UNION TWP. — Liam Hostetler emerges from Wheeler's pitch-black auditorium with a mini microphone taped to his right cheek and donning an extravagant button-down shirt of every color imaginable.
Hostetler is in costume for Wheeler's production of “Once on this Island,” having just stepped out of a rehearsal. Once he's done, he'll head over to cross country practice ahead of the Bearcats' semistate appearance Saturday.
Sometimes he stays at school until 8 p.m., when his athletic and extracurricular responsibilities are finally done. It's a lot to juggle.
“When it comes to tech week and important things like that, I'll usually prioritize theatre,” Hostetler said. “But this year since the boys made it so far, we haven't done it in so long and it's a big historic thing for our school, I've been prioritizing cross.”
Hostetler is a three-sport athlete for Wheeler -- cross country, track and swimming. The senior said everyone is aware of his athletic involvement, but fewer know that he loves theater and has played the lead role in multiple Wheeler productions over his four years in high school.
He started in seventh grade and has since played roles like Captain Hook in “Peter Pan,” Chuck Cranston in “Footloose” and his personal favorite, Philip Lombard in “And Then There Were None.”
For that last role, he had to perfect his British accent.
“It kind of came naturally for me,” Hostetler said in an accent straight out of England. “Some of my friends, they have foreign parents and sometimes I accidentally shift into their accent. It can get me into trouble sometimes.”
Wheeler puts on two shows per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. This fall's show premieres Nov. 1, so it's crunch time for Hostetler on the cross country course and on stage.
So far, he has balanced things just fine. At last Saturday's Chesterton regional, Hostetler put in a key performance for the Bearcats that helped set a new standard for the school.
Both the boys and girls teams advanced to semistate in the same season for the first time, and Hostetler cut 15 seconds off his personal record in finishing fifth among Bearcats runners.
After a tough sectional showing at New Prairie, things went much smoother. Sunset Hill Farm County Park's gentler hills reminded him of the neighborhood he trains in, which played into his hands.
“I was feeling really good on the day of the race, because New Prairie, I've never done well on that course,” Hostetler said. “Sunset Hills, it's just rolling hills and it honestly fueled me.”
Wheeler is one of the smallest schools to make it to semistate on both the boys and girls sides -- the Bearcats' girls team had to beat out LaPorte, while the boys team barely slipped by Kankakee Valley. Coach Luis Guillen said that without Hostetler's personal record, Wheeler probably would be sitting at home.
“There were a ton of hard times, but it was a huge accomplishment -- something they're gonna remember for the rest of their lives,” Guillen said. “It's one of those things where you've got to keep going, you've got to stick to the plan.”