No one who follows Jones County High School sports was surprised when Madison Bennett signed Friday to play college softball at Georgia Highlands College.
What they are all wondering, however, is how in the world will she limit herself to one sport in college.
Until the coronavirus shut down all spring sports earlier Friday, Bennett was charging hard in her third sport of the school year, ready to help the Lady Hounds make a run to the state playoffs in soccer.
She already was a part of Jones County’s softball team that placed third in the state playoffs in the fall and the basketball team that advanced to the state quarterfinals last month.
“We’ve had other athletes here who have played three sports. But Madison is above anybody I’ve seen in my time here in the way she has been in the middle of three team sports since she was a freshman the way she has,” said Jones County athletic director Barry Veal. “It seems like she’s been here 10 years just because of all the games she has played. She’ll leave with 12 varsity letters, which will be the first person to do that since Jennifer Trimnell.
“And she’s always done it with a big smile on her face. You can never say she didn’t hustle.”
Retiring softball coach Blake Lyons said being able to pencil Bennett in the lineup for the last four years made him a better coach and helped him finish with more than 500 victories in his career.
“It is a bittersweet day for me,” Lyons said at Bennett’s signing ceremony. “This is the last of my players I’ll have as a head coach to sign, but it is happening for one of my favorite players in my career.
“Madison came up from middle school and we just plugged her into the lineup. She was at second base to start. We had to reconstruct her throwing a little, but she jumped on it and then settled in at shortstop and just stayed there. She and Kloey Goins became the best doubleplay combination I ever coached.
“Coach Veal and I have spent a lot of time driving to various sporting events over the years, and we’re always talking about the teams and players, and we were talking on the way to one of the basketball playoff games about how we’ve never seen a player have as big of an impact on the three sports she played as Madison has here.
“Georgia Highlands is getting a tremendous softball player, and an even better kid.”
Georgia Highlands College is a junior college in Rome, and the softball team is coached by Savannah Sloan.
Bennett admitted it will be tough to focus on only one sport after being so immersed in three during her middle school and high school years.
“Coach Sloan told me if I was interested in playing basketball there I could try it, but I think I’ll stick just to softball, at least to begin with,” Bennett said. “I think that’ll keep me pretty busy.”
She said she’s just thankful to have the opportunity to play in college.
“It was something I really wanted when I was younger, but then I kind of thought I wouldn’t get a chance because I wasn’t being recruited much,” she said.
That changed when Sloan, who was then the coach at LaGrange College, saw her play in the state tournament in Columbus and again in an all-star game at LaGrange.
“She wanted me to come to LaGrange, but I wasn’t sure.”
LaGrange is a Division III school and does not offer athletic scholarships.
But then Sloan was hired to coach at Georgia Highlands, and she offered Bennett a full scholarship.
“That made a big difference. I’m really excited now to get the chance,” Bennett said.
She isn’t sure what she will major in but says she would like to find something in the medical field.