The media center at South Aiken High School was packed Wednesday night as dozens of family members, friends and coaches crammed in to support six T-Breds who signed to continue their athletic and academic careers at the collegiate level.
Taylor Butts (USC Aiken softball), Emily Crenshaw (USC Upstate volleyball), AJ Deibel (USC Aiken baseball), Jordan Foster (University of New Mexico swimming), Grant Stanford (Florence-Darlington Tech baseball) and Sam Swygert (University of South Carolina baseball) made their college choices official, and each brings plenty of individual and team success to the next level.
Butts is staying close to home to play softball for the Pacers, a program she's followed closely and feels is a good fit. She has provided a reliable bat and a solid glove as a middle infielder for the T-Breds.
"This day is really exciting because it's really important for me to stay home with my friends and family," she said. "To sign at a school that's really close is really important to me, so I'm glad my friends and family are here to support me."
A key member of both the softball and volleyball programs at South Aiken, Butts said her high school experience will prepare her for the workload of being a student-athlete at the college level. She plans to go into dentistry or pediatric occupational therapy.
USC Upstate gave Crenshaw a small, family-type atmosphere that she enjoyed while also allowing her the opportunity to compete at the Division I level.
She and Butts were part of the T-Breds' rise from young upstarts to Region 5-AAAA volleyball champions, and she said being counted on to contribute at a high level throughout her high school career is good preparation for the next level.
"I think it's prepared me a lot – all the different people I've played with and all the experience I've gotten through both school and club, and playing at a high level in club has really helped me, as well," said Crenshaw, who plans to study nursing. "I'm really excited."
Like Butts, Deibel made the decision to stay local and play for the hometown team. A star member of the T-Breds' region champion baseball team and the league's player of the year, Deibel hopes to maintain a high winning percentage with head coach Kenny Thomas and the Pacers.
"He's on a mission every year," said Deibel, who plans to major in nursing. "They're always a contender in the Peach Belt, and I like winning. Definitely a big part of the decision that just made me feel like home."
Deibel joins a USCA roster loaded with former T-Breds, and he'll continue to pitch and play shortstop.
Foster is by far logging the most miles to reach her new home, but she said the people involved with New Mexico's swimming program made the decision easy and the distance feel not nearly as far.
She recently was part of a state championship 200-yard freestyle relay team and finished second in the 200 medley relay, 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke to add to an impressive medal collection earned through nine years of hard work. She'll look to add to that in Albuquerque, where she plans to study exercise science and hopes to become a physical therapist.
"It's been a lot of hard work and training, and I feel like I'll be able to easily apply that in college to my academics as well as furthering my career in swimming," she said.
Stanford is staying close to home to start out his college baseball career. He pledged his next two years to Florence-Darlington Tech, and then he'll see where he ends up with his remaining eligibility.
"It is a dream come true. I've thought about it ever since I was very little, when I started playing when I was 5," he said. "It's been a dream that I've always had, and I'll continue it for the next four years hopefully."
Stanford, who's also a top defensive infielder for the T-Breds, is going to pitch for the Stingers, and he plans to study criminal justice.
Swygert has come up big in big games for South Aiken, and college scouts have raved about his potential at the next level. South Carolina kept in close contact with him and won out over plenty of other schools who reached out to the right-handed pitcher.
"When I went on my visit, it really felt like home and it felt like a place I really wanted to spend four years," he said.
Another contributing factor was Swygert's relationship with Bobby Haney, a coach and mentor of his who was a member of the Gamecocks' 2010 College World Series championship team. That was a big draw to Columbia, where Swygert plans to study exercise science.