When she was barely more than a toddler, Alison Kirkland told her mother she didn’t to take tap dancing lessons anymore.
She wanted cleats instead.
Thursday afternoon, Kirkland signed a letter of intent to play softball and attend Chipola Junior College.
“I’ve followed my dreams for a long time,” said the South Effingham High senior, “and they’ve never failed me.”
The Class AAA all-state first-team selection will be joining the reigning NJCAA national champion program. During her Lady Mustangs career, Kirkland went 60-20 and struck 705 while posting an earned run average of 0.71. She set school records in wins, strikeouts, ERA and innings pitched.
“She is by far the most dominating pitcher we have had,” Lady Mustangs coach Donnie Ussery said. “We will have some big shoes to fill.”
With Kirkland on the mound, the Lady Mustangs have been to three consecutive Class AAA Elite Eights and were state runners-up in 2005.
“She has taken us to the next level as far as being a state power,” Ussery said. “Before her, we were kind of building the program.”
The Lady Mustangs have been invited to 12 summer and fall tournaments based on their recent success.
“They know who we are,” Ussery said. “(Alison) has meant more to this program than people realize. She is definitely a player who has changed South Effingham softball. The coaches respect her and the players respect her.”
Kirkland’s reputation is such that umpires would ask Ussery if she was pitching that day.
“They would get upset if she was not pitching,” he said.
Chipola coaches first became interested in Kirkland after watching her pitch in the state tournament — as a sophomore.
“She wanted to go to a place where she felt comfortable and where they had some success,” Ussery said.
Kirkland not only liked the surroundings at Chipola — “they have a beautiful campus,” she said — but the Indians’ penchant for placing players in Division I programs and its 95 percent graduation rate also drew the Lady Mustangs’ star hurler.
“They’re all about succeeding,” she said.
Said her mother Sherry: “She’s done a lot of research on this.”
It’s about seven hours between Effingham County and Marianna, Fla., and Kirkland and her mom are a little anxious about the impending separation.
“She’s my best friend,” Sherry said of her daughter, a sentiment echoed by Alison. “I’m real proud of her. I’m ready to pack up and go to school myself.”
Alison said she couldn’t have done this without her parents, and Sherry said many people don’t realize how much parents put into their children’s careers.
“You ask these parents and they have spent a fortune, on balls, bags, bag bats,” she said.
When Alison told her mother she had decided on Chipola, and it was seven hours away, “I said, ‘we’ll discuss this,’” she said.
“Then I said, ‘road trip, let’s go.’”