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Hayden Wagner's next step has higher purpose

Central York senior will play volleyball, study nursing at George Mason University in large part due to his sister

Hayden Wagner is so much more than a great volleyball player.

At 6-foot-6, the Central York senior is certainly a formidable force on the court. But he really shines as a person. Compassionate and giving, Wagner has faced adversity and shaped his future with it.

By going through a challenge not many face, he honed himself as a person, student and athlete. Because of it, he recently committed to play volleyball and study nursing next season at George Mason University.

During the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Wagner’s sister Diana Wagner, was suffering from frequent seizures and eventually diagnosed with epilepsy.

Diana, now 16 years old, was sent to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and her condition was severe enough to be placed in a medically-induced coma. Their mom stayed in Philadelphia, while their father and Hayden routinely traveled to the hospital and back home.

Yet, it’s what Hayden saw during those visits that inspired him.

“I’ve always been one to care for her, she is my sister. Her and I always had a strong bond. She kind of got me into the whole volleyball thing,” he said. “I saw how well the nurses worked with mom, worked with Diana.

“I always wanted to go in the medical field. I like the people interaction and I saw how well they interacted with people and right then and there I decided I want to do this. I saw what they did for my family, and just what I want to do for others.”

Panthers’ coach Todd Goodling said he is not at all surprised with the decision “because Hayden is such a passionate kid.”

“Hayden was doing double duty with one parent here and one away,” said Goodling. “During that time there was a personality change. Hayden was much quieter than he normally is. You could tell there was other things more important than volleyball on a ninth grader’s mind.”

There is little question how much that ordeal helped shape Hayden Wagner.

“It helps with the prioritization. It helps dealing with stress,” Goodling said. “Winning and losing volleyball matches is not the most important things in Hayden’s life. It’s important, but there are other things he certainly realizes in terms of keeping things in perspective. That has to help when he goes out onto the court in a pressure situation. He’s able to calm himself and center himself.”

“It definitely helped me in what’s important in life and helped me balance things better,” Wagner said. “The whole volleyball thing: You have a limited time to do something great.' It’s my favorite quote by Todd.”

Over the past year, Wagner managed to improve his all-around game on the volleyball court, although his road to George Mason wasn’t typical.

The Central boys’ team traveled to Penn State to work out with the NCAA powerhouse women’s program. While there, long-time Nittany Lion women’s coach Russ Rose inquired where Wagner was playing in college.

Rose mentioned that he knew the new men’s coach at George Mason, Jay Hosack, who used to be an assistant with the Penn State men. Rose arranged the contact, Wagner visited the school, located in suburban Washington D.C., and committed.

Wagner is ready for the next challenge, on the court and off. George Mason has an off-campus hospital, as well as a new science building under construction that will be a big part of the nursing program studies, where he will likely spend a great deal of his time.

“It is going to be an adjustment, in a way. But I have always loved being around people and being involved with things,” said Wagner. “Being in the city you are obviously going to be around the people.”