GIBSON CITY — Instead of spending his Friday nights with friends, Nathan Garard sometimes starts his weekends by doing his homework.
“He’ll be up on a Friday night at 10 or 11 o’clock doing homework so he doesn’t have to do it later in the weekend,” his father, Chris, said. “He’s just been super committed and driven.”
And, in Nathan’s own words, prioritized.
“It’s understanding what needs to come first over what you would probably want to do,” the younger Garard said. “You know, you might want to just sit on the couch, but sometimes that’s not a good thing or the right thing to do.”
Such dedication to his academics has allowed Garard to stay near the top of his 2019 graduating class — ranking No. 8 out of 78 seniors at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School — while still somehow juggling his responsibilities as a three-sport athlete — a standout one, at that.
The Illinois High School Association has taken notice, too, by naming Garard to its 2018-19 All-State Academic Team. Garard is one of 26 student-athletes — 13 boys and 13 girls — who will each receive a $1,000 scholarship from the IHSA and be honored as an all-academic team member during an awards dinner on Monday, April 15, in Bloomington.
The 17-year-old Garard is the first student from Gibson City’s high school to be named to the all-academic team since the IHSA began it 26 years ago, according to his father, who serves as GCMS High School’s principal.
“This group is the best of the best,” IHSA Assistant Executive Director Stacey Lambert said. “They embody the IHSA’s mission, excelling in the classroom, in addition to the multiple sports and activities that they participate in.”
The recognition, the younger Garard said, “kind of lets you know that a lot of your hard work doesn’t go in vain,” but he noted that he expects it will not be “the plateau of what I’m going to do” academically or in life.
“It’s just kind of a little achievement along the way,” Garard said. “I’m not trying to downplay it, but it definitely can’t be the highlight of what I’m going to do.”
Of course, there are so many highlights already for Garard, who was the starting quarterback on the GCMS Falcons’ 2018 Class 2A state champion football team, a key reserve guard on the Falcons’ 2019 third-place Class 2A basketball team and the 2018 Most Valuable Player and a two-time all-Heart of Illinois Conference honoree as a utility player on the GCMS baseball team.
His father could not be more proud.
“For him to be involved in three sports and do as well as he has athletically but yet still have the grades that he’s had ... it’s the best of both worlds,” his dad said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Named a Reagan Fellow
Garard’s success academically — including his 4.062 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and his score of 31 on the ACT college-admission exam — helped land him a four-year, full-tuition scholarship at Eureka College.
Garard received the scholarship through the Ronald W. Reagan Leadership Program, which was founded by President Reagan during his first term in office. As a Reagan Fellow, Garard will have various leadership opportunities on campus and the chance to travel abroad.
At Eureka, Garard also plans to play both Division III football and baseball, as well.
While Garard is happy about his college destination and the opportunities it will afford him, Eureka College was not actually his first choice. Since middle school, if not longer, Garard was working toward attending the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point.
Garard applied and received a letter of assurance that he would be able to attend the academy, only to learn later that he was medically disqualified because of his allergic disposition to cashews and because “one frequency in his hearing didn’t meet military standards,” his father said.
Garard was “very disappointed,” his father said, but “he’s handled the disappointment very well.”
“That was a big part of my life for a long time, so for something like a hearing problem to kind of keep you from doing something that you feel you should be doing for the rest of your life is a big wake-up call,” the younger Garard said. “But I know this Eureka opportunity is a great deal — it’s a full scholarship and stuff like that — so there’s no way you cannot be happy with that.”
Garard will be among a string of family members to attend Eureka College. His 27-year-old sister, Kaelyn, attended Eureka, as did his mother, Remy, and several others from his mom’s side of the family.
Garard said he remains undecided about his choice of major in college.
“I kind of like things along the lines of language, but I’m not entirely concrete on anything,” he said.
‘He’s not slacking’
That he has not made up his mind should come as no surprise to those who know Garard. Garard said he does not have a “favorite class,” as he enjoys aspects of all of his classes.
Garard has continued to take challenging, college-level classes as a senior in high school, choosing to not go the “easy route” like some do just before graduating.
“He’s not slacking,” said his father, pointing out that Garard is enrolled this semester in Advanced Placement calculus, dual-credit English, fourth-year Spanish and physics.
“I wanted to prepare myself for a not-so-easy time in college,” Garard explained.
Garard has received only one B grade in high school, and “it made him mad,” his father said.
“He puts more pressure on himself than we could ever put on him,” noted Chris Garard, whose wife also works in the education field as an English teacher at Normal West High School.
Nathan Garard’s younger brother, Ethan, a sophomore, appears similarly self-motivated.
“He’s trying very hard to follow in (Nathan’s) footsteps, both academically and athletically, and so far, I think he’s doing it,” Chris Garard said. “Ethan is starting on the varsity baseball team and was on the golf team that won a regional this year. He plays basketball, as well, and his GPA is as strong (as Nathan’s).
“So hopefully we’ll have another one of these coming through in two years, talking about a three-sport athlete who has done so well academically, as well.”
Garard was selected for the all-academic team from among hundreds of nominated students.
Every IHSA member school was invited to nominate one female and one male. Nominees needed to possess at least a 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale after their seventh semester, have participated in at least two IHSA-sponsored activities during each of the last two years of high school and demonstrated outstanding citizenship.
Examples of Garard’s citizenship include serving as a “football reader” at GCMS Elementary School, serving on the GCMS school district’s curriculum council, volunteering at the local food pantry, helping with the Meals on Wheels program, volunteering at local blood drives, serving as an usher at his church, and volunteering at youth football and basketball camps.
With so much going on in his life, Garard admits he does not have much free time — at least not as much as others his age.
“I mean, I would like to think I do,” Garard said, “but in comparison with some other people, probably not.”