She is so genuine. It never occurred to her to let it go to her head.”
Chalk up that trait to her mom, who entered her into a tennis tournament her sophomore year. She told her daughter she needed to learn to lose graciously.
“You know how kids resent their parents for pushing them into sports?” Heiden said. “I maybe won one game. Those girls were so good I couldn’t even return their serves. Afterward, I gave my mom a high-five, but I didn’t say anything.”
Right now, it might be interesting to hear what her grade school bullies have to say.
Radliff started his senior season with a bang, helping the Bombers to the state quarterfinals in football before a 41-34 loss to Federal Way ended their season at 10-2. Their other loss was to eventual state champion Chiawana during the regular season.
Radliff, who hadn’t played organized football since the eighth grade, finished the regular season with 30 catches for 598 yards and nine touchdowns. He was a first team All-Mid-Columbia Conference selection at wide receiver.
“I broke my arm in the eighth grade and couldn’t play basketball that year either,” Radliff said. “Coach (Mike) Neidhold kept egging me on to play for three years, so I said ‘What the heck, why not.’ I had a lot of fun. I regret not playing all four years.”
Once basketball rolled around, Radliff was in his element. A three-year starter for the Bombers, he averaged 19.3 points per game and 2.8 steals heading into the state tournament.
Richland’s undefeated run ended with a 68-59 loss in the championship game to Garfield.
“That hurt quite a bit,” Radliff said. “I will take our only loss in the state championship game. People will remember what we did for a long time. It was a great time.”
Radliff’s love of basketball stems from his parents. His father Reese played at Enumclaw High School and at Central Washington University. His mom Mary Ann (nee McCord) played at Hanford High School and met her future husband playing at CWU.
“I have always loved the sport,” Radliff said. “Playing at Richland made my love for it even greater — the fans and the history at Richland.”
Radliff played baseball his freshman year and when he decided not to play his sophomore season, his parents suggested he try track.
What a good idea.
Radliff placed second in the long jump (23 feet, 2 inches) at state, and was fourth in the 200 meters (22.35 seconds).
“It’s one of those sports I’m naturally good at,” he said.
This fall, Radliff will attend Walla Walla Community College, where he will play basketball.
Athletes of the Year
2014 Payton Radliff, Richland
2013 Jalen DeVine, Hanford
2012 Matt Hadley, Connell
2011 Tyler Holle, Kamiakin
2010 Will Hoppes, Tri-Cities Prep
2009 Andrew Mendenhall, Southridge
2008 Robbie Mitchell, Kennewick
2007 Shayne Kelly, Pasco
2006 Travis Mattair, Southridge
2005 Tyler Cathey, Hanford
2004 Roby Clyde, Pasco
2003 Leon Jackson, Pasco
2002 Travis Buck, Richland
2001 Raul Vijil, Pasco
2000 Luke Gailey, Hanford
1999 Adam Tenforde, Hanford
1998 Tyler Brayton, Pasco
1997 Jared Mitchell, Richland
1996 Trent Ady, Pasco
1995 Andy Harris, Prosser
1994 Mark Stottlemyre, Richland
1993 Scott Surplus, Richland and Randy Carter, Prosser
1992 Jason Shelt, Kennewick
1991 Not awarded
1990 Nate Holdren, Richland
1989 Nate Holdren, Richland
1988 Dustin Smith, Kamiakin
1987 Brady Yount, Kennewick
1986 Jay Covington, Pasco and Ron Ricard, Burbank
2014 Ellie Heiden, Kamiakin
2013 Ellie Heiden, Kamiakin
2012 Ellie Heiden, Kamiakin
2011 Christine Kirkwood, Othello
2010 Mary Barnett, Hermiston
2009 Debbie Molsbarger, Connell
2008 Brittany Quick, Hanford
2007 Coriann Wood, Connell
2006 Lyndsee Landon, Richland
2005 Lori Conrad, Richland
2004 Lauryn Koelzer, Connell
2003 McKenzie Burgess, Kiona-Benton
2002 McKenzie Burgess, Kiona-Benton
2001 McKenzie Burgess, Kiona-Benton
2000 Heather Thoelke, Kennewick
1999 Emily Autrey, Kamiakin
1998 Julie Vanni, Richland
1997 Meotis Erikson, Kamiakin
1996 Kami Koehler, Connell
1995 Dana Riste, Kamiakin
1994 Shari Quinton, Connell
1993 Ari Skorpik, Kamiakin
1992 Jenny Peterson, Hanford
1991 Not awarded
1990 Debbie Sporcich, Pasco
1989 Kelly Blair, Prosser
1988 Kelly Blair, Prosser and Jo Shafer, Kamiakin
1987 Kristi Reichert, Hanford
1986 Tori Baker, Hanford