By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — Cailan Howard remembers only a few years back when he hardly took running seriously.
His parents nudged him toward cross country and track as an eighth grader. Howard said he was so indifferent to a new challenge that he forgot when it was time to try out.
“They pushed me again in ninth grade,” he said. “I wasn’t very driven at first. But I’m glad I got into it. I just enjoy the sport now.”
Now, he’s the proud holder of three South Effingham High School running records — 15:51.88 in cross country, 9:51.78 in the 3200 and 8:23.15 as part of the 4x800 relay team.
And one of the few who gets a chance to continue his athletic career in college.
On Dec. 16, Howard shared the spotlight with three classmates while celebrating their recent college signings.
Howard will attend Augusta University along with Cheyenne Ryan, who will run for the women’s program.
Noah Hollis, a third baseman, is headed to Miami University (formerly Miami of Ohio) for baseball. Chloe Turner, a second baseman, will stay local and play softball at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.
The next day, at Effingham County High School, Rebels softball star Enna Lackey celebrated her decision to attend Georgia Gwinnett College.
“I worked my whole life for this and it’s all accomplished now and this is the day we get to celebrate it. I couldn’t be happier,” said Hollis, who is nicknamed “Hollywood” by his Mustang baseball teammates.
Hollis can claim one of the most dramatic moments of the 2021 spring when he blasted a ninth-inning, walk-off, two-run home run to give SEHS a wild 9-7 victory over Lee County in the deciding third game of a best-of-three series in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament.
Hollis hit .343 and was instrumental in SEHS’ first region championship since 2007. The Mustangs tied a school single-season record with 27 wins.
His flair for the dramatic surfaced again during a travel ball tournament in Atlanta. Hollis said he had a “crazy (good) day” while Miami University coaches were in attendance. They offered a scholarship shortly afterward.
USC-Beaufort scouts already knew about the plethora of softball talent in the area and scooped up Turner, who earned the Region 2-AAAAAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2021.
Turner, who hit .430 with nine home runs and 40 runs batted in, will be reunited with Jaci Coleman, Francie Gaskin and Addie Reynolds — all four girls played for the Effingham Angels. Coleman, Gaskin and Reynolds played at Effingham County High School before moving on to USCB.
Turner’s memorable home run against Effingham County — clearing pickup trucks parked beyond the left-field fence —remains an image etched in SEHS softball lore.
Ryan had a similar moment in track when she overcame a 200-meter deficit as the anchor of the Mustangs’ 4 X 800 relay team to set a school record and win a region championship last spring.
She’s been a staple for the school’s long-distance programs over the years before finding a perfect choice for her future in nearby Augusta, which offers a highly regarded physical therapy curriculum along with athletics.
Lackey also found a perfect blend of athletics and academics at Georgia Gwinnett, an NAIA school located in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta.
Lackey said she hoped to work toward a degree in forensic science while playing for a team that won 33 games, won its fourth straight Association of Independent Institutions crown and was ranked eighth in the NAIA’s final regular-season poll.
At ECHS, Lackey, a solid defensive center fielder, earned first-team, all-region honors while helping the Rebels win a region title for the second time in three years.
“I made the decision by seeing how far I wanted to be away from home and whether I wanted to be at a big school or small school,” she said. “The softball facility was amazing and I just loved the coach.”