Many kids playing youth sports have a goal of one day earning a college scholarship, but most won’t be getting it from the park where they play.
On Sunday, seniors Shelby Suplee, of King’s Ridge Christian School, and Harrison Leblanc, of Lambert High School, were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship as part of the Sharon Springs Athletic Association’s first-ever Mike Mangum & Kevin Neenan Memorial Baseball and Softball College Scholarship Program.
“I think it was a really cool experience for me because I started playing softball when I was 5 at Sharon Springs, and I still go there probably two or three times a week now, being a senior in high school,” Suplee said. “I got started loving softball there, and it has had a big impact on my life all these years. So I think it was really cool to have it come full circle.”
The scholarship was first proposed last fall as a way of building a community with former players. The scholarship was open to former baseball and softball players at the park, and applicants had to fill out an essay component, though number of years played and school, community and athletic involvement were also considered.
“We were trying to find a way to give back to the community that benefitted kids and families out of the park,” said Dana Petrin, president of the Sharon Springs Athletic Association. “We were trying to find ways to do something different, something innovative.”
Both Suplee and LeBlanc still play ball at their high school, and both said they are thankful to be honored.
“Honestly, it’s amazing,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve played there all of my life, my brothers have played there all my life and our whole entire childhood revolved around that park and to be commemorated with a $1,000 from that park specifically, it’s awesome.”
LeBlanc said he is not planning to play baseball in college but wants to pursue a degree in the medical field, particularly something involving surgery.
Suplee said she isn’t sure where she wants to attend college after an offer to play at Kennesaw State University fell through with a coaching change but that she does want to continue playing softball while seeking a degree in nursing or exercise science.
The awards were named for a pair of late coaches at the park as a way of continuing their legacy.
“It is a wonderful honor for our family that he is being remembered by an organization that he spent so much time with and that gave him such satisfaction,” said Sue Ann Neenan, Kevin Neenan’s wife. “It became his home away from home. We were able to make wonderful friendships with the families he coached with. We socialized, traveled together and have made lifelong friendships that have been there through both the good times and the hard times.
“I know that Kevin would say he received more than he gave through coaching at Sharon Springs Park.”