By Debbie Adams
Sixteen William Byrd student-athletes in eight different sports signed letters of intent to continue their educations and athletic careers at the college level during the Athletic Commitment Ceremony at the high school on April 6. One student–Emma Dalton–signed letters in two different sports.
Principal Tammy Newcomb welcomed the students and their families to the event held in the school auditorium. She said this was the largest number of athletes to sign letters in a single year in her recollection.
She reviewed some of the challenges this particular group of athletes faced getting to this moment. For the most part, they had normal freshman years. Then things changed. COVID forced cancellation of their spring seasons during their sophomore years. Still stymied by COVID, their seasons were cut short in their junior years. This year, thankfully, the athletic seasons have returned to usual.
Newcomb commended the seniors for their hard work, done often “individually, by themselves, in weight rooms or their homes, inside or out,” due to virtual schooling and health restrictions during the pandemic.
She described being invited to sign letters to play at the next level as a “huge honor. You should be proud of yourselves. We are proud of you.”
All 16 student athletes were seated on the stage of the auditorium. WBHS Athletic Director Jason Taylor invited parents to join their child on stage as their names were called by individual coaches. He thanked the students for “putting in so much time and effort” in their sports and the classroom.
Parents were thanked for their support, the huge number of hours they have spent in watching their children play at home and away, waiting for them in parking lots, buying equipment, and working for and contributing to and assisting with an enormous number of fundraisers.
Track Coach James Pannell then introduced Sela Beatty and Emma Dalton. Sela will be attending Radford University for Division 1 track and field. He noted she has been on the Radford University coaches’ radar since last season. Pannell said she “puts in the work” and described her as “super-driven,” breaking school records and winning district, regional, and state honors. Sela’s parents are Letitia Hawkins Beatty and Tim Beatty.
Emma Dalton signed her letter of intent with Barton College. Coach Pannell described her as an “incredible athlete, tough, and a great leader who hates losing. She does everything on the team and does it the right way.” Pannell said he frequently has Emma demonstrate drills for the others on the team. She has received all district, region, and state recognitions. Dalton’s parents are Ricky and Suzie Dalton.
Cheer Coach Dee-Anne Dillon was up next, allowing Emma Dalton to remain on the stage, as she signed another letter of intent with Barton College–this one for cheerleading. Dillon said Emma, as a multi-sport athlete, is “a driven student in athletics and also academically.” She has been on both the sideline and competition cheer teams at Byrd, and captain of the competition team for three years. Dillon said Emma can “do it all,” as far as cheerleading is concerned, and has received numerous awards. Dillon also thanked Emma’s parents for playing such a huge role in the Booster Club over the years.
Dillon then introduced Ashlynn ReMine, who also signed with Barton College. She began working with Ashlynn in seventh grade and watched her progress through middle school, JV, and varsity Cheer, earning all-district and all region honors. Dillon described Ashlynn as a “strong athlete,” with many different skills in Cheer. Ashlynn’s parents are Jeff and Annie ReMine.
Jason Taylor, who is also Byrd’s baseball coach, introduced athletes Trenton Sayers, Ross Divers, and Hunter Sipe.
Trenton Sayers will be playing Division III baseball at Ferrum College. Coach Taylor noted that when he first saw Trenton play, he knew “he would be special–and he is. He has the tools.” His parents are Michael and Emily Sayers.
Ross Divers will be playing Division II baseball at Emory & Henry College. Taylor called Ross a “gentle giant but a fierce competitor.” He is also a multi-sport athlete playing baseball and basketball. His parents are Corey and Lindsay Divers.
Hunter Sipe will be playing Division 1 baseball at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Taylor says he never had “to tell a kid to slow it down” before Hunter. He is the “most competitive athlete I have ever known. He leads the team by example. He’s as good as any pitcher in the state of Virginia.” His parents are Aaron and Susan Bruce and Bradley Sipe.
Taylor said he was proud of his entire team, who have continued to develop and support each other and “just kept working” despite the loss of their sophomore season. He said he is especially proud of these three seniors and their work ethic–always the last ones out of the dug-out, helping clean up after the game.
Softball Coach Greg Barton introduced Maddy Tuck, Keely Hoal, and Amber Vaughn.
Maddy Tuck will be attending Liberty University to play Division 1 softball. Her goal has always been to play for a Division 1 team and she “has put the work in” to achieve that goal. He described her as an all-around utility player with “blazing speed.” Her parents are Amanda Trent and Mark Tuck.
Keely Hoal will be staying local and playing softball at Roanoke College. Barton described Keely as “a good kid, who is doing a great job killing the ball this year. It’s amazing to watch her.” Her parents are Michael and Berrin Hoal.
Maddy and Keely were members of the legendary 2019 State Championship Softball Team. Barton said that while the softball team has faced some adversity through the pandemic, they “didn’t quit, came back strong, and met their goals.”
Amber Vaughn will also be playing softball for Roanoke College. Barton described her as a “true utility player who can play anywhere on the field, a great hitter with good speed.” Her parents are Ed and Regina Vaughn.
Coach Rusty Dishman introduced Landon Niday who will be playing soccer at Hampden-Sydney College. Dishman said the college is “getting a great kid with great parents. It has been exciting to see him grow and develop on and off the field. He uses opportunities when he gets them.” Landon has received All Region honors, “a testimonial to his hard work and leadership. He is excellent athletically and academically.” Landon’s parents are Kevin and Wendy Niday.
Girls Soccer Coach Molly Cox introduced Anna Milliron and Riley Firebaugh as they prepared to sign their letters of intent.
Anna Milliron will be playing Division III soccer at Ferrum College. Riley Firebaugh will be playing Division II at Emory & Henry.
Cox talked about both girls as “super special” and “the reason we have built the program we have. They have taken us to where we are now. Other players enjoy being around these girls. Coaches dream of having hard working, personable players like them. They both always have a smile on their faces. I know they will excel in college.”
Both were voted captains of the team and “the team looks up to them as leaders.” Both Anna and Riley have won All-District honors.
Cox said that she knew they were “something special as freshmen.” They are busy girls, not just with sports, but with many church and club activities.
Anna’s parents are Stephanie and Jay Milliron; Riley’s parents are Debi and Steve Firebaugh.
Lacrosse Coach Will Satterfield introduced player Cole Spencer who signed a letter of intent with Limestone University in South Carolina.
Satterfield expressed his profound respect for Cole, who “gives everything you’ve got, loves the game, and plays with everything you have.” He advised Cole to “relish the moment and enjoy the opportunity to play at the next level.” Satterfield noted that lacrosse is starting to grow in popularity and recognition and players like Cole are helping to take it to the next level.
Cole’s parents are Noel Spencer and Robin Roberts.
Swim Coach Krista Martin introduced Austin Nielsen who will be swimming for the Roanoke College program. “Roanoke College is lucky to have you,” she told Austin. She described him as “a wonderful swimmer, and a terrific person, with a wonderful moral compass.” Martin said Austin always puts the team first, above himself as an individual, with a “whatever is good for the team” attitude.
“Austin swims with passion and purpose,” Martin said. “He is willing to do the work and always with a smile. He is helpful and always cheering on his teammates.” He has received numerous recognitions locally, and in the state, individually and on teams.
Austin’s parents are Sarah Sell and Ben Nielsen.
Football Coach Brad Lutz introduced Hunter Richards and Peyton Fuchs.
Hunter Richards will be playing Division II football at Emory & Henry. He is a multi-sport athlete and “the most highly decorated player on the team,” with numerous recognitions–local, district, and state. Lutz said that Richards is equally as good on offense or defense, “playing either side of the ball.” Hunter has been offered scholarships by five colleges and recruited by several others. Hunter’s parents are John and Christie Richards.
Peyton Fuchs will be playing Division III football at Ferrum College. “Ferrum is getting one heck of a kid, a fantastic kid,” Lutz said. “He is loyal–a program kid who gets William Byrd football and its vision.”
Fuchs has also received All District honors and is a multi-sport athlete, playing football and basketball. His parents are Eric and Laurie Fuchs.
In conclusion, Lutz urged all of the student athletes signing letters of intent to remember “a lot of people got you here–parents, guardians, pastors, teachers, coaches. Make sure you thank them. You put in the work, but a lot of people molded you. Continue the tradition and be a great example at the college you attend.”