Blairsville graduate recognized for perfect K-12 attendance
William “Bill” McConnell of Blacklick Township had a daily routine he stuck to without fail during the fall, winter and spring of the past 13 years: He got up, got ready and went to school.
That dedication was rewarded on the evening of June 6 as McConnell marked the end of his high school career. He received an award for perfect attendance, as he'd not missed a day of lessons throughout elementary school, junior high and high school.
“I didn't expect the award until I got up there and they gave it to me,” McConnell said. “I was shocked.”
Jeff Soles, principal at Blairsville High School for the past year, said McConnell is the first student he's come across in 20 years of school administration that has never missed a day of attendance in grades K-12.
“Bill has done a real feat,” he said. “This is a great accomplishment in this day and age when students don't come to school every day like they used to.”
For McConnell, getting himself to school even when he felt a little under the weather was never a problem.
“There are plenty of times I've gone to school sick,” he said. “It just wasn't enough to send me home.”
“Kids get sick and they stay home, everybody gets a bug, but to be that healthy for 12 years is pretty amazing,” noted Soles.
“It just wasn't that hard to get up and go to school every morning,” McConnell said. “The way I see it is, you get up, you go for 12 years, then you don't have to go anymore. You might as well get it done.”
Though he missed two months of attending school after breaking his leg in the fifth grade, a teacher came to his home for tutoring every day, which counted toward attendance as far as school officials were concerned. The next day, his sister, Alexis, would turn in his assignments for him.
For the past three years, McConnell also attended the Indiana County Technology Center and its heating, ventilation and air conditioning program. Through the program, he received certifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
He began going to ICTC after his cousin, Patrick McConnell, talked about the classes he took in HVAC there.
“I didn't think much of it at the time,” Bill McConnell acknowledged. “The more he talked about it, I thought it'd be neat to go up and see what's its about.
“It was a real nice program.”
He received a certificate from ICTC in recognition for not missing a day of classes. In addition, McConnell collected an award for community service from the Challenge Program, recognizing his work through the 4-H program and his volunteerism as he helped to raise and take down the many flags that are flown at Blairsville Cemetery on patriotic holidays.
He also has been involved in various projects through his church, SS. Simon and Jude in Blairsville, where he helped serve at Christmas and Easter dinners.
At school, he was a member of the Remembering Adam drug-free club for six years.
McConnell has remained highly active in the 4-H program since joining as a young member of the Gordon 4-H Club. Focusing mainly on project books and gardening, he has taken several of the vegetables he's grown to be shown at the Indiana County Fair.
His efforts have been rewarded with his share of ribbons. Last year, he took first place with each of the vegetables he submitted.
McConnell works part-time on his family's dairy farm in Blacklick Township while also laboring part-time — mostly mowing grass and trimming weeds — with Howard Brothers, a lawn maintenance company. While continuing to work on the farm and with the lawn company this summer, McConnell said he's also hoping to find work in the HVAC field.
On weekends, he's up early helping to milk the more than 55 cows on his family's farm. Otherwise, he said, his milking chores were limited to an hour every day after school. He helps bale hay and feed the livestock, as well — “just stuff to keep the farm going,” he said, noting he hopes to one day take over operation of the farm.
McConnell left June 15 for Laurelville Camp in Mt. Pleasant, where he served for four days as a 4-H camp nature counselor, teaching kids about the woods and various animals calls and tracks.
He also has 4-H State Achievement Days to look forward to, at the end of July in State College. He's gone to that event for the past five years to compete in the tractor-driving competition, which includes an obstacle course of sorts and a demonstration of skills such as backing up a hay wagon with a cart. The third year he competed, he earned a second-place finish, he said.
McConnell is no stranger to recognition. Three years ago, he was honored by both the Pennsylvania State Police and the American Red Cross for an act of heroism — helping to save the life of his father, Paul, after a tree-cutting accident.
They were cutting down trees for firewood along their farm's fence line when a tree fell and hit his father across the chest. Bill McConnell called 911 on his cell phone and started resuscitation efforts until an ambulance arrived 45 minutes later.
He said his actions were completely instinctive: “I was in a different world at that time, just on auto-pilot.” His father made a full recovery.
Though it came as a surprise to him, McConnell has found some personal pride in his perfect attendance award, knowing what a rare feat it represents.
“It was an achievement that not many kids can say they've done,” McConnell said. “It gave me a sense of personal achievement.”
“He's a super kid, a nice young man,” said Soles.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.