by Aaron Garcia
While victories and playoff appearances certainly are nice, a high school athletics department’s truest barometer for success is quickly shifting to the amount of athletes it promotes to the college level. Using those metrics, Union Academy certainly appears to be on the rise.
On Feb. 1, Union Academy, which opened its doors in 2006, held its first-ever signing day ceremony. Football players Devin Chambers and Tyree Drakeford, along with soccer standout Kyle Lohn, all signed National Letters of Intent to continue their careers in college.
Chambers, a Cardinal lineman, signed with Louisburg College, while Drakeford, a quarterback, signed with Elizabeth City State University. Lohn signed with the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.
Chambers said the coaches at Louisburg, a two-year school, plan to use him on both the offensive and defensive lines, though he said he is projected mainly as an offensive lineman. He also received interest from Chowan University, Catawba College and Shaw -University.
“It’s going to be a good experience for me to play at Louisburg,” Chambers said. “I think I can contribute a lot to the team. I think it’s a good fit for me.”
Drakeford, who played quarterback for the first time this season and ran for 1,198 yards and 16 touchdowns, said he will play slot receiver and running back for the Vikings. Having a chance to sign with a college program was a dream come true, said Drakeford.
“(This has been a dream) since I was little, when I used to play football in the yard and joke about going to college,” said Drakeford, who also received interest from Chowan University and Virginia’s Emory & Henry University. “Now, it’s a serious thing.”
Lohn said he chose the Bulldogs after receiving interest from Clemson and UNC Wilmington because he said he liked the direction the coaching staff was taking the program.
“I think they’re going to make the program really successful, and I kind of believed in the same things they did,” he said.
Union Academy students adhere to a strict policy that requires that all students maintain an 80 average – a high ‘C’ – to participate in any extracurricular activities, which makes the athletes’ achievements even more impressive, said athletics director Sam Bryant.
“It’s nice to see that because the eligibility requirements here at Union Academy to play athletics are a lot higher than at the normal public schools,” Bryant said. “The fact that these kids can actually attain those grades, and at the same time go out on the field or out on the courts and perform at a high level where the college and universities in the area are interested in them (is -impressive).”
To Lohn, the school’s academic requirements help foster the same qualities that make a successful athlete.
“I think it breeds character because you have kids our on the field, and if you don’t have an 80 average, that means you haven’t worked hard in the classroom,” he said. “You have kids (here) that did work hard in the classroom, which means they’re going to work hard on the field, too.”
While continuing their careers in college is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the athletes, Bryant hopes the scene is repeated every year at Union Academy. Bryant previously was AD at American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla., and after the school’s first signing day in 2000, he said he saw a steady increase in the amount of athletes moving on to the college level every year.
“You got to see how, when we had our very first signing day, how one person turned into three the next year, then five (the year after that), and it just cultivated itself,” said Bryant. “I think (Union Academy’s first signing day ceremony) is important because it’s that trickle-down effect, that contagion-type (reaction), where when one student-athlete sees another student-athlete being recognized, not only for their academic achievements, but for their athletic achievements, it allows the (other) kids to pursue their dream of playing at the next level.
“To me, that would give added incentive for the next athlete coming up to do the best they can, on and off the court.”
Chambers said he was pleased to have a part in the athletic department’s emergence.
“I think (having this first signing day ceremony) is going to have a big effect on the athletic community at our school,” he said. “It’s going to do a lot for us.”