West York's Reagan Kunkle is a D-1 athlete and a drum major. Here's how she balances both

Matt Allibone
York Daily Record

It's not easy finding a time to speak with Reagan Kunkle about her daily schedule.

The West York senior has earned enough credits to be in school from just 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. But then she works at Joe Street Cafe for three hours. Then two hours of field hockey practice. Then a short break for dinner before two hours of band practice.

She's usually free for a little once she gets home after 9 p.m.

That's just a typical Wednesday.

"There are some days when I wish I had down time and could just relax," Kunkle said. "This is what my normal has always looked like. It's what makes me feel comfortable.

"It can be overwhelming. But in the long run I know all this craziness will make me a better person."

West York's drum major Reagan Kunkle leads the marching band during a pregame performance this season. Kunkle also plays field hockey and has committed to Division I Ball State University.

Kunkle is far from the only local teenager with a packed schedule. But she's not just busy ― she's excelling across the board. She's verbally committed to accept a field hockey scholarship to Division I Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. And the longtime trumpet player was selected as the drum major in the marching band this fall.

She also plays club field hockey throughout the year, lacrosse in the spring and takes AP-level classes. She used to play basketball or swim in the winter.

Balancing those things hasn't been easy. Not only has it tested her time management skills, but it's put pressure on her in multiple ways. Her band and sports schedules inevitably clash on occasion, and she's needed to prove she's committed to both while sometimes prioritizing one event over another.

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She's also felt judged as a musician for not living up to the typical image associated with star athletes.

As she starts her final year of high school, Kunkle and her family believe the benefits of her hectic schedule have outweighed the struggles.

"Don't get me wrong, she's a typical teenager, and there are days when it's 6 a.m. in December that year she did swimming and it's not a fun thing to do," her mother, Mindy, said. "When you put in perspective all she does, time management is a huge part of it.

"It's being disciplined to do the things you have to do and not take the easy way out all the time."

She's a natural in some things ... but not others

Kunkle hesitated when asked the question, but eventually was honest.

Yes, she was good at the trumpet from the start.

"My teachers have told me I was a natural," she said sheepishly. "I definitely have to work more at it now than when I was younger just so I can keep improving and play the harder pieces.

"But yeah, I was a natural."

West York's drum major Reagan Kunkle first tried the trumpet in fourth grade and was a "natural" at the instrument. She tried out for drum major and earned the position last spring.

Kunkle doesn't come from a musical family. She initially tried the flute but switched to trumpet in the fourth grade because she wanted something "that could be heard."

Her motivation with sports was different. The daughter of longtime local basketball coach Jim Kunkle, Reagan tried soccer, hoops and lacrosse at a young age. Outside of her height deficiencies on the basketball court, she was always a good athlete.

Field hockey provided a different challenge.

She didn't know much about the sport until her dad served as the head girls' basketball coach at New Oxford from 2015 to 2017. The Colonials best player was Kaelyn Long, who was also the best field hockey player in the YAIAA. Long is now an assistant field hockey coach at Harvard after a standout career at Bucknell.

"She was the person I looked up to the most," said Kunkle, who was in middle school at the time. "I'm playing field hockey because of her. My first field hockey stick was one of hers. I remember I went over her house one night and she was teaching me the basics.

"And I actually really hated it."

For once, Kunkle wasn't a natural at something. After her first organized practice in seventh grade, she cried and told her father she wanted to quit.

That wasn't an option in her household.

Reagan Kunkle began playing field hockey in seventh grade. While she initially didn't enjoy the sport, she eventually loved it after some more practice. Here, she passes to a teammate during a YAIAA Division II field hockey game at West York Area High School on Thursday, September 15, 2022.

"If you make the commitment, that's yours to keep," Mindy said. "If she said she wanted to try this, then go for it, but you're not going to tell me a couple weeks in that you're done with it. You stick it out because the team depends on you."

After some more time practicing ― and watching some of Long's games at Bucknell ― Reagan realized she liked field hockey. Also, she was pretty good at it.

A midfielder who has played nearly every position at some point, Kunkle progressed from playing for a local club team to one based in Palmyra ― a hotbed for Pennsylvania field hockey.

She was recruited by Division I programs including Penn State, Liberty, James Madison and Bucknell but also looked at smaller schools like East Stroudsburg, Shippensburg and York College. She eventually chose Ball State because of the atmosphere around the campus and her interest in the school's sports media program. She's interested in studying sports marketing after previously considering nursing.

It turned out her mix of extracurricular activities had been helping her more than she realized.

"I asked the Ball State coach why they were looking at her. Because there's a stigma where every parent thinks their kid is a D1 athlete," her father, Jim, said. "The coach said right off the bat ― her work ethic. 'Look at everything she does from performance training to band to being an honor student.' She told me they don't have to worry about those kids because they already know how to manage their time.

"When she was younger, other people would say to us: 'Why are you putting her in so many things? Just let her be a kid.' But we didn't force her. We allowed her to do what she wanted."

Finding a balance

West York's Reagan Kunkle said one of her biggest responsibilities as drum major is to make sure "everyone is enjoying themselves and feeling comfortable and accepted."

Mindy remembers helping Reagan zip up her band uniform moments before her daughter had to sprint onto the football field to join a pregame performance.

She had finished a field hockey game at Bermudian Springs less than a hour before that.

Balancing multiple activities has required constant communication with her coaches and band directors. It's helped that West York doesn't have any field hockey games this season scheduled for Fridays ― when the marching band performs at football games. Band practices take place Wednesday and Friday (a performance rehearsal) and field hockey only has two of its 17 games scheduled on Wednesdays.

"One way we've always looked at it is a competition or a performance supersedes a practice," West York band director Rod Meckley said. "We encourage students to plan ahead, and Reagan's always been good at communicating. If there is a conflict I reach out to the coach. We get the student out of the middle since they're the one deciding to do a lot and it's not always easy to juggle."

"For me, band comes first because it is a school class, and Reagan is the leader of that class," West York field hockey coach Allie Rauhauser added. "But it's been pretty smooth with the schedules. The other day she got to the field a little late coming from work and was apologizing. I was like, 'girl, you're good.' She's always been coachable and there for the team."

West York's Reagan Kunkle committed to Ball State for field hockey after also looking at Penn State, Liberty, James Madison, Bucknell and some smaller colleges in Pennsylvania.

Kunkle said there's about 10 marching band members who also play a fall sport, including two other field hockey players. But she's not just in the band. She was selected as drum major after auditioning for it last spring.

The leader of the marching band, the drum major is "a good musician who can lead by example, run formations and put out fires before they happen," according to Meckley.

Kunkle said one of her biggest responsibilities is making sure "everyone is enjoying themselves and feeling comfortable and accepted."

She admitted that wasn't always easy for her. She used to worry that people would make fun of her for being "a band kid."

After speaking with her family and other kids who balanced music and sports, she learned to get past that.

"You learn to be proud of yourself," she said. "I used to never tell anyone I was in marching band and if people brought it up I kind of pushed it off. I always felt like I fell in the middle of different crowds. As I grew older, I realized this is a big achievement.

"I'm really proud to be in marching band and of who I am."

West York's Reagan Kunkle said she tries to remind herself that "you should not feel comfortable 100% of the time" in order to grow as a person.

Kunkle tries to be role model for other kids who are worried about living up to a certain image. Those who know her believe she is well-suited to do that. Meckley said she's "quiet and introspective at first, but charming and someone who lights up the room when tasked." Rauhauser called her a "role model for more than just athletes."

Kunkle said she recently received a piece of advice that she thinks all students should hear.

"You should not feel comfortable 100% of the time," she said. "You need to get out of your comfort zone and stretch your capabilities because in the long it will make you a better person. If you're feeling conflicted, just try something out. If it works, great, if not, no biggie.

"You're going to feel uncomfortable but that's good."

Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, mallibone@ydr.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.