The village was on display last week in the Wewahitcha Jr./Sr. High School gym.

 

The village was on display last week in the Wewahitcha Jr./Sr. High School gym.

The gym was full, with students and a fair contigent of parents, mentors and other members of the community, as six student-athletes signed to continue their education, and athletic careers, in college.

Four came out of the football program and there is little question where youth must serve for the Gators this fall as all four college-bound players are linemen.

Another of those students arrived out of the school’s wildly-successful softball program while the other has been on the scholastic running scene since he was in middle school.

Blake Harrison, Chase Roper, Chester Quick and Trayquan Tiller, the football players, joined Cecily Hale, the softball player, and cross country ace Elijah Sarmiento in inking scholarships from college destinations.

And what was once, as Principal Jay Bidwell noted, the domain of end-of-school-day events, this signing day was held in the middle of the school day.

It was, Bidwell said, part of the curriculum for the high school.

“We want you to come and see this,” Bidwell said. “It shows what hard work can provide, it can provide a good education beyond high school and you can keep playing ball.”

The opportunity the six have earned, he added, was the product of dedication in the classroom as it was on the diamond or gridiron or track.

“The biggest thing to celebrate is what these young men and women have done to get here,” said new athletic director Bobby Johns.

And each navigated a different path and are headed in, at least for the most part, in varying directions.

Hale is headed to Enterprise State (AL) Community College after being an integral part of a team advancing to the state Class 1A final four each of her final two seasons.

She had other offers, but said, “I just really liked the school” upon a visit.

After hitting .354 with a .490 on-base percentage as a junior, Hale hit .321 with a .386 on-base percentage this season.

With 16 newcomers entering the program this fall, Hale is penciled in as the starting third-baseman, said Enterprise coach Traci Harrison.

“When I saw Cecily, I knew I had to have her come to Enterprise,” Harrison said. “Her skills, her bat, her hard work, her passion for the game was (exceptional).”

Harrison, who was on college’s radar as soon as he entered high school given his size at well over 200 pounds, had interest from a host of schools at various college levels, from NCAA Division III to Division I.

He said he likely would have commited to Davidson after attending a camp there before his senior year, but during a follow-up visit to attend a game the fit just didn’t feel right.

Upon visiting Southeastern Louisiana University, he was sold.

“It just fit,” Harrison said. “I went on a visit and everything just felt right.”

A tackle and center during his high school career, Harrison said coaches see him as a flex-lineman, providing depth through versatility, likely primarily at guard.

“They have already given workouts to do,” Harrison said, adding he reports for summer next month.

Teammates Roper and Tiller found the next stop in their educational journeys when Keiser University out of West Palm Beach made a presentation to seniors during a college recruiting event.

The school will field a football team for the first time this fall, playing in the NAIA’s Sun Conference.

Tiller had seriously considered North Carolina Weslyan, but the out-of-state tuition and Keiser scholarship nixed that, at least for now.

“They have a new team and I wanted to give it a try,” Tiller said.

WHS coach Stuart Vines said the light had gone on for Tiller, talented but less-than-enthusiastic about running, before his senior year.

“The thing I think about is his perservance,” Vines said.

The same could be said of Roper, who battled a series of injuries during his last two seasons.

“He has a very good first step, I think he would be a good defensive lineman,” Vines said. “He has the intelligence to play the offensive line as well.”

As a junior at Blountstown, Quick seemed destined to enter the military and become a Marine after high school.

But, interest from colleges after his transfer as a senior to Wewahitchka compelled him to approach his Marine recruiter about maybe following this college recruiting muse.

“Committing to college he is just as impressive,” the recruiter said after detailing he had not wish to end, or postpone, a college dream.

Quick will attend Huntingdon (AL) College.

Sarmiento will also be headed to Huntingdon, which is located in a historic section of Montgomery.

Sarmiento has been running at the high school level, cross country and track, since he was seventh-grader, following in the strides of two older brothers who also excelled at distance running.

Sarmiento had multiple offers, but geography played a crucial role.

“Either they were too far north or they were way down in South Florida,” Sarmiento said.

Huntingdon was just close, and far, enough.

“Elijah is a wonderful athlete,” said WHS coach Mary Holley. “He works very hard. Running is hard. I think he will do great in college.”