At least eight student-athletes in The T&D Region signed national letters-of-intent on Wednesday to play their sport on the college level.
At Calhoun County High School, five baseball players and one football player inked with their chosen programs. In baseball, Andrew Isgett signed to play at USC Sumter, Daniel Williams signed to play at Florence-Darlington Technical College, while Alex Tapia, Noah Bearden and Dalton Crider each signed to play at USC Salkehatchie. In football, Stephon Pinckney (6-foot, 310-pound offensive guard and defensive tackle) signed to play at Elizabeth City State University.
Then, at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, two student-athletes inked to play at two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association programs. Christian Owens signed to play golf at Johnson C. Smith University, while Meagan Green signed to play volleyball at Fayetteville State University.
From all accounts, this was the largest signing class of baseball players in the history of the Saints program. All five are going to quality junior college programs within South Carolina, each of which plays in NJCAA Region 10.
"This shows progress for Calhoun County baseball, with the kids buying in to what we teach them, learning the fundamentals, working on their game and working on their grades," Calhoun County head baseball coach Dukes Isgett said. "I've watched these guys grow up the last few years and this is such a positive thing to see what they are doing now.
"At last check, USC Sumter and Flor-Dar are tied for the lead (in Region 10) and USC Salk is fourth. The talent level on all of the junior college rosters in our state. Some of our guys signing today need to just work on their game a bit more or get bigger, but they each have the talent to play."
Coaches at each of the three programs that signed CC baseball players on Wednesday came looking for talent at Saints games.
"We didn't have to throw these players in front of the college coaches and push for them to get an opportunity," Coach Isgett said. "They sought each one of our guys out for their team."
With seven graduating players on the roster for the Saints, five will be playing on the next level, while furthering their education. Calhoun County baseball prepared this team to make a playoff run this coming postseason, participating in a preseason tournament at White Knoll (against mostly Class 4A and 5A schools), playing the Region 5-2A schedule against Bamberg-Ehrhardt, Barnwell, Silver Bluff, Batesburg-Leesville and others, and playing in the Gilbert Sandlapper Tournament at spring break against Spring Valley (5A), Richland Northeast (4A) and Aiken (4A).
CCHS athletic director Justin Farmer, who also served as interim head football coach for the Saints this past season, saw Wednesday's signing class as a great example for younger student-athletes at the school.
"It's a huge day for us; I'm not sure we've ever had that many sign (scholarships) in one day," Farmer said. "Definitely, with baseball, that's a tremendous group getting to go off and play.
"And Stephon, on the football field, he went above and beyond to get himself ready to play and prepare in the classroom. Hopefully this will be a positive influence on the rest of our campus. Stephon wasn't one to sign early in the football period, but he found a program that is right for him and he could be a diamond in the rough on the next level."
O-W head golf coach Horace Bookman was all smiles on Wednesday, with Owens signing to play golf at Johnson C. Smith. The coach and his first golfer to earn a college golf scholarship began with the Bruins program about the same time.
"Christian and I met back when he was about 100 pounds, but year after year he has gotten better at golf," Bookman said. "So many people have been keeping in touch with him and working with him to give him this opportunity. It's a true village support concept, like nothing I have ever seen before.
"He is great about working with the new kids in the program, including some of the middle school golfers we just got involved this year. He promised to come back and help teach the kids when he gets breaks from college. I'm just truly proud of the fact that this has been able to take place for him and his parents. He has worked on his game and so many people at Hillcrest and in the community have offered great advice to him and helped him to this point."
Owens admitted that he talks with anyone at school about the game of golf and how it can be both challenging and fun.
"When I came in my 8th-grade year and joined the team, it was just Coach, the seniors and me," Owens said. "I love the sport and I've seen my driving improve the last few seasons.
"Even though I'm not really strong, I know my technique helps me play well. Johnson C. Smith is a small, family-based school that just felt like home to me. I dreamed of signing with a school, so my dream came true today."
Owens said one thing that could make his signing even better is if soon-to-be CIAA member school Claflin University adds a golf team and he can return to play at Hillcrest Golf Club in a college golf match.
O-W head volleyball Denolis Wright has had more than a few players sign to play volleyball in college. But, she admitted that seeing Green sign was really special for her and her program.
"Meagan plays during the high school season and she plays in the off-season program; she is a great player, a great student-athlete who is leaving us with a 4.6 grade point average, and someone who has always had great support from her parents and grandparents," Wright said. "I'm really going to miss her; she has always been a leader.
"She is one of the reasons our program has grown so much, with her athleticism and her hard work in the classroom."
Green admitted that she has dreamed of playing college volleyball since she was in fifth grade.
"I'm going to stick to it, be there all four years, break records and help my team win," she said. "I was looking at Tuskegee and Chowan, but Fayetteville State stuck out to me because they have my English major with a pre-law concentration, and Coach (Reeshemah) Johnson was on me in recruiting more than any other coach and she is more like a mother figure.
"That's what sold me on the program. Here, at O-W, our team has been like a sisterhood. We have a bond and we flow together on the court. I've really enjoyed playing here. But, I made my mind up to go to Fayetteville State back last June, and I'm sticking to it. It's a monumental moment in my life and I'm excited about what life is going to bring."
Green will play her natural position of libero (defensive specialist) at FSU, receiving serves and digging kill attempts from opposing teams. In the first round of SCHSL Class 4A playoffs this past October, Green had a team-high 15 digs to go along with 4 aces and 10 service points to help the Bruinettes to a 3-0 win at Hartsville.