The throng of parents, students, media and well-wishers that were assembled Wednesday morning at Suddenlink Communications Field House made it a challenge for the eight Robert E. Lee students in the center spotlight to reach their seats.
After an introduction from Darrell Piske, Lee head football coach and athletic coordinator, all of them leaned forward and made their college choices official.
The group featured three football players (Ian Chase, Lumi Kaba, LaQuintas Wallace), two soccer players (Julia Harrison and Brooke Johnston), one volleyball player (Alexis Crowder), one baseball player (Blake Korthauer) and one track athlete (Jay Roberson). They join Mallory Kuechle (volleyball, Texas Woman's University) and Zach Flanagan (Howard College, baseball), who already signed their scholarships.
"These kids have done what it takes on the field and off the field," Piske said. "They are setting an example to the younger groups coming up that you've got to take care of business in the classroom and not just be a great athlete to be able to further your future. They are really starting a new chapter in their lives and we wish them all the best."
Four of the eight pledged their futures to Tyler Junior College with Kaba, Wallace and Chase joining the Apaches football team and Johnston going to the Apache Ladies powerhouse women's soccer team.
Kaba was a unanimous all-district first team selection as a kicker and punter. He was offered by Northwestern State and had an official visit to North Texas. In the end, Kaba chose to stay closer to home.
"TJC has a great team and I am looking forward to playing football at the college level," said Kaba, who finished with a robust 42.5 yards-per-punt average and made 5 of 8 field goals with a long of 54. "I couldn't ask for anything better."
Chase started on Lee's offensive line and received second team, all-district accolades. The future Apache believes he made the right choice.
"I went down with the tour and it seems like a great college and I am going to get a lot done there," Chase said. "It seems like a good stepping stone to the next level. They are going to get me a lot better than I am now."
Wallace battled injuries and other health challenges throughout his four years as an REL running back. When healthy, Wallace was electrifying as evidenced by his combined 290 yards and six touchdowns in REL's first two games.
"I had a discussion and (good meeting) with coach (Danny) Palmer," Wallace said. "They are pretty good and the (other teams they play against) like Navarro and Blinn are pretty good, too. It's going to be an elite league with a lot of people trying to get to Division I, and people can so I've got to play."
On the soccer field, both Harrison and Johnston received All-East Texas honors last year and are team captains this season. Harrison is a three-time All-ET honoree and will be continuing her career at St. Edward's University.
"I think what really (made up my mind) was the coaching; coach (Nick Cowell) and his style and how he interacts with the girls and wants us to be a close team and really a big family," Harrison said. "I am going to try and hopefully make a difference on their soccer team."
Johnston was the All-East Texas newcomer of the year last year after she burst onto the scene with a team-high 16 goals.
"Last year they started talking to me and asked to come and see the team and I just loved it," Johnston said of TJC. "I've had coach Corey Rose as a club coach before and loved him and I didn't want to go too far away and Tyler Junior College is good for me."
Crowder was a key component to Lee's volleyball team this year and is looking forward to the next challenge at Richland College.
"I am really, really excited because hopefully playing at Richland College I can get picked up by a (four-year) university," Crowder said. "It is definitely going to make me better."
Roberson is about to enter his first track and field season at the 5A level, but already turned heads at Class 3A Fairfield in the decathlon, enough for Sam Houston State to take notice and Roberson believes it's a perfect match.
"It's a great school with great academics," Roberson said. "I like they were the only other school besides Rice that doesn't lower its academic standards for athletes to get in. They are also one of the top athletic programs in the nation."
Howard College got its second Lee baseball player in as many weeks with Korthauer, who like Flanagan, loves the school's tradition of winning and creating Division I players.
"The main thing is they've just been a great program for so many years," Korthauer said. "I am excited to see where Howard is going to go and where this decision is going to take me in the future."