CHAMPAIGN — It's one of those stories that gets better with age, particularly as Chantal Meacham grows up, grows older and travels through life as a successful multisport athlete.
She has just completed her sophomore year at Centennial, one that first featured a standout season in basketball and concluded with a super-sectional appearance in soccer. None of this is any surprise to anyone who knows the Meacham family, as sports-oriented a bunch as Champaign can boast.
Flash back a dozen years or so. As older siblings Ashley and Trent were busy with their own athletic pursuits, little Chantal — 11 years Ashley's junior and nine years younger than Trent — was tagging along and watching ... whether she wanted to or not.
"She had no choice," said mother Susan Meacham, referring to the youngest. "That was her life and she just loved it."
Susan wasn't the least bit surprised, then, when one of Chantal's first words as a toddler was — drum roll, please — "Nike."
Quick, someone call Phil Knight.
"She couldn't even talk, and everyone would point to that swoosh and she'd say 'Nike,' " Susan said, chuckling at the memory. "Everyone thought she was really bright. But you could point to an adidas sign and she'd say 'Nike', too."
You know you're a sports family when the youngest can identify shoe brands quicker than she can spot Elmo.
"I didn't even know about that until this morning," Chantal said. "That was my childhood: going to soccer tournaments, basketball tournaments."
That's just part of being a Meacham. Susan and Stu Meacham raised kids who loved their sports. Ashley and Trent both played soccer and basketball, though the latter abandoned his soccer career before high school and eventually went on to play for Bruce Weber at Illinois.
Chantal was present at every step along the way, and apparently she took good notes. There's no doubt she loves to participate, and much like her siblings she labeled basketball as her favorite. But the 2011 News-Gazette All-Area Soccer Player of the Year, who once nearly gave up on the sport, has stuck with it and she's plenty happy that she did.
"I've gotten to love it more over the years," she said.
In the Meacham household, faith comes first. They are active and eager members of First Christian Church.
"And sports come after that," Chantal said.
The walls of their basement are lined with clippings and memorabilia from the kids' athletic careers. You'd need a calculator and a super-special memory to total the number of miles they've traveled to watch Ashley, Trent or Chantal play some sort of sport.
Being the youngest, Chantal always was watching them. And because her siblings are so much older, they're not around much these days to reciprocate. Trent is married and plays professionally overseas. Ashley recently moved to Los Angeles.
On the rare occasion they get to see Chantal play — Trent took in one of Centennial's sectional soccer matches last month — she usually knows what the aftermath will entail.
"I'll always get a little (advice)," Chantal said. "But with soccer, not so much."
Laughter ensues. Trent's soccer knowledge, say Chantal and Susan, doesn't extend much past "Goal!"
"I always get a hug and a 'Congratulations,' " Chantal said.
That much is warranted, given her success. And not just in her favorite sport. Chantal's coaches already have floated the idea that soccer is her best sport now, and she said she's been mulling that notion in her mind lately. It's possible she'll have the chance to play soccer in college. Not that she needs to decide this week. There's time.
"I've just been trying to figure out what God's plan is for me," she said. "I'm not sure if that means playing basketball or playing soccer or playing both or playing none. So I'm just going to stick it out and go wherever he leads me."
Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2011 Chantal Meacham Centennial
2010 Dagny Olson Centennial
2009 Kelsie Donley Mahomet-Seymour
2008 Amanda Greco Champaign Central
2007 Liz Clegg Champaign Central
2006 Erica Houk Urbana
2005 Ashley Bolen Urbana
2004 Ella Masar Urbana
2003 Megan Bushue Centennial
2002 Tricia Johnson Centennial
2001 Brittany Ward Centennial
2000 Erica Peters Champaign Central
1999 Katie Stephens Urbana
1998 Katie Stephens Urbana