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THB SPORTS AWARDS

Johnny Wilson Award - Boys: Negesse Kishpaugh

Kishpaugh’s incredible journey to Wilson Award

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Luke Erny, Negesse Kishpaugh

Anderson's Luke Erny and Liberty Christian's Negesse Kishpaugh fight for control of the ball as the Indians hosted the Lions on Thursday.

Negesse Kishpaugh and his brother, Borru, nearly were late to Liberty Christian’s first boys soccer regional game in 2017.

The pair arrived at Taylor High School in Kokomo just in time to participate in warmups with their teammates. But they had a good excuse.

The Kishpaughs spent the morning competing in the cross country regional in Muncie, then drove 53.5 miles to take part in a little school history on the soccer pitch.

It was an incredible athletic feat to be sure. But it wasn’t even the most interesting trip the family made that year.

That would be their first trip home to visit their mother in Ethiopia.

“They really missed us,” Negesse said of his family in Africa. “So it was cool to see.”

It’s all part of the amazing story that led Kishpaugh to be named the 2019 boys winner of the Johnny Wilson Award.

Kishpaugh arrived in America with his brother as an 11-year-old. His biological father died when he was very young, and his mother couldn’t raise his many siblings alone.

So she made the extremely difficult decision to put Negesse and Borru up for adoption. They spent time in three orphanages before Jeffrey and Sherry Kishpaugh adopted them and brought them to the U.S.

When they came to Anderson, they spoke no English and had never before experienced electricity.

“We started playing with the lights, turning them on and off,” Kishpaugh said of his first day in his new home. “(Our parents) thought we were crazy.”

He began picking up a few words by watching TV commercials, but it was sports that made him feel at home.

Kishpaugh was running routine tests during physical education class as a fifth-grader when the daughter of Liberty Christian’s track coach took notice.

Upon returning home that night, she reported extensively about the new kid in class who could run forever.

Intrigued, the coach asked Kishpaugh if he’d like to join the track team.

“What’s track?” he replied.

As a senior, he won a sectional championship in the 800 meters and qualified for semistate in cross country. And he ended his career with the Lions with five school records in track and cross country events.

Soccer — his third sport — came more naturally. It was the one game he and Borru had some experience with from their native land.

He came to high school determined to deliver a championship to Liberty Christian. As a junior, he was a key scorer during the soccer program’s first sectional title.

“That was amazing,” Kishpaugh said. “That was our aim every year. I always wanted to win some kind of championship.”

Kishpaugh is the first athlete from Liberty Christian to win a Johnny Wilson Award.

“I’m so blessed,” Kishpaugh said before learning he was named the winner Tuesday night at the Paramount Theatre. “Just being a part of it, sharing that connection (with other area stars) is just an honor.”

THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.

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