Evans freshman Kevin Millward appears primed for a big season for the Knights' top-ranked AAAA baseball team.
Greenbrier's Rich Poythress (left) went up for a rebound against Evans' Hank McCladdie, during Greenbrier's 45-44 win over Evans at Greenbrier High School in January. Poythress has played on varsity teams since he was a freshman.
Photo by Kevin Martin
Millward may also be the Knights' starting quarterback in football this fall. So young, yet so talented - boy, have times changed.
Millward is another in a growing trend of ninth and 10th graders who step up to the varsity level ready to play like a savvy veteran. As recently as 15 or 20 years ago it was unheard of for freshmen to even dress out for the varsity team, much less actually play.
When an athlete got to high school he or she would play two seasons on the junior varsity and then play as a junior and senior on the varsity. That was just how things were done.
However, today kids are simply more mature athletically. The examples are abundant in Columbia County alone.
Greenbrier's Rich Poythress, now a junior, has started and starred for the Wolfpack baseball program from the second he stepped on campus. He was a First Team All-County performer as a freshman.
Also check out the Greenbrier Lady Wolfpack basketball team. Recently they reached the AAAA State Quarterfinals with five of their top eight players being freshman or 10th-graders.
Greenbrier Point Guard Michelle Swiec was the County's Co-Player of the Year as a freshman.
Lakeside's baseball team had major success last season, and many fans felt the key to the team was the addition of sophomore Paul Borden and freshman Jeff Rowland to the Lakeside lineup.
The youth movement started back in 1985.
Then-Evans baseball coach Terry Holder did the unthinkable. He started three freshmen in his infield. Evans was on the cusp of building a special program, and many may have wondered what Holder was thinking - that is, until they saw first basemen Ben Hayslip, second baseman Lenny Springs and shortstop Craig Cassedy play.
The trio had tremendous seasons and Evans advanced all the way to the State Championship Final Series before losing a heartbreaker to Forest Park. Three years later that group spearheaded the Knights' first state crown.
On that 1988 team, Holder started another ninth-grader. His son Rodney was the Knights' designated hitter and had a fantastic season. He is now a coach himself in Columbia County at Greenbrier. He has a good idea why players are ready sooner than they used to be.
"Kids are just bigger and stronger these days" says Holder. "It used to be a big deal when someone could bench 300 pounds; now kids are pushing 400 pounds."
Another reason is that kids have become year-round athletes. Summers used to be the time kids goofed off with their friends; now they are traveling all over the Southeast playing baseball, basketball and soccer.
All the while they are preparing themselves for the riggers of varsity sports. What seemed amazing in 1985 has become somewhat commonplace in 2005.
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