GUYTON — During a special Saturday ceremony, South Effingham celebrated several memorable links that firmly bind its athletic future to its past.
Patrick Bolen, Melissa Boyd Miller, Katie Rietkovich Kristin Seckinger and Mike Harper were inducted into the high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“This afternoon is a time set aside to reflect on the accomplishments and the contributions each of you have made to the strength, enthusiasm, honor and success that continues to be evident here at SEHS,” Principal Dr. Torian White said during his welcome speech. “The athletic program is a vital part of any high school experience but our journey in athletics at SEHS is certainly remarkable when we consider what our students and our coaches have been able to accomplish in less than 25 years of existence.”
Later, White told the inductees, “So we celebrate you and we acknowledge that we stand on your shoulders. You will always be a key part of our school’s history and future student athletes and staff will speak your names.”
Athletic Director Jeff Faith said, “We hope that we continue to hold up the traditions that you guys started.”
Harper is the George Washington of South Effingham sports. He became the school’s first athletic director and head football coach in 1996.
Dr. Franklin Goldwire, South Effingham’s first principal, expressed great appreciation for Harper’s place in Mustangs history.
“Coach Harper was the first staff member that was hired,” Goldwire said. “It was such a relief because — I tell you, Coach — you didn’t know that my experience in athletics, sports programs and all the regulations and guidelines was zero. I was so relieved when Coach Harper got hired because I knew that he would bring the experience and expertise we needed to get the program off and running.”
Harper was thrilled to hear that a tradition he started with former band director Rudy Gilbert — the football team gathering in front of the band at the end of each game — is still thriving. Current head coach Nathan Clark has built on it as he gives his postgame remarks in front of the band and parents.
Harper humbly thanked his former athletes, assistant coaches and administrators for helping him. He asked all who were in attendance to join him for a photo after his acceptance speech.
Harper offered an unusual salute to the female athletes during his South Effingham tenure.
“What I remember about the young ladies is if they weren’t spitting or blowing snot into their t-shirt, they weren’t playing,” he said.
Harper lamented the fact that he never won a state title but he has no regrets.
“I just wanted to do it the right way,” he said.
Bolen, a member of the Class of 2004, was saluted by Master of Ceremonies Troy Alford. He played football for four years. He also spent time on the soccer, baseball and track teams.
“He gives me a lot of memories,” Alford said. “He has got pages of how many stats that he proved to be a hall of famer here tonight.”
Bolen, who went on to be a kicker at Georgia Southern, was unable to attend the event. He was represented by his parents, Tom and Eunice, who read a gracious letter from him.
“This is such an incredible honor and privilege, and something I will always reflect on with great pride,” the letter said.
Miller, a Class of 2001 member, was remembered for her tenaciousness. She was elevated to the Lady Mustangs varsity basketball team while in the eighth grade.
“... whether it’s ‘scrappy’ or whether it’s ‘heart,’ I hope you can instill that in your family because I think it’s something special,” Effingham County Superintendent Dr. Randy Shearouse, Miller’s first South Effingham head coach, said to her.
Miller followed Shearouse’s advice during her acceptance speech. She encouraged her two young sons to apply the lessons they learn in sports to their life as adults.
Rietkovich, a Class of 2009 member, was a record-setting softball star. Currently a coach at the University of Minnesota, she was unable to attend the ceremony but watched it via Facebook Live.
Former Lady Mustangs head coach Donnie Ussery called her “one of the best players I’ve ever coached.” She played at the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina-Beaufort and Reinhardt, setting records along the say.
“Katie gave me lineup card suggestions, defensive positioning ideas, ideas on how we should conduct practice, scouting tips when we went and played other teams and even one day I believe she forecast the weather,” Ussery said. “What I mean by that is we were playing No. 1 Greenbrier in an Evans tournament and she said, ‘Coach, if it rains, we are going to beat that pitcher.’ Sure enough, it rained and we upset Greenbrier in that tournament.”
Like Bolen, Reitkovich sent a letter that her mother, Patty, read to the audience.
“I am grateful for all my teachers, my coaches that had an impact on my life along the way,” the letter said. “Thank you for shaping my character and giving me an opportunity to compete for championships. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person that I am, the player that I am and the coach that I always hope to be.”
Seckinger, a Class of 1999 member, was lauded for her determination in girls basketball despite her lack of height.
“She could handle to ball like no other,” Shearouse said. “... I just don’t remember people taking the ball from her.”
Seckinger, who was a capable scorer, willingly surrendered it, however.
“Kristin didn’t care about shooting,” Shearouse said. “She was getting the ball down the floor and wanting to give the ball so someone else could score.”
Shearouse said he is delighted that Seckinger, who he called “Half Pint,” is now a PE teacher at Marlow Elementary School.
“It’s like she’s one of the kids,” he said.
Shearouse went on to say, “Kristin, don’t ever change.”
Seckinger, also a tennis standout, said she was overwhelmed by her induction and her job.
“I get to act like a kid every single day ...” she said.
The South Effingham Athletic Hall of Fame Board of Directors includes White, Faith, Goldwire, Sarah Davis, Stacey Womack and Harper