Smiths Station cheerleader Natalie Harris said she always wanted her chance to sign a scholarship and have her friends and family celebrate the accomplishment. Although the situation was unlike most signings she’d seen before, Harris finally had her big moment on Thursday.
Harris was one of three Smiths Station student-athletes who signed their letters of intent during a ceremony at the school Thursday morning. Harris signed to cheer at Huntingdon College, Savian Taylor signed to run track and cross country at Columbus State, and Manoso Foston signed to play basketball at Tennessee Valley Prep.
Jackson Huguley and Taylor Hasty also signed their letters of intent but did not attend the ceremony. Huguley will play baseball at East Georgia State College, and Hasty will cheer at Columbus State.
“That was super special,” Harris said of the ceremony. “It’s really exciting just because we didn’t know if we would be having one, and this is just something I’ve always wanted to do. I always wanted to cheer in college and continue on with it, and this is just sealing the deal. This is what I’m doing, so it’s really exciting.”
Smiths Station co-athletic director Brian Nelson explained it was a priority for the school to celebrate the athletes but to do it safely. Although a considerable amount of time had passed between school ending and the signing, he said he and the rest of the administration were committed to honoring those moving on to the next level.
By Thursday, it was evident the school was prepared to celebrate the athletes while practicing proper protocol. Several people in attendance wore masks, and each guest who entered was subjected to a temperature check and a quick questionnaire to ensure no one attending would be put at risk. Each signing was also spaced out by 30 minutes to ensure as small of a crowd as possible for each athlete.
The five who signed meant Smiths Station sent 21 student-athletes on to college, which was only more reason in Nelson’s mind to make sure they were honored appropriately.
“Signing day for student-athletes is the jewel in the crown. It’s 13 years of education and countless years of work in the classroom, on the field, on the court, in the weight room, things like that. It’s very important to recognize things that,” Nelson said. “These kids, they’re brand ambassadors going out. Hopefully, the things we’ve taught them here they’re going to carry with them and make an impact where they go. We took every precaution we could. It was important (we had a ceremony). This is kind of our last hurrah for them. It’s awesome just to get to celebrate.”
Taylor was one of the athletes in attendance who has been committed to his sport from day one. He explained he’s loved running for as long as he could remember, and from trying to beat his older brother when he was still a Smiths Station Panther to now he’s done everything he could to get better.
Because of that hard work, he’s now set to go to Columbus State and run for former Smiths Station coach J.D. Evilsizer.
As big as the moment was for him, Taylor understood his high school went above and beyond to celebrate him and the others signing.
“It means a ton. I ran under this school my entire running career, so that’s been five-plus years. It means everything for the school to put this on for us,” Taylor said. “To celebrate it means everything. It’s way better when you’re running and competing for other people more than yourself, so I’m glad I get to celebrate this with my family and friends. It’s just an awesome time for me today.”
Foston, meanwhile, spoke highly of his experience at Smiths Station, especially as a member of the basketball team. He said being a basketball player at the school meant being part of a brotherhood, and it taught him how to work with others and how to have another person’s back.
Foston thanked his parents for their support and those who have influenced him at Smiths Station, explaining that being a Panther taught him to persevere through tough times and make the most of it.
That mantra was very much on display Thursday, as the school brought together some of its athletes to let them celebrate together one more time.
“(Smiths Station has) taught me to be a better man and a better person. I’m just very happy about my experience,” Foston said. “It really shows how much the school cares.”