A decade ago, Morristown Elementary School celebrated the end of the year with academic awards.
Second-grader Rylee Kleine cleaned up. That’s when she first noticed her academic ability.
“At the end of the year we did awards and I realized I got almost all of the academic awards,” she said. “I didn’t really realize it too much but then we had reading levels and my reading level was so much higher than the other students in my class. I didn’t think anything much of it. I just liked to read a lot when I was younger.”
Several years later as a freshman at Morristown High School, Kleine found herself ranked No. 2 in the graduating class of 2021. She maintained that ranking all four years and recently graduated as the Class of 2021 salutatorian.
Kleine, the daughter of Brandon and Rachel Kleine, will attend Indiana Wesleyan University in the fall to study both Psychology and Entrepreneurship with the goal of working for a non-profit.
“I will get the business aspect of it with entrepreneurship and the psychology side for the non-profit side of it,” she explained.
Kleine found success on the basketball court and the track for Morristown during her high school career and was a member of National Honor Society, Student Council, Student Advisory and Student Executive Committee as well as Sunshine Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Her faith and her small-town roots were big factors in her decision to attend Indiana Wesleyan, located in Marion, Indiana.
“I went on visits to Indiana Wesleyan, Taylor University and Marian University,” said Kleine. “Taylor was a little too small for me. I knew I wanted small since I’d been at Morristown but Taylor was a little too small.
“Indiana Wesleyan’s facilities are amazing. The people there were really great. I think I fell in love with the campus and how pretty it was and the facilities are so nice. And I like the Christian aspect of it and it being a private school. Marian and Taylor both have that too but I thought Indiana Wesleyan was a better fit.”
That choice came with a consequence, though. Education won out over athletics which has been a huge part of her life.
“That was the main decision when looking at college … whether I wanted to play,” she said. “The Anderson (University) coach talked to me. The Earlham coach talked to me. So I knew I could go play at a (Division III) school but would it be where I actually wanted to go to college?
“I really wanted to go to Indiana Wesleyan for the education aspect but it was a tough decision … I will not lie.”
Kleine expects to stay active athletically, playing intramural basketball and running on campus.
Indiana Wesleyan is planning for students in the classroom in the fall which is a relief to Kleine, who was not a fan of virtual learning in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic closed down Indiana schools.
“I remember that day before we didn’t come back because I was sitting in (boys basketball coach Scott) McClelland’s room and he was like, ‘Guys, I don’t think they can keep us in school,’” said Kleine. “I thought he was crazy for saying that. Sure enough, after spring break we didn’t come back.
“I hated e-Learning. I did not enjoy it at all. I enjoyed being in school with all my peers and the teachers who are more in their atmosphere to teach. Online it just seemed like more logistical issues than actual education.”
Kleine also lost her junior year of track and field where she felt poised to help break a school record held by two family members.
“Athletically, I was crushed because I thought our track team was going to be pretty successful,” she recalled. “We were going after that 4x800 relay record and I think we would have got it.
“And I hated it for the seniors.”
One year later, Kleine, who had been bragging to her mother she was taking that record away from her and her sister, had renewed hope with her younger sister, Raegan Kleine, Maggie Lutes and Gracie Laster in the mix.
“Gracie shocked us,” said Kleine. “She’s a sprinter and then comes out and runs a killer 800. So I started telling my mom, the former Rachel Nolen, that we were going to get this.”
It took all season but at the Shelbyville Sectional last month, Lutes was coming around the track for the final 100 and no one was cheering louder than Rachel Kleine, according to her daughter.
“I think she was more happy for us than anyone,” said Kleine. “And my aunt (Shari Nolen) lives in Missouri now and we Facetimed her when it was over and told her we got it.
“Now mom likes to joke that she gave birth to half of the (record-setting) team.”
As for her favorite Morristown memories, it was easy to name the best.
“I think the state championship for the (boys basketball team) my freshman year will be pretty hard to beat,” she said. “The atmosphere for pretty much a month from sectional to state was insane. You felt like you were walking into a pep session every day at school. We had banners up everywhere.
“The morale … you couldn’t beat it. You don’t get that at a big school and I love that about Morristown.”