Amazing Race contestant says Howland basketball taught her to never quit

Jessica Shields stars in The Amazing Race, which premieres tonight at 10 on CBS

Jessica Shields, a Youngstown native on The Amazing Race, played basketball at Howland.


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Jessica Shields’ former basketball coach from Howland High School says she’s ready to represent Youngstown on “The Amazing Race.”

“She makes friends and she likes to be in charge of that group,” John Diehl said. “She’s that type of person, too. So being in that situation, she would excel.”

Jessica Shields, a Youngstown native on The Amazing Race, played basketball at Howland.Thursday night, you’ll hear host Phil Keoghan tell contestants at the starting line, “The world is waiting for you — go!”

Diehl coached Jessica when she went by her middle name, Ellie, and said she is up for the challenge. He thinks her time as a basketball player could prove to be a huge asset.

“If you’re behind, you know that there’s still a chance to win. That the other team can screw up, that the other part in this situation can screw up,” Diehl said. “Just keep giving 100 percent and keep going full blast, and Ellie’s good at going full blast.”

He said she was more than just a star player — she was an inspiration and leader for the team.

“She smiles all the time and if the game would be tense or close, I’d be yelling and Ellie would say something that would relax everybody and lighten the mood. So maybe that will help on the show. They get in a tense situation, she’ll crack a joke and maybe relax her team, and they’ll do okay.”

Still, Jessica wanted to quit basketball numerous times but was always talked out of it.

“You never quit. You never give up on anything, no matter how hard it is. The harder something is, the more beneficial it is going to be to your life,” she said.

Jessica agreed that her sports background did help with the show.

“More so than athletic skills, I think the dedication to basketball. The mental commitment, the toughness I learned from my teammates, the way they held me accountable.”

Jessica went on to play basketball for Kent State.Jessica Shields, a Youngstown native on The Amazing Race, played basketball at Kent State.

The race’s first leg goes from Los Angeles to Panama City. Jessica remembers a trip to Punta Cana growing up — just about her only previous traveling experience. She made up for that on “The Amazing Race.”

“How to work standby and how to work flights. I didn’t know any of that stuff. I think those were things that surprised me that I didn’t think ahead of,” Jessica said.

Youngstown is no stranger to reality TV this year. Robert Clark, a Cardinal Mooney grad and former Youngstown police officer and FBI agent, was featured on the CBS show “Hunted.”

Now another officer from the Youngstown Police Department will star on primetime.

“I just wanted to showcase my personality and what I do for a living because I think it’s pretty awesome,” Jessica said of her position as a K9 officer.

As “The Amazing Race” plays out, it will be interesting to see how much the show tells the story of Jessica’s career.

“If you get pulled over by me, chances are you didn’t get a ticket because I give second chances,” she said.

Youngstown Mayor John McNally said Jessica’s good at what she does.

“She’s got a whole bunch of commendations for us in her file, not only as a K9 officer, but also in routine stops and getting guns off the street.”

Now Jessica begins racing the streets around the world — nine countries, 36,000 miles.

The race will go through Tanzania, Norway, and Greece. Jessica’s only wish was a stop in Italy, but she can’t tell us if that happened.

Even if she crosses the finish line first back in the U.S., her trip won’t be over yet.

“If she wins, we will make sure that she gets all of the due recognition that she deserves from the city, city council, and from the public as a whole,” McNally said.

Jessica’s dream is to get on Survivor. But in order to do that, she has to survive a race around the world first.

The twist this year is that the contestants are paired with complete strangers, so Jessica met her race partner at the starting line. Will she be paired with an auctioneer, a drum major, or a pro snowboarder?

We’ll find out tonight at 10 on WKBN 27.

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