All-Shore Gridiron Classic: From the Mountain to the Field, St. John Vianney’s Mason Shenk Enjoying Final Football Ride
When St. John Vianney's Mason Shenk was in eighth grade he had a difficult decision to make. Would he continue to dedicate his life to competitive skiing or would he climb down the mountain to forge ahead with a multi-sport high school career?
Shenk wasn't just a pretty good skier, he was an elite junior ski racer who finished first in New Jersey for five years in a row during elementary and middle school. Competing in the slalom and giant slalom, Shenk then placed in the top 20 in the Eastern Championships during his seventh- and eighth-grade years. His future in the sport was extremely bright to the point where he considered attending Burke Mountain Academy, an elite private school in East Burke, Vermont, that is considered the premier ski racing school in the United States. Burke Mountain Academy counts Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin among its notable alumni.
Shenk spent parts of his eighth-grade year at a sleepaway camp at Burke Mountain, and for a month living in a base camp at Copper Mountain in Colorado. He also spent time living in the Olympic Trainer Center in Lake Placid. His next step seemed obvious.
Shenk began ski racing in fourth grade and a year later picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time. He quickly grew to love lacrosse as much or more than skiing, and then he started playing football. Ski racing took up an inordinate amount of time, especially in the winter. If he was going to continue as a competitive ski racer, it meant giving up lacrosse and football.
"Skiing is just...a lot, and I know I can do it recreationally for the rest of my life," Shenk said. "You can't play high school sports forever so I decided to stay local and play football and lacrosse in high school, and now I'm going to be playing lacrosse in college."
As a native of Atlantic Highlands, wanting to play lacrosse and football meant Shenk had to decide where to go to high school. Students from Atlantic Highlands attend Henry Hudson Regional High School, which is the smallest by enrollment in the Shore Conference and doesn't have football or lacrosse teams, although the school does have a long-running football co-op with Keyport High School. Shenk opted to attend SJV and four years later he leaves the Holmdel school as a dynamic All-Shore athlete in two sports.
On the football field, Shenk is a two-time Shore Sports Network All-Shore selection. As a junior, he was the First Team All-Shore kicker after a year in which was the Shore Conference’s leading scorer among kickers with 42 points, including going a perfect 24-for-24 on extra points and connecting on a conference-high six field goals with a conference-long of 44 yards. He was also a standout defender at outside linebacker with 46 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. As a senior, Shenk recorded 81 tackles, 6 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, and 6 fumble recoveries as a defensive end and was again one of the top kickers in the Shore with 22 out of 26 extra points converted plus two field goals with a long of 32 yards.
Shenk's athletic future is on the lacrosse field where he is a star long-stick midfielder/defenseman. He was a First Team All-Shore selection this past season after scoring an astounding 43 goals, which is assumed to be a Shore Conference single-season record for a long pole. He will play collegiately at Division 1 Binghamton University.
Shenk didn't have to completely give up skiing when he decided to stay in New Jersey for high school, which in some way made his decision easier. He also knew it was about more than just picking one or two sports over another.
"I didn't know anyone when I started at SJV so to learn how to be a captain on the football team and a captain on the lacrosse team was a good life lesson for me and something I thought about in ninth grade," Shenk said. "Am I going to gain social skills from skiing? No. I'm all in my own head."
The athleticism needed for skiing at a high level clearly translated over to the football and lacrosse fields, but the area that prepared him for team sports more than anything was how to handle pressure.
"Skiing helped me the most mentally because that sport is all about mentality," Shenk said. It's just you out there, and if you make one mistake it can all go wrong. You have to take the course and look at it like a race track for driving, and that mentality taught me how to stay level-headed because I could get a little fresh during games sometimes. It taught me to calm down because you're not going to be able to do anything right if you're going crazy and the pistons are all firing at once."
Shenk knows he made the right decision, especially because skiing is still a major part of his life. He goes as often as he can during the winter months and says Alta Mountain in Utah is his favorite.
"I would huck 20, 30-foot cliffs there all winter," Shenk said. "I love backcountry, love powder. But I'm not into tricks."
His skills are still top-notch. He was recently at Big Sky Mountain in Montana and skied the mountain's famed Big Couloir, a harrowing 1,400-foot vertical run with upwards of 50 degrees of slope that requires skiers to check in with ski patrol and carry avalanche gear at all times.
On Wednesday night at Brick Township High School, Shenk will put on a football uniform for the final time. During the week of practices leading up to the 2022 All-Shore Gridiron Classic, Shenk has tried to soak it all in and make it a memorable experience.
"I said to the coaches the first day, this is so much fun and I've learned so much in just a few days with all these coaches," Shenk said. "I'm really excited to play and go out there and hit somebody."