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Sports Academy South serving Grovetown well

Posted: April 16, 2014 - 12:16am
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Branden Etheridge, 10, participates in Sam Lilly's Sports Academy South program at Liberty Park. Photo by Jim Blaylock
Branden Etheridge, 10, participates in Sam Lilly's Sports Academy South program at Liberty Park. Photo by Jim Blaylock

Sam Lilly is about to go on a spending spree.

The founder, president and CEO of Sports Academy South, Inc., won a $10,000 grant from Jefferson Energy and has a small window in which to use the funds.

Not a problem.

Lilly, who operates his 501c3 non-profit sports program out of Liberty Park in Grovetown, has a laundry list of needed items and is happy to be able to get what he needs rather than borrow from local schools.

“Now we can order five-man sleds, blocking dummies; we just started a (AAU) track team and we don’t have blocks or batons,” Lilly said. “We can get all this equipment now.”

After moving around the CSRA for a few years, one of Lilly’s vice presidents told him about Liberty Park two years ago and they’ve been there ever since.

Lilly paid tribute to Grovetown Mayor George James, Director of Public Works Mike Woods and the city’s community events coordinator Jennifer Evans among others for getting established and remaining in Grovetown.

“If not for the City of Grovetown welcoming our program, letting us do our summer day camp, letting us do our spring break camp, letting us do our speed and agility and fundamentals, letting us practice our AAU teams out of there, there would not be any Sports Academy South,” Lilly said. “I would say 85 percent of our kids are from right around that park. We serve a good purpose. Those kids don’t have to drive to Patriots Park...we’re right in the neighborhood.”

Evans was appreciative of what Lilly and SAS has meant to the community.

“When I was hired they were wanting to get more people using the facility and coming out and that’s exactly what Sam does,” Evans said. “He’s been a huge benefit for the whole community, having it here and having all the kids come in and give them something to look forward to.”

Lilly makes sure to involve young athletes across the board.

“My goal was to be able to teach kids fundamentals of all sports,”Lilly said. “I saw something that could be improved with the youth in this area was working on their fundamentals, especially the speed and agility part, the explosiveness.”

But it’s more than that.

“It’s God, family, school and sports,” said 14-year-old Grovetown Middle Schooler Deion Mason, who has been training with SAS for three years. “I know when I first came here I was not good at basketball. Throughout the years I’ve been getting a lot better because of Coach (Sam) Lilly, the founder of this program.”

Reasons for doing what he does hit close to home.

“I was at Butler High School, a little small runt and everybody said you can’t, you can’t, you can’t,” said Lilly, who played football and graduated from Georgia Tech. “I had a man help me. My dad was in Army, he was gone all the time. Mom was home. So I had someone help me. And that’s why I want to help someobody else.”

Lilly is especially appreciative of those working his summer camp who don’t get paid, providing expertise while playing their respective sport at the next level.

“My cheerleader coach is from the University of South Carolina,” Lilly said. “Our dance instructor goes to Georgia State, one dance instructor is from the University of Georgia, our baseball coach graduated from Fort Valley State. It goes on and on and on. We have some real good trainers and coaches that come in the summer.”

That camp encompasses more than just athletics.

“We have certified teachers come out in the morning and feed them a hot breakfast,” Lilly said. “We have math, science, history and reading classes from 8:30 (a.m.) to noon, from noon to 1 (p.m.) we feed them a hot lunch and then from 1(p.m.) to 5 (p.m.) we play different games, different sports.”

Teaching life skills and how to persevere is high on Lilly’s list.

“Those kids are going to grow up to be healthy citizens,” Lilly said. “They’re going to be doctors and lawyers, they don’t have to play sports in college. They’re going to learn about how important education is, you’ve got to have education to grow up and get that degree so you can go out and get that decent job.”

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