Lee County’s Jack Bell, left, and Chris Hayes congratulate each other after signing letters-of-intent on Friday. Bell signed with Chipola Junior College, while Hayes signed with Savannah State. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
LEESBURG — Chris Hayes shook a few hands, exchanged high-fives with a classmate, then headed to his right to a table full of snacks.
“You gotta see this cake,” Hayes excitedly told a teammate as they looked at the cake modeled after a Savannah State University baseball jersey, trimmed in the school colors of blue and orange.
The senior pitcher was one of four Lee County High School signees who inked a college scholarship Friday morning in the school media center. He joined baseball teammate Jack Bell, who signed with Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, swimmer Jordan Yarbrough (South Georgia State College) and volleyball standout Katie Kendrick (Andrew College).
It was a bittersweet moment for Hayes, who said he has improved tremendously to earn a scholarship with the Division I Tigers.
“I didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last season,” Hayes said. “I wasn’t quite up to par where I needed to be. Last year, I would have never dreamed I would be in this situation.”
Hayes made improving a priority last season. He played summer league with Albany American Legion Post 30, then spent countless hours fine-tuning his game with Lee County coach Brandon Brock.
He has been a staple on the Trojans’ pitching staff this season.
“I kind of felt at home there,” Hayes said. “It’s a nice place, and I loved the town.”
Bell will head to Chipola in Marianna, Fla., this fall. The senior first baseman/catcher has been an offensive standout for the Trojans for the past three seasons. He will likely play both positions in college.
Chipola is one of the nation’s top junior colleges and has eight alumni currently playing Major League Baseball.
“I’m glad to get the opportunity to be a part of their program next season,” Bell said. “It’s the next chapter in my life, and I hope to make it after Chipola. It’s the best opportunity for my future, and it felt like home.”
Kendrick was a defensive specialist for the Lady Trojans on the volleyball court last fall. She was the first to sign her letter-of-intent in front of the many Lee County students who packed the library.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “I’m kind of shy, so that made me kind of nervous.”
The senior has been playing volleyball since she was in eighth grade. She is grateful to continue her athletic career.
“Carrying (my career) on to college is exciting,” she said.
Jordan Yarbrough will continue her swimming career not too far away from home in Douglas. South Georgia swim coach C.M. Jenkins attended the ceremony and talked about how Yarbrough would be a “great asset.”
The South Georgia program, just four years old, placed third at the NJCAA Swimming and Diving Championships this past season.
“I’m excited,” she said. “Quad-A helped prepare me at the YMCA. Jeff Demott is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. I’m so ready for college.”