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BRIAN WHITEHEAD, STAFF
Recent Fullerton High grad Ceili Tuttle lettered 11 times in high school.

Fullerton's versatile standout Ceilli Tuttle leaves with top honor

STAFF WRITER

Ceili Tuttle typically spends her summer impersonating someone else.

The scarecrow in “The Wiz,” Veruca Salt in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Mayzie in “Seussical,” the lead orphan in “Annie.”

Mary Poppins, too.

This summer, Tuttle’s last before heading to Columbia University in the fall, she’ll appear in “Beauty and the Beast.”

“When I was in fourth grade, I was in a youth group with friends,” she said. “They told me they did musicals there, and that I should try out.

“I fell in love with performing.”

An outgoing Fullerton High senior, Tuttle recently was recognized by the Orange County Athletic Directors Association as the Freeway League's girls athlete of the year.

Eleven varsity letters in four years of high school, Tuttle is every bit the athlete as she is the scholar.

“A lot of people like to think that athletes can’t be as smart as non-athletes,” she said. “But some of the athletes are the smartest kids in school. Push your boundaries. I played three sports, full (International Baccalaureate), all AP classes.

“Some people can’t handle that, but if you can, it pays off in the end.”

* * *     * * *     * * * 

Pronounced “Kay-lee,” Ceili is Gaelic for a party with music, dancing and storytelling.

“A good time,” says her mother, Sunbie Harrell.

Born into an Irish family, Tuttle grew up in Fullerton to a mandolin soundtrack.

Throughout her youngest daughter’s childhood, Harrell – extroverted for as long as she can remember – played in the Irish band she still remains a part of.

In high school, Tuttle’s father played several sports, and later basketball at Kansas’ Baker University.

Tuttle joined an Irish dance class as a toddler. She also picked up ice skating.

For years, Tuttle awoke at dawn to practice synchronized skating with teammates. By fifth grade, she was traveling the country with a team of peers.

“We never pushed her to do anything that she didn’t want to do,” Harrell said. “We never had to really fear her burning out because she seemed to have a good grasp, even at a fairly young age, to not overdo it.

“Yeah, she wanted to do everything,” Harrell continued. “But she had a sense of reason to it.”

When ice skating became too financially burdensome, Tuttle tried other sports.

In junior high she ran track.

With her older sister, Jordan, already at nearby Sunny Hills High, Tuttle enrolled at Fullerton Union in 2012.

Cross country in the fall, basketball in the winter and track in the spring, Tuttle received two varsity letters as a freshman and three as a sophomore.

“Her first 400-meter time trial as a freshman was about as good as any girl I’ve ever seen,” said Craig Nordstrom, Fullerton’s longtime assistant track coach and a former collegiate runner.

“She’s a racer. ... The competitor part of her, you can’t coach. Her motivation comes from within.”

Always superb in the classroom, Tuttle joined Fullerton’s IB program last year.

“Towards the end of my junior year,” Tuttle said, “we were flooded with AP and IB testing during the track season. One day, I had an AP physics test the same day as league finals. I took that physics test and got to the track 10 minutes before the 400 went off.

“I warmed up for 10 minutes and somehow won with a decent time. Pretty stressful.”

Shortly after league finals, Tuttle won the CIF-SS Division 2 championship in the 400. She was selected first-team All-County by OC Varsity.

She graduated this spring as a four-time league champion in the 400.

“I’m going to miss her,” Nordstrom said. “She’s smart, she’s sweet, she’s personable. I get kids that have talent but don’t work hard. And I have kids that work hard but don’t get anywhere. She’s the kid with talent that works hard.

“And her desire to win, that’s an intangible you can’t measure.”

* * *     * * *     * * *

This past summer, Tuttle sent an email with her laurels to every NCAA Division I school she could think of.

Columbia sent to Fullerton’s athletic director a return letter reciprocating interest.

Eventually, the two parties connected, but time soon passed without any contact. Tuttle thought the school had lost interest.

Though a head coaching change at Columbia had restarted the recruiting process, Tuttle was accepted into the Ivy League university.

She’ll run track for the Lions. “A dream of mine for a long time,” she said.

“She’s a very confident young lady that’s ready to take on the world,” Harrell said. “And the center of the universe is New York City. That’s where she needs to be. It takes a great deal of confidence to take on such a challenge.”

Before leaving for New York in August, Tuttle is working part-time and enjoying Southern California weather while she can.

“I have so much respect for every high school athlete that I’m really glad to be known for athletics,” Tuttle said. “I work so hard in it. It’s my love. To be the top athlete of an entire league ... out of 12,000 kids, it’s ridiculous that people would think of me and honor me for that.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7724 or bwhitehead@ocregister.com


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