Holding a signing ceremony has become a rite of passage for high school athletes that earn a college scholarship, and every spring, the number of signings skyrockets as athletes make their final decision on where they will continue not only their athletic careers but education.
In the past few weeks, West Alabama has had an abundance of athletes sign on the dotted line, and in the past decade, no matter the time of year, I’ve encountered more creative announcements, college banners, cake designs, photo collages, and food spreads than I could have ever imagined. Oftentimes, I feel more like a guest at a wedding reception than a reporter inside a local high school.
But while the names, locations and cake flavors may change, there is one common entity that remains the same.
This is the athlete’s moment, and no one can take it from them.
It represents the hard work and dedication they’ve put in throughout the years to reach this point. The act of putting pen to paper is the beginning of a new chapter. It’s the first step toward leaving high school behind and preparing for the future.
Family members weep for joy, classmates cheer and teammates are inspired to become the next athlete standing in front of the crowd to announce their future plans.
And yes, signing days are for the athlete, but in many ways, they are also for the school, the family, the teammates and the community.
These ceremonies bring communities together and give students an opportunity to show off their creative side and thank those that have helped them along the way.
Hundreds of people packed inside the commons area of Winfield High School in November of 2016 to watch hurdler Trey Cunningham, a Florida State freshman, make his signing day decision. Stickers were available for individuals to wear of the four schools Cunningham would be choosing from: Alabama, FSU, the University of South Carolina and Stanford University. Each hat placed on the table in front of him was accompanied by its own cake. Applause erupted throughout the room when Cunningham picked up the FSU cap.
A lot of cake was eaten that afternoon.
In November, Northside softball coach Tommy Honeycutt wiped away the tears as he watched his daughter, shortstop Riley Grace Honeycutt, sign with the University of North Alabama. He’d been through plenty of signings as a coach, but experiencing the event as a parent resonated on a deeper level. This is the emotion he’d watch countless parents display when their own children were the ones signing.
A spotlight shined on Gordo during the 2016 National Signing Day when five-star linebacker Ben Davis announced his decision to attend Alabama. Young students handed out programs and escorted patrons to their seats before the start of the nationally televised event inside the Greenwave gymnasium, complete with a pep rally.
The crowd roared, peppered with an occasional “Roll Tide” when Davis forgoed the Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame and LSU baseball caps on display in front of him, and instead placed a houndstooth hat on his head he’d been hiding underneath the table.
Fayette County quarterback Chance Stevenson faked out the crowd earlier this year on National Signing Day when he threw the Kennesaw State University hat off of his head and in Super Man fashion, displayed the Air Force Academy gear he was wearing under his dress shirt.
Central assistant principal Terrell Davis teared up in front of an auditorium full of students, family and friends on Thursday at the signing ceremony of track athletes Olivia Knox (Mississippi State University), Demontae Wilson (Lipscomb University) and Jaden Thomas (University of West Alabama). He was met with a round of applause and encouragement when for a brief moment he was too overcome with emotion to speak.
Davis pushed on, congratulating each of the athletes which had become like sons and a daughter to him. The emotionally-charged event showed how big a family can really be, and how an entire community can impact the lives of its children for the better: the Falcon Nation supporting its own.
These are just a few examples of the signing day festivities I’ve witnessed, and while I may have been to more than I can count, what I do know is this. Each of them was extremely special, because not every kid gets a chance to compete at the next level, and when they do, it’s most definitely a reason to celebrate.
And speaking of signing days, if you have one coming up, please let us know. If we can’t make it, don’t worry. We didn't forget about you.
With the sheer volume of signings we are currently covering, we will do our best to make sure each athlete is accounted for, whether we are able to attend or not.
Reach Joey Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0223.