Desert Companion

The kid's got talent

These prodigies are off to a fast start thanks to their natural
gifts — and supportive parents

Annick Haczkiewicz

This queen of the greens might be future golf royalty

Thirteen-year-old Annick Haczkiewicz (hutch-kuh-veech) has a regular Friday night skins game that is anything but regular: “I play with a bunch of older guys that are like 80 years old and stuff, and we play for money,” she says, and often enough, Haczkiewicz wins. The older fellows like to give each other the gears about losing to a small girl, but really you can’t blame ’em — Haczkiewicz has a 2 handicap and a killer short game.

She took up golf when she was only 8. The draw? The furry little bunnies that hopped about the course, and the chance to spend time with dad. Eventually, she joined group classes at her favorite course, Angel Park. For a while she found herself a coach, Brandon Stooksbury, until he took a job in Georgia a year ago. Since then she’s been without a coach.

Now, it’s just her and dad again. They practice every day for 2 or 3 hours; then Haczkiewicz has league games on Thursdays and Fridays; and she plays tournaments, too. It’s a regimen that works for her. In March, as one of the youngest in the 13-18-year-old division, Haczkiewicz won the PGA Southwest Nevada Ping Junior Series — for the second year in a row. She’s also qualified to play in the 2014 Callaway Junior World Golf Championship in San Diego. And last year, she placed fourth at the TaylorMade World Masters of Junior Golf.  

Support comes from

Support system: “I’m not trying to be a coach, I’m just trying to be a practice partner. We correct each other,” says her dad, Marek Haczkiewicz, who wants nothing more than for his daughter to continue to enjoy the game. Both Marek and his wife Ursula were child athletes — he a trampolinist in Poland and she a Canadian gymnast; they met on the Cirque du Soleil circuit — who’ve seen, up close, what happens when parents push their kids too hard. “My goal is just to keep her in love with the sport, so she doesn’t burn out — because it’s really a physical and mental game.”  

The future’s so bright: Haczkiewicz has grander ambitions. “I really want to go to the 2015 Olympics in Rio. And I want to play in the LPGA.” Although, in the short term, the eighth-grader is hoping to join Palo Verde High School’s team, and maybe win a few more bucks from the old guys. — Chantal Corcoran


Jonah Jakin Schoenmann

There’s nothing abstract about this boy’s painting talent

Art is freedom, baby! “Being a child,” 10-year-old painter Jonah Jakin Schoenmann says with disarming candor, “I’m basically owned by my parents.” Who are sitting there as he says it. He smiles. “When I’m painting is the one time no one can tell me what to do.” He shuts himself into his play room, turns on cartoons for inspiration — “The Simpsons,” “Adventure Time” and “The Regular Show” being his favorites — and paints. No parents allowed! Oh, sometimes he’ll ask what they think of a piece. “They’ll say, ‘Good job! Don’t change it.’ I change it. I paint over it three or four times.” Only he knows when something is finally finished and right.

The result of his process: surprisingly lively, sophisticated abstract canvases, kinetic with molten colors from his cartoon-infatuated palette. He may be a kid, but plenty of smart people don’t dismiss his work as kid stuff. If you visited the Art Odyssey at October’s Life is Beautiful Festival — a motel repurposed with rooms of carefully selected art — you saw some of his pieces alongside those of far more established artists, including Chuck Close. “I gotta tell you something,” Odyssey coordinator Patrick Duffy told the Las Vegas Sun at the time, “this Jonah has an incredible capture of color and composition. He just blows my freakin’ mind.”

Hands off: How would his mom, Kate Hausbeck Korgan, advise parents who want to help nurture and direct their kids’ talents? “I’d take the word ‘direct’ out of that sentence,” she says. She and her husband, Todd Korgan, a director of commercial videos, know better than to smother Jonah. They’re not all, Time to paint, son! “I’ve seen so many stage moms ruin their child’s talent by forcing it, pressuring them to do well,” he says. “We’re the exact opposite of that,” adds Kate, interim dean of UNLV's Graduate College. Their policy of noninterference gives Jonah the mental elbow room he needs.

The family does maintain a creative household — nonstandard wall colors, art hanging prominently — and makes his art a priority. If he’s invited to do something with his artwork, and he wants to, “We make that happen,” she says — canceling plans, whatever it takes.

The future is a blank canvas: Though it made him nervous to imagine thousands of Life is Beautiful attendees seeing — and judging — his work (“Ooh yes, oh, oh yes, I thought a lot about that. What if people don’t like it?”) he enjoyed the experience. He met a lot of people, heard good things: “I was speechless,” Jonah says. “I still am speechless — surprised that so many people liked a 10-year-old’s art.” Maybe it’ll become a career. Who knows? “I can’t really tell what the future holds,” he says. “But I know I’ll always paint.” — Scott Dickensheets


Bryce Beckman

Of this second-grader’s many occupations, math comes the most naturally

At 7 years old, your average kid is still mastering addition and subtraction. Bryce Beckman isn’t your average kid. He has completed all the math challenges given him by Candace Makowski, his teacher at Mabel Hoggard Math and Science Magnet School, and is whizzing through advanced math, including fractions. Ask him why it’s his favorite subject, and he’ll reply, “Because it’s easy.” Then ask why he thinks that is: “I’ve been practicing.”

‘No tiger mom’: Valerie Chang and Gary Beckman expose their son to many activities, from swim team to cultural festivals, hikes to museums, so as not to pigeonhole him. Still, with Bryce scoring in the 97th percentile nationwide for math aptitude on last year’s standardized tests, they know they’re dealing with a special talent. He started at Mabel Hoggard already ahead of his peers, having taken classes at Talent Bilingual Education Academy, which stresses math, since the age of 3. And his parents reinforce his natural ability by giving him games such as Sum Dog to play, and by including Brain Quest in his bedtime reading. “Whatever he does, I tell him to try his best,” says Taiwan-born Chang. “I’m no tiger mom. If he comes in last, but he tried his best, I tell him it’s okay.”

Future Bobby Fischer? Don’t be surprised to see Bryce Beckman’s face someday on the cover of Chess Life magazine. Since joining a kids’ chess club in October, he’s won first place in two weekly competitions. — Heidi Kyser


Kayla Quijano

She found the cello — or did it find her?

CelloWhen Kayla Quijano plays cello, she bows her head, causing long, dark bangs to veil half her face. Maybe she’s concealing the emotions she says she channels to bring compositions to life — something she does remarkably well for a 12-year-old. “Music means everything to me,” she says, without an iota of drama. Her natural gift is apparent to Lindsey Springer, orchestra teacher at K.O. Knudson Middle School, but it’s Quijano’s dedication that earned her a spot as soloist for the orchestra’s festival competition, where it received a perfect score in March. The same month, she won the opportunity to play a solo in a concert by the Nevada Chamber Symphony.

Everything a miracle: When Richard Quijano and ex-wife Charissa Ching, Kayla’s mom, encouraged their daughter to take up an instrument three years ago, they assumed it would be guitar, which they both play. But inspired by Japanese cellist-vocalist Kanon Wakeshima, whose music appears in the anime film “Vampire Knight,” Kayla chose cello. “She was such an ill child that any time she’d get involved in something, it was like a miracle to us,” her father says, referring to a severe respiratory illness that sent his newborn to the ER repeatedly during her first year of life. Private cello lessons at the Nevada School of the Arts led Kayla to a seat in the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra and enrollment at Knudson, a magnet school for the arts. And the music doesn’t end with the school day. The family occasionally jams together in the Quijano living room, where the bare floors and instrument set — scarcely a piece of traditional furniture to be found — make it seem like a mini-concert venue.

Sharing the gift: Kayla (who now also plays guitar, ukulele and violin) hopes to someday teach music and perform outside school, as her teachers do now. “Sometimes I think about not doing cello anymore and trying different things,” she says, “and that makes me sad, because cello is my life. It is.”


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