Kroner: Brian Clapp chose another sports path than big sister Marissa

BISMARCK – Sports annals are filled with stories about siblings who have excelled in high school athletics.

Many are like the Mammens of the 1980s.

When Mark Mammen was a senior at Urbana in 1985, he won a school-record 38 consecutive wrestling matches. It's a mark that still would be standing had brother Kirk not come along as a senior in 1987 and won all 44 of his bouts in a state championship season.

Though a majority of younger brothers or sisters pick the same sports as their siblings, some such as the Wienkes from Tuscola excel in different endeavors.

Johanna Wienke was a four-time IHSA state placer in the discus and a two-time Class 1A state champion before graduating in 2006. Brother John is not involved with track this spring as a senior, opting to concentrate on baseball, but he made his greatest impact in football.

He quarterbacked the Warriors to back-to-back Class 1A state championship games, passing for more than 6,000 combined yards during his junior and senior seasons.

Bismarck-Henning junior Brian Clapp, who entered high school in 2005 a few months after his sister graduated, has not taken the same path that led to a collegiate career for Marissa, a junior swimmer at the University of Illinois.

Making his mark

"There are many reasons I've gone in a different direction," Brian Clapp said. "For one, I played more sports in junior high than Marissa."

While she focused on swimming and track in her pre-high school years, Brian participated in those sports as well as basketball and baseball.

Swimming is not a sport that B-H offers, and when the club swim team he was on disbanded, it was an easy choice for Brian to focus on activities at his school rather than to train on his own elsewhere.

He said he never felt pressure to match – or surpass – Marissa's accomplishments in the pool.

"I believe everyone wants to make a name for themselves out in the world," he said, "but I never felt like I was being overshadowed by her. Having an older sister that was athletic never really affected my decision of sports."

During her fall seasons, Marissa Clapp was a dual-sport athlete. She handled practices in cross-country and swimming and was a state qualifier in both.

Brian Clapp ran cross-country as a freshman, then took up football as a sophomore. Last fall, as a junior, he earned All-Vermilion County accolades as a defensive back.

"I looked at it as a new challenge and that I would have to work hard to be successful," Brian Clapp said. "Honestly, I didn't expect much out of myself the first year, since I had never played before in my life.

"Yet every time an opportunity occurred for me to better myself, I jumped at it and tried to make something good happen."

Filling big shoes

Marissa Clapp understands why many families are known for their prowess in a particular activity, such as running, swimming or wrestling.

The younger siblings grow up attending and watching the activities of an older family member and that sparks an interest.

"I think if my older sibling had competed and excelled in a certain sport, I might want to look into what that sport was all about," Marissa Clapp said.

She wouldn't jump into it with tunnel vision, however.

"I would definitely want to find out what fit me best and what made me happy," she said. "To find which sport was for me might take some exploration into unfamiliar areas."

That her brother was able to make a smooth transition to football was not surprising for big sis.

"During the years my brother and I swam on the same team (Turtles/Storm), I saw him progress and learn how to become an athlete," she said. "During that time, he established a great work ethic and to learn and execute new techniques that would help him to excel and accomplish his goals.

"What Brian established at such a young age carried over into high school."

Joining the team

It is also worth noting that Marissa Clapp's main endeavors were ones where she competed individually, such as in running and swimming, while Brian's focus is geared to team sports, such as football and basketball along with sprint relays in track.

"Where my swimming teammates can provide me with support in meets and training, when I step on the starting block my race is ultimately in my hands," Marissa Clapp said. "I would say Brian likes the unity with the team and maybe even the pressure that his teammates are counting on him to execute and perform.

"He likes the team aspect of football and basketball, where each team member's performance may directly affect your own performance. That really adds a whole new dimension to a sport."

Brian Clapp, an honor roll student who hopes to play football in college, enjoys the camaraderie of being surrounded by teammates.

"The fact that football is a team sport really did make switching to it pretty favorable," he said. "I figured I could apply my athleticism to a sport that could benefit a whole bunch of people.

"In the end, having a team to train with and be around to share in experiences did win me over."

On their own

Lisa Clapp said her children were never pushed into specific sports but were guided toward ones where they would be in control of their careers.

"Brian and Marissa were always encouraged to pick a sport where you could succeed individually with times, placing, personal improvement," Lisa Clapp said, "and not at the coach's mercy in sitting on the bench or waiting your turn."

In the final analysis, Marissa and Brian Clapp have made major impacts based on their merits.

Marissa Clapp was a two-time sectional track and field champion in the 3,200 meters and advanced to state, either individually or with a relay, all four years at B-H. As a prep swimmer, she ranked among the area's top five in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke three consecutive seasons, advancing to state as a junior and a senior.

Brian Clapp's first year in football found him as the starting junior varsity quarterback as a sophomore. As a junior, he was a prominent reserve on the Blue Devils' recent sectional finalists in basketball. Last spring in track, he was the leadoff runner on the victorious 1,600-meter relay in the Vermilion County meet.

"There were times I felt pressure to do well because of Marissa," Brian Clapp said. "I never tried to compare myself to her, yet I know other people sometimes did.

"I would remind myself that it is different because we had different levels of competition. I competed against all guys and she competed against all girls, so our success in sports wasn't always comparable."

Marissa Clapp said she has no doubt her brother could have been a standout swimmer had that been his passion.

"Brian could have measured up to my standards, if not more so, had he chosen to swim," she said. "However, that would not be the case if his heart was not truly invested in the sport.

"Athletes choose to specialize in their sport based on how much they love to do it day in and day out, not necessarily how much they can win or get out of it."

The common bond for the Clapps is that whatever the sport, they've been successful.

Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly column on high school-related topics during the school year. He can be reached at 217-351-5235 or via e-mail at fkroner@news-gazette.com.

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