Admiration for her mom gives Mitchell senior Claire Hegg focus to stay driven

Working hard, staying busy leads Hegg to be named the Youth of the Year by the Exchange Club of Mitchell

Claire Hegg was recently announced as the Youth of the Year by the Exchange Club of Mitchell.
Submitted Photo

MITCHELL — Claire Hegg had some catching up to do early this week.

The Mitchell High School senior had just gotten back from supporting the Kernel boys basketball team at the 2023 South Dakota High School Boys Basketball Tournament in Rapid City and she had to make up some time with other obligations.

“I have two (track) practices today because of course I went up to state to support the boys, and I missed Thursday, so this morning I got to run a 400 and some 60s and this afternoon I’ll run eight 200s,” Hegg told the Mitchell Republic.

Staying busy is engrained in Hegg’s personality, and her involvement in athletics, academics and extracurricular activities at Mitchell High School certainly contributed to her being named the Youth of the Year by the Exchange Club of Mitchell last week. Hegg was selected out of nine candidates, will receive a $1,000 scholarship to put toward their second semester of post-high-school education and will be eligible for the Dakota Territory District Youth of the Year award.

Hegg said it was an honor to receive the recognition, especially considering the quality of students against which she was competing.


“There were a lot of mixed emotions. I was surprised they called my name. You’re going up against eight other students who are very intelligent in every way,” Hegg said.

Hegg and her fellow students had several hoops to jump through to qualify for the recognition. Each of the nine is nominated by teachers at the school, one for every month of the school year. The students then had to fill out an application, write an essay on the person they admire most and then take part in a one-on-one interview with members of the Exchange Club.

For her essay, Hegg chose to write about her mother, Julie, who works as a nurse anesthetist. Hegg said she admired her mother’s drive during her college days at South Dakota State University, saying she sidestepped some of the more frivolous activities students sometimes partake in to focus more on her studies.

Along with Julie’s dedication to her family and children, Hegg said she helped set the template for her own approach to academics in high school.

“How hard she worked in school when she was my age and throughout college. While her friends were doing the college experience, she was kind of studying and working hard to graduate and then go to anesthesia school,” Hegg said. “The second part of it was just how she’s a mother to us kids, and that was the more emotional part of it. Just my relationship with her and how she’s brought me up to be who I am.”

Claire Hegg
Mitchell's Claire Hegg competes in the girls' 100-meter dash.
Mitchell Republic File Photo

Hegg intends to follow a similar path as her mother after high school — she’ll be attending South Dakota State University for human biology. She then hopes to move into dentistry, mirroring Julie’s entry into a medical profession. She’ll also become a legacy at the school, with both her mother and her father, John, being graduates of SDSU.

Dennis Nath, who serves on the board of the Exchange Club of Mitchell and is director of youth activities for the organization, said Hegg and her fellow candidates are examples of the best students Mitchell High School has to offer.

“We look at their involvement in school activities, community activities and we look pretty hard at their volunteer hours and what they do to volunteer. She was involved in a lot of activities, she had a lot of leadership, she was a student body president for the year and she was also a team captain in volleyball,” Hegg said. “That and she carried a 4.0 GPA, so she’s academic and athletic and a volunteer and a hard worker. And she interviewed very well. She has a good head on her shoulders.”


Nath said, as in previous years, selecting one student out of a pool of excellent candidates is never easy.

“Among the nine there are always five or six and it’s hard to narrow them down. You see what they’ve been involved in and their school activities and involvement in the community. It’s hard to weed them down,” Nath said.

Exchange Club members saw the amount of work she puts into a well-rounded high school experience. Among other activities, she runs track and plays volleyball as well as competes in a summer softball league with her friends. She serves as one of the student body representatives to the Mitchell Board of Education, is involved in a number of extracurricular clubs and puts in time with dual-credit courses that she plans to apply toward her college credits.

She also waitresses part-time at Whiskey Creek, she said.

It’s a lot to do, but Hegg said she doesn’t mind not having a lot of free time. Keeping busy is just part of her nature, she said.

“I kinda like being busy because it’s just how I work. There are definitely two parts of my life, there are the social aspects, and then the academic aspects. I’ve always focused very hard on the academic part,” Hegg said.

She was also selected as homecoming queen in October. That’s an honor for which she is particularly proud, as it was bestowed upon her by her fellow students at Mitchell High School.

Her high school career is beginning to wind down, but there are still some highlights left. Prom is coming up, and the track and field season is right around the corner. Of course, graduation is always a big event, and this year it will be even bigger for her as it will mark the end of her high school days and the launch of her time as a new college student.


But she will look back fondly on her time at Mitchell High School, and urges younger students to embrace and enjoy their time in high school while taking the time to be the best student they can be.

082622 Kernel VB Claire Hegg.JPG
Mitchell High School's Claire Hegg prepares to hit a serve during a high school volleyball match on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 at MHS.
Mitchell Republic File Photo

That will mean working hard and staying busy like she has done with her academic studies, athletic competitions and practices, extracurriculars, volunteerism and especially her dual-credit classes, which she strongly recommends students take advantage of.

“Take it one day at a time. Focus on the assignments that are due next. And I never in my life will regret getting started on dual credits early. It has gotten me a year and a half ahead in college already,” Hegg said. “It’s amazing to be able to feel like you’re going to transition into college academics easier because you’ve been doing them. Obviously it’s going to be a little different, but I don’t regret working hard at that, because it is definitely worth it.”

Other students recognized by the Exchange Club of Mitchell, and who received a $500 scholarship, included Lauren Scott, daughter of Chris and Tehra Scott; Keatyn Wede, daughter of Jason and Tressa Wede; Ella Ziegeldorf, daughter of Wade and Rebecca Ziegeldorf; Dakota Becker, son of Randy and Michelle Becker; Lilly Honermann, daughter of Mike and JoAnn Honermann; Brenen Rose, son of Michael and Becky Rose; Kyra Gropper, daughter of Clayton and Jennifer Gropper; and McKenzie Stange, daughter of Josh and Melissa Stange.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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