By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Big week at Bryan County High School
Athletes sign college scholarships
howard signing
A lot went on last week at Bryan County High School. On Friday, softball standout Samantha Howard signed to play softball at Waycross College. Among those attending were (front row) mom Christie Howard, Samantha Howard, Waycross College softball coach Brian Hartley, dad Steve Howard. In back are (left to right) former BCHS coach Kim Covington, BCHS softball coach Al Butler, Chelsea Cannon, Tiffany Howard and coach Doug Foxworth. Look for more on Samantha Howard's signing in a future issue of the Bryan County News. - photo by Photo by Joe Holloway
Thursday was a big day at Bryan County High School.
So was Friday, when Samantha Howard signed to play college softball at Waycross College.
I made it up Thursday, but couldn't get back Friday.
I actually wish I could have been there both days. Because no matter how cynical one tends to get in the news business, there’s something about these signing ceremonies that reinforce your belief in the future and provides a reassurance our world will be left in good hands.
And no, they’re not the big time signing day celebrations you see on ESPN.
The athletes involved weren’t recruited by dozens of major schools.
But the ceremony, the kid putting his name on the letter of intent while parents try to blink back tears, and the work and dreams they symbolize mean just as much to those involved -- maybe more.  
It was Justin Covington, Cody Crowe and Cameron Lee’s turn to go through the ritual on Thursday. And the event was a family affair in more ways than one.
Covington is Crowe’s cousin by birth and Lee’s by choice. Crowe and Lee are lifelong friends who consider each other brothers. Lee, who was raised by his grandmother and legal guardian Shirley Chaplin, has lived as part of Crowe’s family “off and on” for a number of years.
And by all accounts these are more than just good baseball players. They’re good people, too.
That’s evidently important to East Georgia coach Chuck Lusted, who is building a program from scratch at the two-year school in Swainsboro.
“I’m looking for kids with integrity, kids with morals. Solid kids,” he said.
Lusted played minor league baseball with the Giants after being drafted in the 26th round out of Georgia Southern University, where he played for the legendary Jack Stallings.
His background isn’t lost on his recruits.
“He seems like a really good coach who knows what he’s talking about,” said Covington. “And he has good morals. That’s really important to me.”
Covington took an indirect route to Thursday’s signing. After a stellar high school career as a pitcher and four-year starter – in 2009 he was named the Redskins MVP and first team All-Region 3A -- Covington hung up his spikes to study at Georgia Southern.
“I’m pretty sure I had opportunities to go off and play,” he said, “But I wanted to stay close to my family and attend a college close to home. I thought my baseball career was over.”
Then he started watching this year’s Redskin team play and Covington began to feel something was missing from his life. His father, a former Redskin himself, understood.
It was baseball.
 “As a baseball player, you never know what spring feels like until you get away from the game,” said Noah Covington. “You start missing the game.”
As luck or providence would have it, East Georgia College was starting a baseball program. And former BCHS coach Rusty Beasley – now at Metter High – knew that Covington would be a good fit. He and helped Kaufman start the wheels turning to get Covington a shot.
Lusted gave Covington a tryout about a month ago and he passed the test.
“You can tell he’s a baseball player,” Lusted said. “He has good hands, a good arm and he swings the bat well. You can tell by the way he practices that he plays hard.”
Covington is grateful for his second chance.
“I think it’s a gift from God, allowing me to get back in the game and do something I love,” he said.
If Covington took a more roundabout path to East Georgia, Crowe’s path was straight as an arrow. Crowe, who has played just about every position on the team from catcher to shortstop to pitcher and outfield, was the Redskins’ top slugger last year. Unlike his cousin, he has no plans to give up the game.
“I want to do my best to get better and learn the game, so I can move on from the junior college level to college ball,” he said.
His father, Pembroke Police Chief Mark Crowe, said baseball has always played a big role in Cody’s life.
“It’s definitely a dream come true for him. He’s been interested in baseball since he was old enough to pick one up,” Crowe said.
That determination impressed his next baseball coach.
“He just plays hard and you can tell he’s never going to give up,” Lusted said. “He plays with great intensity and knows how to have fun. And from what I’ve seen so far, he knows how to play the game.”
Lusted views Lee as more of a diamond in the rough, but a very desirable one. The left-handed pitcher led Bryan County in 2009 with a 3.26 ERA and rang up 38 strikeouts in 34-1/3 innings pitched.
“He’s got a lot of untapped potential,” Lusted said. “He’s still a bit raw, but being left handed doesn’t hurt as a pitcher or as an outfielder. He’ll be fun to work with.”
Lee said he’s ready to do what it takes to advance and has plans to play professionally.
“My goals are to go to college, keep my head in the books and someday maybe play in the pros,” he said. “I’ll do whatever (the coach) needs me to do. I’ll do whatever gets me on the field first.”
Crowe, who Lee views as a father, said Lee “is a great kid who hates to lose and always strives to do better. He’ll be a great asset to any ball team. I’m just glad he came to live here with us for awhile. It was a good idea.”
Fittingly, the teens didn’t take all the credit for their achievement. Covington thanked family and friends and his parents, Noah and Kim Covington – she also a former BCHS athlete and coach. “I thank my mom and dad for being there for me and to push me, and I thank family and friends and coaches and teachers, and God for the opportunity.”
Crowe credited his dad, Mark, and mom Becky, the Bryan County Clerk of Courts, for helping teach him respect for the game.
“I want to thank them, my grandparents, my whole family and my teachers for keeping me straight in the classroom so I can play the game,” he said. “I’m just ready for August to be here.”
Lee said much the same.
“I thank my parents, Mark and Becky Crowe, my grandmother, Shirley Chaplin, friends, coaches, and coach Lusted for giving us the opportunity to come play.”
It’s an opportunity Noah Covington said he feels good about.
“As parents, you always want to put your sons or daughters in the hands of people with character,” he said. “Everything we’ve heard about Coach Lusted is that he stresses morals and character. Being able to turn your kids over to that sort of coach is about all you can ask for.”
Crowe said much the same.
“I’m really impressed with his outlook on the game of baseball and life,” he said. “He said he’s looking for kids with good upbringing and morals. The kids he’s signed here today have good attitudes. I think they’ll do well.”
First year Bryan County High School coach Tony Dragon said the opportunity is a big one.
“These kids get two more years at least to play more than 100 games,” he said. “Having the opportunity to get a quality education at a nearby school along with the opportunity to participate in athletics is important.”
Any good high school coach will tell you the biggest part of his job isn’t winning games, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s more about molding kids and helping them achieve their dreams. In an email, Kaufman put it like this.
“The role of a high school coach is not only about wins and losses but more importantly it’s about getting your players into college and teaching them how to be responsible and productive citizens.  I hope and pray that every player I coach has the opportunity to go onto college and continue their academics.  Knowing that these three young men will have that opportunity to continue their education and play baseball is amazing.  I wish them all the best and look forward to watching them play next year at the collegiate level.”  
That was after he broke down each player, giving his take on their abilities.
On Covington:
“Justin is a true gamer in every sense of the word,” Kaufman wrote. “I had the privilege of coaching him for three years and knew that each time I gave him the ball to pitch he was going to give me his best effort. His worth ethic is above and beyond any player I have ever coached and his love for the game is never ending. Not only was he our leader on the field but Justin was also an exceptional student.  It was truly an honor to coach him and I can think of no one else who deserves this opportunity more than him. “
On Crowe: “Cody Crowe is that player that a coach dreams of.  He is a great hitter but more importantly a great fielder. In the three years that I have coached him he has played pitcher, catcher, third, short and the outfield.  He is that player that I can have confidence in wherever I put him.  His desire to continue to work on his game and get better exemplifies his work ethic …”
And on Lee: “Cameron has been our pitcher and outfielder for the last three years.  He is a baseball player through and through and I know that he will continue his success at the collegiate level.  Cameron has been known to make amazing catches in the outfield as well as pitch under pressure in big time situations.  His speed on the base path has created havoc for opposing teams and has made my job much easier knowing that I can get him in scoring position any time he gets on base.  I know that Cameron will excel at the next level …”
And the good thing about it is, Swainsboro isn’t that far of a drive, so family and friends will get a chance to see the Bobcats in action a lot next spring.
And hopefully, the signings this week will lead to more such events in the future.
“Four signings in two days is huge,” said Noah Covington. “Because it shows everyone within this school that they can do it too if they put their minds to it.”

Sign up for our E-Newsletters