Quiet court leader's charity affects lives

When life hands people lemons, Hanna Pless often shows up to help them with their lemonade.

Between providing perpetual positive energy as captain of Concord High sports teams and affecting lives through her award-winning charitable work with the Hispanic Learning Center in Concord, it's surprising the industrious senior doesn't have her own lemonade stand.

Wait - she did that, too, as a young girl, showing a prodigious initiative.

Balancing a school-year schedule that includes volleyball, swimming and soccer, Pless also is ranked second in the senior class - one spot behind best friend and volleyball teammate Kelsey Sumner.

Having played soccer since preschool, Pless tried volleyball in seventh grade at Concord Middle School. She joined the Carolina Storm volleyball club after the season, and by eighth grade she was a starter on the middle school team.

Pless was determined to advance straight to the varsity team when she reached high school. She attended all the summer workouts and convinced coach LeAnne Havely.

Pless was a key reserve that first season, playing in the back row as a defensive specialist. As a sophomore, she worked her way to libero: the designated defensive position in the regular rotation.

Recently, Pless has assumed a leadership role that comes naturally to her. Entering last week, she led the team in digs (100), service aces (18), service receptions (142) and serve percentage (95.2 percent).

"If we're losing by 15 points, she comes off the court saying 'We've got this. We can do this,' " said Havely. "If I could clone her, I would."

Pless, also secretary of the student council, has been a captain on the Concord soccer team since her freshman year. She twice was named all-conference, even though the Spiders have won just a handful of games in the past three seasons.

Pless' most noteworthy impact, however, came through volunteering with the Hispanic Learning Center in Concord. In summer 2010, Pless conducted a volleyball camp for its elementary school-aged members.

Despite the meager surroundings in the facility's basement - a beach ball and a net made of rope stretched between two poles - Pless taught volleyball techniques to about a dozen students twice a week for two hours a day.

Charlotte's WSOC-TV (Channel 3) recognized Pless with one of its annual Nine Who Care awards, which earned a $900 prize for the Hispanic Learning Center.

This summer, when Pless learned center Executive Director Doris Goedeke had cancer, she started a scholarship foundation in her honor. The foundation's federal nonprofit status was granted shortly after Goedeke died in July.

Under Pless' guidance, the foundation will award a college scholarship to a graduating high school senior of Hispanic descent who has a financial need. Pless said she's started raising money and plans to award a scholarship annually.

"I've always tried to look at things half-full instead of half-empty," said Pless, daughter of Craig and Susan Pless. "Anytime you can better yourself or better others. ... It's just a moral thing, growing up with a bunch of cousins and friends. You want to build people up and not tear people down."