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July 13, 2010 > More than just sporting brilliance

More than just sporting brilliance

By Gary van den Heuvel

The highest athletic honor that Newark Memorial High School awards is the White Sweater, which is given to the student-athlete who has earned varsity blocks at least nine times. The maximum number of varsity blocks on can receive is 12 (three varsity blocks in all four years of high school). In the history of Newark Memorial, only three athletes have accomplished this feat.

Two of these winners are from the same family - sisters Danielle and Alyssa Hess. Danielle (age 23) starred in soccer, water polo and swimming, and last year graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in philosophy. Alyssa, who just turned 18, recently graduated from Newark Memorial and will be attending Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college near Los Angeles, with a partial scholarship to play water polo.

The decision to attend APU was simple for Alyssa - it's been her "dream school" since her sophomore year, when she started traveling to Mexico for Outreach Missions trips that were organized by APU. "I soon came to find what an amazing school it is," said Alyssa. "When I found out they had water polo, I was ecstatic."

Alyssa started competitive swimming at age 5 with the Newark Bluefins. She did that until the fourth grade, then "My sister was playing water polo at the Stanford Club water polo team and I decided I wanted to try it out," said Alyssa. "I did a couple Stanford camps, then wanted more of it. In the 5th grade I started playing for the Ohlone Renegades club and I have been playing there every summer since."

Alyssa is a two-time All-MVAL water polo selection, and aside from being Newark Memorial's all-time leading scorer, Alyssa led the team to what coach Gordon Crosby called "the most successful season we have ever had," with a 21-4 record (their previous best season record was 16-8), and an appearance in the North Coast Section playoffs.

Aside from her dominating performance in the pool (her spring season sport was swimming, which she did to stay in shape for water polo), Alyssa is the girls state wrestling champion at 154 pounds, having won the title the last two years. One might say that wrestling is in her blood; her father is Tim Hess, who not only is the head wrestling coach at Newark Memorial, but who himself was a White Jacket winner at Newark Memorial (class of '82), with a "mere" 10 varsity blocks in football, wrestling and baseball.

"I grew up going to wrestling practices with my dad, going to all of the boys wrestling tournaments, and rolling around on the mats as a kid," Alyssa recalled "It wasn't until eighth grade when I realized that girls can wrestle too."

She joined the Newark Junior High wrestling then, giving up soccer to do so. "I had played soccer since I was 4 years old, so I decided to trade in my cleats for some wrestling shoes and it was probably one of the best decisions I have made in my sports career. People always ask me, 'which sport is your favorite?' but honestly, I can't answer that. I love both wrestling and water polo for completely different reasons. I can't get enough of them."

Many parents have a difficult time watching their children compete. For family matriarch Kelly Hess, she admits that she did have concerns when she watched daughter Danielle play soccer - but over time, those concerns changed.

"Our family has always been involved in competitive and aggressive sports. I guess it is something that you just get used to being around," said Mrs. Hess, who works as a Recreation Coordinator for Senior Services for the city of Newark. "When Danielle first began to really get aggressive in play, it was soccer and water polo. I would nervously walk up and down the sidelines. I soon realized that it was she who was usually the aggressor and I spent energies silently (usually under my breath) watching out for those girls that she competed against."

Kelly Hess is more proud of the way her daughters live their lives than any of their athletic achievements. Both of her daughters have worked extensively with underprivileged children.

"My proudest moments of them is when they are serving those children," said Kelly. "Danielle has spent time in rural Jackson, Miss., with Dr. John Perkins and his foundation, serving some of the poorest children in our country; Alyssa has gone to Mexico for the past three spring breaks with Newark Presbyterian Church youth group and Azusa Pacific University ... Both love to help the poorest communities and families."

"My parents are amazing people. They have always been there for me," Alyssa said. "They have encouraged me, always wanting the best for me, but also have let me experience things on my own. I am very thankful for everything they have given me and opportunities they have laid in my lap."

At Azusa Pacific, Alyssa will study Liberal Arts with the hopes of becoming a teacher. Beyond college, she is open to the possibilities. "I am not sure what the future holds after college, but I could see myself coaching in either water polo or wrestling."

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