Airman 1st Class Kelsey Adams, wearing her U.S. Air Force combat uniform, wiggled her way between guests toward the table where her younger sister Lindsey sat during last Wednesday’s National Signing Day ceremony at Jack Britt High School.
Once spotted, Kelsey braced for the kind of hug you get from someone who loves you and hasn’t seen you in a long time and didn’t know you were coming.
There was laughter and squeezing and swaying, and then Lindsey said, “You look terrible!”
Kelsey’s grin got bigger.
She came all the way from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to see her sister sign a National Letter of Intent to play softball at Nyack College in New York.
And Lindsey was clearly thrilled to see her big sister, even if she wouldn’t say so.
“I did not expect that. We’ve been trying to get her to come for a while, so I was very surprised,” she said.
Lindsey was part of a six-person signing class for the Buccaneers, joining Barry Elliott, Kassady Hardee, Madison O’Neill, Rayven Shepard and Preston Wise.
Shepard and Hardee have been patrolling ballfields together since they were 4 years old.
“While their brothers were playing ball, they were playing on the dirt mound,” Kassady’s mother Kimberly said. “And then they made it to the softball mound.”
They’ve been teammates for most of their lives. But they’ll wear different uniforms next year when Shepard goes to Salem College in Winston-Salem and Hardee heads for St. Andrews in Laurinburg.
“We’ve been together since we were little, and now we’re leaving each other,” Kassady said. “It’s going to be hard. It’s just hitting me now.”
Britt softball coach Sebrina Wilson was emotional as she delivered speeches of recognition for each of her senior players.
“I’ve been around them for three-plus years, and when you see them from September to May almost every day, it’s really hard to tell them goodbye because you really feel like they’re part of your family,” she said.
Wilson called Rayven, an infielder, an athlete with enough natural ability to “go out there and do things without giving 100 percent.”
The coach said Kassady, who plays shortstop and second base, was “flamboyant, a jokester. She makes things light on the team.”
Adams, Wilson said, was the thinker. “She’s really smart, and she adds a lot to the team from her academic perspective.”
The outfielder received academic as well as athletic scholarships to Nyack.
“It’s really, really special for me,” Adams said of the chance to play softball in college. “It took me awhile to get as good as I felt like I could be. I felt like everybody was above me, so I started to work really hard, and it feels nice that it paid off, especially as much time and money that my mom put into it.”
Shepard said she’s looking forward to the competition on the next level.
“I’m ready to get to a place where I’m pushed further by the girls surrounding me because I know I will have to fight for a spot when I get there. It just excites me to know that I’m going to have to work hard to get to where I want to be,” she said.
As for her last year as a Buccaneer: “I want to go out with a bang. I don’t want to play the game for myself. I want to play for my team, and I want to have fun with them.”
Offensive lineman Preston Wise and wide receiver Barry Elliott signed with UNC Pembroke and the University of Charleston, respectively.
Wise, who missed the last five games of his senior season due to a torn ACL, thought his chances for a collegiate career had ended with the injury.
"Preston was all-conference, all-region, and that’s after missing the last five games of the season. Pembroke still offered him a scholarship after tearing his ACL. That’s how much he’s respected,” football coach Brian Randolph said.
Wise, grateful for the Braves’ continued interest through his injury, had a strong rapport with the program.
“I always grew up hearing about UNCP, and I went down for my visit and just fell in love. I felt like I was home there,” he said.
Elliott, on his way to West Virginia, has been a three-sport star since middle school, giving time to rec and AAU teams for as long as he can remember.
Signing with a college team was the culmination of his years of dedication.
“It’s really one of the greatest moments of my life. It’s really exciting. I never thought I’d be here,” Elliott said.
Coach Randolph had faith in his receiver.
“Barry Elliott had 36 catches for 742 yards, 20 yards per catch, eight touchdowns. He was first-team all-conference. There was no DB that could stand in front of Barry Elliott. He was that fast and that explosive,” Randolph said.
Madison O’Neill is going to play girls’ lacrosse at N.C. Wesleyan, even though Britt has only had a girls’ lacrosse team for two years.
“It was a long journey just to get started here at Jack Britt because we were just a club sport at first and we weren’t recognized,” she said.
And now, having settled on the Rocky Mount campus after receiving interest from all over the country and touring 14 colleges, O’Neill says, “The team made me feel like I was part of their family already.
“There’s nothing like it.”
Monica Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3518.