Dreams came true for dozens of local student-athletes as they put their signatures on national letters of intent Wednesday, the start of an early signing period for several NCAA sports.
The work that made those dreams possible started a long time ago, though. McCallie catcher Carter Edge, who signed with Middle Tennessee State's baseball program, talked about what it took to secure an opportunity to continue playing in college.
"To get to this point took many long days throughout the years," Edge said. "Seeing previous friends and teammates before me go on to play college baseball really made me want to make it to the next level, too.
"Being able to work out with and learn from (Chattanooga Christian graduate and Kentucky baseball player) John Rhodes was vital to my success, along with the guidance from my eXposure Baseball (travel league) coaches (Brandon) Turner and (Dylan) Bosheers."
Edge celebrated the special day with friends, family and two McCallie classmates who also will join Division I programs — soccer player Andrew Prescott signed with East Tennessee State and swimmer Will Jackson with Tennessee.
Based on reports submitted to the Times Free Press by area schools, some 30 local athletes signed Division I scholarships, with Baylor accounting for the most with 11 (five swimmers, two baseball players, two softball players and one golfer).
Among the Division I total, seven signed with a Southeastern Conference program, including McCallie's Jackson. Three of those were for basketball, with Hamilton Heights' Treasure Hunt (Kentucky) and Samson Ruzhentsev (Florida) joined by East Hamilton's Madison Hayes (Mississippi State). Baylor is sending two athletes on to the SEC — left-handed pitcher Colin Ahearn (Tennessee) and Lady Red Raiders outfielder Makayla Packer (Auburn). Gordon Lee distance runner Gracie O'Neal, who recently won the GHSA Class A public cross country title by a margin of more than 1 minute and 30 seconds, is headed to Georgia.
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While signing day becomes a special memory for such accomplished athletes, it doesn't displace the accomplishments that helped make it possible.
Jackson will be forever grateful after winning three individual state titles and helping guide the Blue Tornado to a team championship last season.
"I have been blessed to have an incredible coaching staff to work with in Stan Corcoran and Roger Dahlke," said Jackson, who earned All-America status in the 500- and 200-meter freestyle races. "They have helped me elevate my performance in a very short amount of time. My family has also been extremely supportive, and I could not be more thankful for them. It's a dream come true to swim for my home state."