By Doug Gorman
Mt. Vernon Christian School senior Samantha Bailey is the definition of a true student athlete.
So far, the three-sport star has helped bring eight Georgia Christian Athletic Association state titles back to the high school Henry County, including four in volleyball. She has also captured one in basketball and three in softball.
She takes her work in the classroom just as serious, earning nearly a 4.0 GPA.
All those long hours on the softball diamond have finally paid huge dividends for Mt. Vernon's talented senior.
Wednesday afternoon in a signing ceremony at the school, Bailey announced she will attend Mississippi State on a softball scholarship.
By signing her letter of intent to attend the SEC school, Bailey became the first athlete from Mt. Vernon to earn a Division I athletic scholarship.
"I love the competition that comes from playing softball," she said.
C.E. Rhoades, a coach and athletic director at Mt. Vernon, is excited to see Bailey accomplish her goal and become part of school history.
"This is a special day, especially when you have known her and her family as long as I have," said Rhoades. "To see her advance to this level of play is great. Of course we will miss her, but we get her sister (Jessica) for one more year."
Bailey began playing softball nearly 10 years ago. She has been competing in elite travel ball leagues every summer for the past decade.
For the state champion Crusaders, who play their high school season in the spring, Bailey is the team's catcher, often kneeling behind the plate to catch her sister Jessica's pitch's.
On her travel ball teams, Bailey has played first base, third base and in the outfield.
She expects to play first base at the college level.
Playing on travel ball teams has given Bailey the chance to see the country and even play in Canada.
It gave her exposure to college recruiters, who often frequent the summertime tournaments.
Schools such as Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, and Illinois also recruited Bailey, hoping to sign the Mt. Vernon senior to a scholarship.
One of Samantha's biggest supporters has been her father, Jody, who coached younger sister Jessica on the softball diamond.
"The recruiting process is new to us," he said. "Illinois is one of the schools who wanted her, and they have been recruiting her for four years. So they start watching her at a younger age."
Bailey said she enjoyed all of her recruiting visits, but when it came down to making her final decision, she felt most comfortable at Mississippi State.
"I felt like I fit in with the girls really well," she said.
Bailey was also impressed by Mississippi State coach Jay Miller's resume.
In addition to coaching the Lady Bulldogs, Miller is on the Olympic selection committee, and also is the head coach of the United States national team.
In more than 20-years of college coaching, Miller has posted a 743-445 record.
More honors could come Bailey's way before she leaves Mt. Vernon.
Recently, the three-sport athlete was named one of the 10 Georgia finalist for the Wendy's High School Heisman award.
She will found out at a reception next week if she moves on in the competition.
"It is a great honor to get this far," she said. "When you think about how many schools there are in the state, this is special."
The Mississippi State-bound athlete is just getting her sports year started, with a full slate of basketball games now getting underway. This spring, she will play her final high school softball season.
On the basketball floor, the Lady Crusaders are the defending GCAA state champs, with the potential to repeat again in the 2004-2005 season.
A year ago, the Lady Crusaders beat Hebron Christian, the four-time defending state champions to earn the state basketball title.
Earlier this week, Bailey scored 15 points in the team's season-opening victory. Little sister Jessica scored 27 as the team won by more than 40 points.
The Bailey family could go through this process again next year.
Jessica is also starting to draw interest from college recruiters, and should also sign a scholarship next year.