Mark Curley jumped from his seat in economics class and let out a scream.
With everybody staring at him, the Shoemaker senior quietly sat back down in his chair, but what he really wanted to do was run circles around the room.
“I just looked around, like, ‘I can’t help it, I’m excited,’” said Curley, a state-qualifier in the 100-meter freestyle earlier this year.
Quick-checking his phone, the swimming coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point had emailed Curley with a message that read, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been appointed to West Point.’
Curley accepted the challenge to attend the prestigious school when he was only 8 years old and that email meant he’d achieved it, realizing a dream, one he shared with six other Shoemaker seniors Thursday at a signing ceremony in the Shoemaker gym.
“I’ve always been interested in the military. And just something that was challenging and demanding; I don’t like to take the easy route,” said Curley, who will swim for the Black Knights. “It was a challenge, I knew I would have to push myself. ... I’m looking forward to getting out there and pretty much live a life of challenge.”
Baseball players Jamie Funk (Texas Wesleyan) and Albert Castro (Presentation College in South Dakota); basketball player Paris Yerry (Dawson Community College in Mont.); football player Edward Sayers (College of the Desert in Calif.); track standout Taron Lloyd (South Plains College) and Lady Grey Wolves wrestler Dineesha Jones (Wayland Baptist University), were all honored alongside Curley during the ceremony, which was the third held this spring to celebrate Shoemaker’s 15 student-athletes going to play their respective sports in college next fall.
Many never imagined they would get the opportunity at all.
Lloyd helped the Grey Wolves’ 800-meter relay team win a state championship at the UIL State Track and Field Championships, but that experience paled in comparison to signing with South Plains, which has won seven straight National Junior College Athletic Association championships.
“At the state track meet, it was a very good experience — I loved it,” Lloyd said. “This right here, you can’t get no better than this. This is all I wanted.”
Jones placed second in the 5A girls 110-pound division at the state wrestling tournament and finished 31-6 on the mat as a senior. She was surprised by her finish at the state meet and getting the opportunity to wrestle in college.
“When I got into wrestling, people were just rolling me around. I guess I’m more athletic now, so I feel like I can go in there (Wayland Baptist College) not looking so bad,” Jones said. “I know a lot more and I watch freestyle (wrestling), so I should be prepared for what’s coming to me.”
Led by seniors like Castro and Funk, the Grey Wolves baseball team made the playoffs for the first time in school history. Funk, a three-year letterman, had suffered some of the team’s worst years before finally breaking through this year with his most wins ever in a single season (16).
“The wins stick more than the losses,” Funk said. “Them 16-run losses, teams put 20 up on you, there were some hard ones, but this season just ended on such a high note, even though we lost in the playoffs. It’s memories you’ll never forget throughout your entire life. Things you just can’t ask for.”
Castro was only with the team the final two years after transferring from Ellison midway through his junior year. After started for the Eagles varsity as a sophomore, he was relegated to JV last season due to UIL transfer rules, something he thought might hinder his recruitment.
“I kind of had that in the back of my head, but I was just like, ‘JV, varsity, it really doesn’t matter. They’re going to look at whoever the talent is, whether you’re playing JV or not,’” Castro said. “I kept with playing the JV like I would at the varsity level and stuck with it.”
Yerry was first connected with Dawson Community College coaches via a mutual friend. Yerry sent the coach film and then waited, playing out the rest of this senior season. At some point — even he doesn’t know when — DCC assistant coaches came to Killeen from their Montana campus and saw enough of Yerry that they offered him a scholarship.
“I asked him and he still hasn’t told me,” Yerry said. “I’m really not even worried about it. It was a good game, I know that. That’s all the matters. ... I’m glad I was playing hard and I wasn’t having a bad game.”
Sayers posted 30 total tackles, including 16 solo mostly on special teams, and one pass break-up. But after a rough start this season, pushed through to find success and a seat among the six others signing college paperwork on Thursday.
“What I saw was, he was always played hard. And hard work goes a long, long way,” Shoemaker head football coach Channon Hall said. “He played with that effort, never gave up and then his chance came. He became a starter for us and not only a starter, but started making some plays.”