At Blue Springs High School, they talk about family – and that was never more evident than at Wednesday morning’s National Signing Day at the school’s Performing Arts Center.
When Examiner Offensive Player of the Year Aveion Bailey went to sign his letter by himself – his mother could not get off work to attend the ceremony – his “brother’s” parents stepped in to fill the void.
Christine Johnson, the mother of offensive lineman Jack Johnson, and Steve Rowley, the father of two-time all-state offensive lineman Conrad Rowley, sat on either side of a smiling Bailey as he signed his letter to attend Iowa Western Community College.
“That was special when Jack and Conrad’s parents came up to sit with me,” said Bailey, who made the commitment to Iowa Western earlier this week, not allowing his mother enough time to make the signing ceremony.
“But that’s this Wildcat family. We’re teammates, but we’re brothers and we care about each other and love each other. That’s going to be hard to say goodbye to, but I got the same feeling at Iowa Western and I’m excited to see what happens the next two years.”
Bailey was one of four Examiner athletes of the year from Blue Springs who signed letters Wednesday, joining Gabe McClain (Missouri Southern State) and Tessa Valdiva (Southwest Baptist), respectively The Examiners Boy and Girl Cross Country Runners of the Year; and Caitlyn Sporing (Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville), the three-time Examiner Tennis Player of the Year.
“If I could use one word to describe Gabe it would be perseverance,” said Wildcats cross country coach Frank Gallick. “He has overcome a stress fracture and missing out on being all-state as a junior (finishing 28th when the top 25 medal) to being an all-state runner this year and being a member of two state championship teams – the 2017 cross country and track teams.”
Girls cross country coach Matt Johnson praised Valdivia, saying, “Tessa represents everything we believe in at Blue Springs High School. Her work ethic is second to none and she has been 11th (sophomore), sixth (junior) and second at state this year, making her one of the most successful runners in the state during her career at Blue Springs.”
Tennis coach Jody McClain lavished praise on Sporing, one of the top players in the history of Blue Springs and Eastern Jackson County.
“She is a very special player,” McClain said.
Sporing finished fifth, fourth and fifth at state, respectively, the past three years, was 17-2 this past season, losing only to the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the state, and was a conference, district and sectional champion.
Those signees were joined by baseball players Andrew Garry, Pratt Community College; Mathis Mauldin, Kansas City, Kansas Community College; and Christian Garcia, the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
“These guys put in the work and we can’t wait to see what they do the this season and next year at college,” baseball coach Tim McElligott said.
The 22-0 Wildcats swimming team was represented by Shaedyn Read, Lindenwood; and Gracie Lefholz, Midland University.
“I have coached both of these young ladies since middle school and their work ethic is a big reason we have been undefeated in duals the past two years,” swimming coach and Blue Springs grad Kevin Bingham said.
Taylor Snead, the Wildcats softball Most Valuable Player, signed with Park University and her teammate, Audrey Corona, signed with Missouri Valley.
“Their skill and leadership have played a big role in our success as a team,” Blue Springs softball coach Jim Brandner said.
The lone soccer player was Jazzy Taylor, who signed with Alabama A&M; while Terren Overman represented the basketball team. She signed with the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
“They’re going to love Jazzy at Alabama A&M, just like we love her here,” girls soccer coach Doug McLagan said. “She has great speed and skills and she is going to be a big part of our team this year.”
Haylee Smith made a bit of history, as she became the first Wildcat to sign for lacrosse. She plays with students from Lee’s Summit North and Blue Springs High School and signed with Oklahoma Baptist.
“We have 30 girls on our team, and most are from Lee’s Summit and Haylee was voted a team captain,” said Lee’s Summit North lacrosse coach Tony Row, who spoke on behalf of Smith. “She has a special skill set and will be a great collegiate player.”
Rounding out the signing ceremony were football players Johnson, Northwestern College, Iowa; Rowley, Northwestern University; Jessup Leakey, Dordt College, Iowa; Simeon Sullivan, Washburn University; Nikko Manning, Quincy (Ill.) University; and Patrick Robinson, University of Central Missouri.
“Iowa Western is getting a great player in Aveion, who was one of the best tailbacks in the state,” Blue Springs football coach Kelly Donohoe said. “He’s really going to make an impact there.
“Nikko is so quick and strong, he’s been a great defensive lineman for us and will be a great defensive lineman at Quincy.
“Big ol’ Simeon is a great story because he has worked so hard to be a better player. He started wrestling, which was great for him and helped his footwork and helped him cut down on his weight and he’s going to have a lot of success at Washburn.”
He paused for a moment, then talked about four seniors who along with sophomore Beau Stephens – who is already getting Division I looks – formed one of the greatest offensive lines in Wildcats history.
“We heard about Conrad when he was in middle school, and everything we heard was true,” Donohoe said. “He is a leader and a grinder and a great talent and he’s going to be playing in the Big Ten at Northwestern after being one of the most highly recruited linemen in the state.
“Jack is a three-year starter – and that should tell you something about him – and is so diligent and works so hard.
“Jessup is going to a great school with a great agriculture program and we know he’s going to have a lot of success, and Patrick is a player we believed in, and he believed in himself and he has worked so hard to make his dream come true.
“I just couldn’t be happier for all of these guys and everyone who is standing on this stage today.”