At the end of the spring 2019 track and field season Dawson County High School senior Maggie Schandera will add the final bar to the impressive 11 athletic letters already on her jacket.
The bar will mark her fourth letter in track and field to go along with the four she earned playing softball, three netted on the basketball court and the one from swimming gained in her senior year.
Schandera currently has set her eyes on the goal of qualifying for the GHSA Georgia Track and Field State Tournament in the sports of shot-put and discus as she looks to finish off her athletic career with one final flourish before heading off to earn a nursing degree and play softball in Cartersville for the Georgia Highland College Cougars.
“I’m excited for track season to be closer to the end, because I want to see if I can make it to state, which I’m pretty sure I will be able to do,” Schandera said. “We have a new way of throwing. It’s called the ‘Country Boy.’ With the ‘Glide’ my momentum stopped too easy. It’s just a lot easier to keep your momentum going.”
The throwing style has increased Schandera’s distance in the shot-put by an impressive two feet and led to a series of top-five finishes in regional competition over the first half of the season. She used the technique to set a personal best record of 32 feet during the season’s premiere event thus far, the GACS Invitational on March 16.
Schandera originally joined the team in her freshman year as a triple jumper and sprinter but was forced to change over to the throwing events after she suffered a torn ACL playing in the Christmas basketball tournament as a junior.
Track and field head coach Arron Haynes remembered the great lengths Schandera went to remain a competitive member of the team after her injury.
“She threw from a chair early in the season until the doctor cleared her from knee surgery,” Haynes said. “She is such a fun young lady to be around, but is very competitive and a very hard worker, and I know that she will do well in college.”
In many ways the ACL tear marked a major transition in Schandera’s athletic career as it not only changed her track and field disciplines, it ended her time on the basketball courts and threatened to end her most precious position as the starting pitcher for the Dawson County Lady Tigers varsity softball team.
“I had kind of decided since I started high school, actually more like in my eighth-grade year, that I would focus more on softball,” Schandera said. “So, basketball became just my high school sport while I kept playing with travel softball teams.”
The daughter of Lamar and Connie Schandera, she grew up in a family with a sporting history that was used to the occasional injury suffered on the field of play, but the ACL was different.
“We were so used to seeing her bounce back from her injuries with barely a scratch or a pause for breath,” Connie said. “To see her not bounce back very fast, to struggle with it was tough.”
“And to be told that there was a chance that she might not be able to play at all,” Lamar added. “That was tough too.”
Through it all, the surgery, the physical therapy and her father’s rule that she wasn’t allowed to even think about throwing a softball until May at the earliest, Schandera knew that she was not going to let her team down come the fall.
“The ACL taught me about myself. It showed me how determined I was and how I wasn’t going to let one little thing set me back to the point of quitting,” Schandera said. “I knew I was going to be back, and I knew I would be better.”
After a recovery period of just over seven months, Schandera not only returned to the mound for the opening game of the year, she went on to pitch all but one and two-thirds innings of the entire season as she hurled the rock an incredible 1,919 times over 148.1 innings and appeared as the starting pitcher in every game for the Lady Tigers in 2018.
Schandera led Dawson County to appearances in both the Region and State tournaments behind a 77 percent first pitch strike ratio that delivered 76 strikeouts versus nine walks and a 2.36 season ERA. For her career, she totaled 228 strike outs against a meager 22 walks and served as the Lady Tigers sole pitcher for both her junior and senior season.
For her efforts, Schandera was named a member of the Region 7-AAA First Team, the Blitz Player of the Year and, for the second year in a row, the North Georgia Sports Link Player of the Year.
Junior Varsity head coach and Varsity pitching coach Logan Allen has coached Schandera since the ninth grade when she split her time as the primary starting pitcher for the JV Lady Tigers and the varsity team.
“She has a strong will to win and will always be at her best. She has a strong work ethic and it was very obvious how much that she loved softball,” Allen said. “We could always count on Maggie to throw strikes and give us an opportunity to be in every game.”
That ability is exactly what drew Schandera to the attention of the Georgia Highland College Cougars athletic program, and after she attended a campus visit in October of 2018 Schandera signed a full scholarship to play softball for the two-year school in Cartersville.
Although it is not in her plans to play multiple sports in college, she anticipated remaining busy as she not only is prepared to contribute immediately on the field but has tackled a tough academic workload as she begins pursuit of her career goal in pediatric nursing with the hopes of one day working in a Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“I just love kids. I know it’s going to be hard because it will be sick kids, not in the best of health,” Schandera said. “But if I can help sick kids get healthy, that would be cool.”
With graduation quickly approaching, Schandera looks forward to all the new adventures headed her way, but also expressed an already building desire to stay in touch with her hometown roots and give back to the community that has given her so much.
“I am happy to be able to get out there. I’m excited to see what its like to go somewhere and not know anyone. It’s going to be fun,” Schandera said. “But I definitely want to keep softball a part of my life after college. I would love to coach, at the least, especially if I have a little girl someday.”