As it currently stands, at this time next season Neosho High School will have at least 17 former members of its baseball program littered throughout the ranks of college baseball.
That number jumped from 14 on Friday — and is expected to rise — when four Wildcats inked letters of intent with North Arkansas College (Harrison, Ark.) at NHS. The four Wildcats; Wayde Hartman, Lane Brodie, Nathan Bankston and David Dean should help Phil Wilson's NJCAA Division III Pioneers, who finished 2012 ranked No. 9 at 39-14 overall.
"The bottom line is, when you can send a kid to college and it can be paid for, or helped paid for, and they can still play the game, is exciting," Neosho coach Donny Pennington said. "All of us coaches, that's our job. If we can get a kid into college and play baseball and get his academics paid for, then that's what it's all about."
All four players said they're grateful for the opportunity.
"It's really special," Hartman said. "I've been playing baseball since I was six years old, and just to think where I've come from since my freshman year, it's just amazing to think that I'll be able to continue on for another two years."
Dean, Brodie and Hartman all expect to see time on the mound for the Pioneers, while Bankston should fit into the program as a table-setting middle infielder. Hartman will also see time in the outfield under Wilson.
For Hartman and Dean, it was the draw of a winning program — the Pioneers have won eight-straight region titles and are currently ranked No. 15 in division III polls — that helped make their decisions easy.
"They were just a model of consistency," Hartman said. "Their winning tradition is huge, and it's a great place to go play college baseball."
Dean said, "I'm nervous, but overall I'm excited. It's a pretty cool day for me. They've been a national powerhouse for about the last 20 years, and I'm planning on heading down there and helping them continue to be very successful."
Brodie, who says he'd never planned on going to college, caught the eye of the North Arkansas staff after turning in a solid performance in their presence. Now, he says he's happy to continue his education and playing career.
"It's a very exciting day for me," he said. "I never planned on going to college, and now I am. I went down there and played against them, and they had a pretty solid team to play against, so that helped."
Bankston, who described himself as a gritty player, figures to help the team not only with the leather, but on the basepaths as well.
"I feel like taking my talents to college, you know, I really worked hard to get this," Bankston said. "I hope I continue to work hard, and see myself doing well at the college level. It's just really a good day for me. Wherever I need to play, I can play. Wherever they need me, I play with a lot of intensity. If I go out and play hard, get dirty, then I know I did a good job."
Page 2 of 2 - While Pennington said he's looking forward to following their collegiate careers, he's also looking forward to the upcoming high school season with these young men in tow.
"It's exciting, because now we have a season to think about and get ready for," Pennington said. "To have success there, and for the boys not to have to worry about where they're going to go once high school ball is over, that really takes a lot of stress off them."