Four more Neosho High School students will be taking their talents to the next level, as Justin McKee, Kylee Hulsey, Chelsah Douglas and Amber Bates each signed letters of intent on Tuesday at NHS.

Four more Neosho High School students will be taking their talents to the next level, as Justin McKee, Kylee Hulsey, Chelsah Douglas and Amber Bates each signed letters of intent on Tuesday at NHS.

McKee, an All-State selection in track and field and an all-conference football star, will attend Pittsburg State University to play football while also competing on the Gorillas’ track and field team.

Justin, the son of Susan McKee, said Missouri Southern and Evangel also recruited him, but once he went on a visit, it only took a second for him to decide PSU was where he wanted to be.

“I went up to Pitt State for a visit and it kind of felt like home to me,” McKee said. “I liked the atmosphere up there and got along with the coach and some of the players, so I decided that’s where I wanted to be. Once I visited Southern and then visited Pitt State, I knew which one I wanted to go to.”

The appeal of participating in both football — where he’ll likely play on offense — and track and field — where he’ll be a decathlete — was a huge factor in McKee’s decision.

“That’s always been my dream, to be able to do both, especially football,” McKee said. “Then I’ll be coming in late and running track, so I’m excited to be able to do that. I’m really excited to be able to be a part of a national championship (football) team. Hopefully we’ll win a few more while I’m up there.”

Hulsey, who owns numerous records in the high jump, including the COC Conference record, will compete for Patty Vavra’s Lady Lions at MSSU next season in the high jump, among other events. She said getting her education paid for is yet another reason why she’s so thankful to participate in track and field.

“It’s very exciting to sign on and get to go to college to do what I love doing — and to get paid to go to college, pretty much,” Hulsey said.

Getting here has been no easy task, she says. Hard work in the weight room and in practice has made her the athlete she is.

“It’s many summers, many summer weights, weights during the school day, and practices after school to get to this point,” Hulsey said.

The daughter of Thad Hulsey and Julie VanLue, Hulsey said she looked at other schools, recalling a college in South Dakota as well as Central Methodist as her other suitors, but the closeness to home was a heavy draw for MSSU.

“I had some other schools that I looked at, but Missouri Southern was just close to home and it seemed like the place to go,” she said. “I’m excited.”

As for Douglas, the daughter of Steve and Denita Douglas, her path to college wasn’t one she spent a lot of time mulling over. Several years ago she decided she wanted to attend Pittsburg State and cheer for the Gorillas. With her mind made up, she put her nose to the grindstone and made it happen.

“It was just my one-track mind,” Douglas said. “I planned on cheering there for several years. They have an awesome college atmosphere and it’s one of those places where you go and feel the entire spirit of the town, and Pittsburg is one of those towns known for the college.”

Those who know Douglas well all hailed her as perhaps one of the toughest individuals in the entire school. Her work ethic was repeatedly praised and her drive, clearly, is an asset.

“Putting in all of the hard work, it pays off,” Douglas said. “I try really hard and I would do anything to make myself better. It’s all about the work you put in. What you get out of it is what you put in.”

After attending open gyms at Pitt State in February and March, Douglas said she immediately connected with the students and other members of the program and still regularly exchanges texts with many of her new acquaintances.

“They have an awesome team and awesome coaches,” she said. “The first time I was there they were so welcoming, and I automatically started making some friends.”

The daughter of Lori and Kevin Bates, Amber Bates’ trek to college is one that took a much different route than that of her classmates. With a high school career that challenged her to overcome adversity, Bates only participated in cross country last season after life got in the way and forced her to put her career in track on hold.

“I’ve had to work a lot,” Bates said. “All last cross country season, after practice I would go straight to work, closing at night. I tried to do track season, but with work and school and everything, it got to me.”

Bates started thinking her chance to go to college on a track scholarship had passed after sitting out, but was shocked to learn that Cottey College in Nevada, Mo., still wanted her for cross country and track. She said she was elated when she received the news.

“It’s an amazing day,” Bates said. “I didn’t think this was possible for not doing track last season, but I thank God for it. My coach called me one day and was like, ‘Cottey is offering you a running scholarship.’ I’ve had other colleges talk to me, but something just felt right about (Cottey). I don’t know how to describe it. It just felt like a gift from God.”

After receiving quite a bit of interest from Webster College, Bates said she’d even considered going to MSSU for academics until the offer from Cottey arrived.

“It’s amazing. This is a two-in-one deal,” Bates said. “I’m so happy.”