Dailen Terry overcomes injury, shines academically to earn valedictorian rank

Sierra High School’s Dailen Terry completed his high school career with a 4.572 grade point average and an associate degree. He will attend Bethel College in the fall. 

Dailen Terry blazed one heck of a trail for future Sierra High School student-athletes. 

The Stallions basketball star graduated as valedictorian with a 4.572 grade point average, an associate degree in general studies and a path to head to Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, this fall.

“Coming into high school I never had the goal to become number 1, but after my freshman year, I’ve been in the spot ever since,” Terry said. “I’ve tried to maintain that throughout my high school journey.” 

Terry realized his junior year he’d earn valedictorian. Along with AP classes, he participated in the concurrent enrollment program at Pikes Peak Community College and took college courses while in high school. Those classes, which are based on a five-point scale versus the typical four-point system, propelled Terry to valedictorian.

“I have nothing but pride for this kid,” said Tyree Terry, Dailen’s mother. “He makes me proud every day and always makes the right decisions. There’s always a stigma around athletes, but he managed to be a great student-athlete. We’ve always enforced that, even when he was in [Amateur Athletic Union basketball]. He’s always been a scholar, and this is a bonus for us.”

Blazing a trail

Terry’s coach, Terry Dunn, praised his former shooting guard for his work ethic and his ability to lead by example on and off the court. 

“He never wavered from his family values — education was always number one with his family,” Dunn said. “He had great expectations and met those in the classroom. He always valued his education and was always proud of being number 1 in the class. His peers respected him for that, as well as his athletic prowess.”

Dunn’s run the gamut as a coach. He’s spent 38 years mentoring kids from the sidelines, but among the countless players under Dunn’s tutelage, Terry is one-of-a-kind. 

“I told him, ‘Dailen, you’re the first valedictorian I’ve ever coached and hopefully it won’t be the last,’” Dunn said. “Student-athletes like Dailen don’t come along often and you don’t take them for granted. He reminds me of an Ivy League student-athlete because he’s very analytical and sees things before they happen — sometimes before I do. He’s very gifted and well-rounded and comes from a great family.

“I hope players coming up from middle school and players coming back take notice. That notice would not only be served throughout athletics but throughout the academic community.” 

Terry hopes to sprinkle inspiration on his classmates after the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. The virus scrapped numerous plans for schools, including a traditional May graduation. Terry said Sierra expects to have a graduation ceremony in July at UCHealth Park. He plans to speak life into the Stallions’ class of 2020 during the commencement. (You can read some of his valedictorian thoughts in “Celebrating Seniors” page 5.)

“I want [my speech] to motivate them and not let this bring them down,” Terry said. “Corona is just another bump in the road — it’s going to be a stepping stone. No one’s journey in life is going to be straight. You have to make turns and go over hills.”

A bad break

Terry certainly understands how to overcome obstacles. Following a 58-51 loss to Mitchell on Feb. 8, 2019, the Stallions held a Saturday practice. Unbeknown to Terry, it’d be his final action of the season.

During a routine layup, Terry felt a pop in his left leg and noticed something felt off ... literally. He’d broken his leg.

“The whole top part of my leg popped off,” he said. “I came off a curl from the left wing and I ended up on the right side of the basket. Usually I pull up and take a shot, but I wanted to go for a layup. I jumped with no contact from anyone and my leg popped. 

“I thought I dislocated my kneecap. Once the paramedics came, they knew that wasn’t the case.”

Dunn canceled practice and assistant coach Bryant Perryman kept Terry company until his father, Vaughn Terry, received a text from Dunn urging him to come to the school. 

“When I got there, [Dailen] was lying there and you could see he was in serious pain, but he managed,” Vaughn Terry said. “The injury happened right on top of his tibia, right below the knee. It cracked all the way across and they had to put in two screws. He had to lay a certain way and they put ice on it. 

“At first, I felt sorry for him because it was toward the end of the season and his game was just starting to take off and he was becoming a weapon. I was more disappointed he wouldn’t get to play in the playoffs.”

Winning mentality

Prior to his broken leg, Terry never missed practice — he even arrived to support teammates the day after his surgery. Rehab forced him to sit out the remainder of the season, but he attacked therapy by tapping “the Mamba mentality.” 

“I told him to use the mindset Kobe [Bryant] always talked about: attack it and overcome it,” Vaughn Terry said. “Use that drive to be better when you get to the other side of the injury.”

Following surgery and eight weeks on crutches, Terry heeded the advice. He began minor workouts at home from April until May to strengthen his leg, and underwent physical therapy from May through September. 

“My physical therapist, she really pushed me every session I was there,” Terry said. “She pushed me to my limits to get my leg back to where it was before. I used that [mindset] for basketball and school, because there are times when I have five assignments due the same day [and would] say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ But I was able to will myself to complete those assignments.”

Vaughn Terry added: “The whole time he never felt sorry for himself or cried or wondered if he’d play again. I was proud of how he handled that because it showed his fortitude and his will.”

Terry returned this year to average 13.4 points per contest, the second-most on the team. More importantly, he continued to manage athletics and academics. 

“We’ve never had to worry about him too much or check if he did his homework,” Tyree Terry said. “He’s always been responsible and remained on top of his studies.

“A small college in Kansas offered him the chance to continue his education and play ball. We’ve supported him and his decision, and told him, ‘go for it.’”

Terry’s support system and his mindset buoyed him past his injury and made earning valedictorian sweeter. 

“To be able to be that person to shine a light on [Harrison School] District 2 schools, it’s a humbling and proud moment,” Terry said. “I never thought I’d be in this position. Now, I realize I have to maintain that near-perfect image. 

“In life, if you give someone the wrong impression once, they’ll think that’s how you are, so I make sure I maintain that good image.” 


Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.