One of the most interesting things about covering high school sports is getting to see great athletes play at the prep level.
After a while, you develop a keen eye and can spot the “special ones,” the ones who likely will play at the college level and perhaps even further.
Plant City has had plenty of these athletes. Durant’s Brooke Bennett went on to be an Olympic champion, and former Cougar baseball standout Ryan Raburn is having a great season with the Cleveland Indians. Most also remember PCHS standout Kenny Rogers, a four-time MLB All-Star and World Series champion.
Plant City is producing even more great talent in various sports. Athletes from the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World are sprinkled on different college rosters across the nation, with some already making major impacts.
The past and present athletic talent in a small town such as Plant City is impressive, but even more so is the success these athletes are having off the court and playing fields.
It didn’t take long for me to realize athletes here take academics seriously, and I’m not just talking about staying academically eligible to play their sport of choice.
Many athletes shine brighter in the classroom than they do when wearing a uniform. Some have more impressive academic résumés than top-tier students at their schools that solely focus on academics.
Anyone who has played a sport in their lives, especially in high school, knows the level of dedication takes. I know when I got home from practice every night, the last thing I wanted to do was open a textbook and start studying or doing homework.
Many Plant City-area athletes go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Many are taking honors and Advanced Placement classes. If you look down the list of students at Strawberry Crest in the IB program, many names of athletes will pop out.
These kids not only are dedicating their time to excelling at a sport but also are learning college-level material in the process.
Many local athletes are faced with tough, yet unique, decisions — go play the sport they love in college on a full athletic scholarship or attend a prestigious university on their academic merits.
Strawberry Crest softball player Savannah Bradley had several Division I softball offers, along with practically every Ivy League school begging her to attend their institution.
Fellow Charger Mazeed Aro-Lambo had a similar decision. The soccer standout could have played Division I soccer on an athletic scholarship but instead took an academic scholarship to Northwestern University, a private research university in Illinois ranked 12th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Not bad options to have.
Durant offensive linemen Alex Wood and Michael Watkins scored 1,350 on their SATs.
Plant City rising senior Kellyanne Hurst will join about 2,550 other high school students this summer for the U.S. Naval Academy’s 2013 Summer Seminar, in Annapolis, Md. The golf standout has a 5.84 GPA, is dual-enrolled at Hillsborough Community College and plans to attend the academy after graduation.
It never ceases to amaze me the level of dedication shown by local athletes in Plant City. Many could take the easy road, forgoing honors and AP classes and IB programs and coast through high school while playing their sport at a high level and gaining interest from colleges.
But our athletes have the correct prospective. They understand they are student-athletes — and that there is a reason “student” comes first in that term.
There will come a day when these athletes will have to hang up their uniform and cleats and put away their equipment, but with their academic accolades and their drive to succeed before they even enter a college classroom, they have bright futures ahead of them.