Centerburg signing day

Nine Centerburg seniors signed with collegiate athletic programs on Thursday. From left to right: Jackson Goulter (Cuyahoga Community College, baseball), Sophia Compton (Tiffin University, golf), Stephen Schmitt (Otterbein University, football), Savannah Gammell (Otterbein University, basketball), Michael Kuhn (Otterbein University, football), Kristi Vargo (Mount Vernon Nazarene University, basketball), Sarah Thatcher (MVNU, cross country and track). Two were not present: Violet Miller (Fairmont State University, golf) and Madeleine Watson (Cornell University, gymnastics).

CENTERBURG – Growing up, Sophia Compton was told she couldn’t play golf.

“You don’t belong in this sport,” boys would tell her. Not strong enough, not good enough. Not man enough.

As it turns out, she didn’t have to be.

She played 18 holes every day. She pushed herself, “even when it was hard sometimes.” She played with the boys during middle school. When they told her she didn’t belong, she didn’t listen.

Last fall, she led the Centerburg High School girls team to districts. And on Thursday, she fulfilled a lifelong dream – one she was told wouldn’t come true.

Sophia Compton signed to play college golf.

“I’m just speechless, honestly,” the senior said. She’ll play at Tiffin University (Div. II) next fall. The Dragons placed second in the competitive Great Midwest Athletic Conference last year.

Sophia Compton

Compton (right) sits next to baseball phenom Jackson Goulter at Thursday's signing ceremony.

Compton hopes to be a role model for other girls who might want to play golf in the future. Numbers are low, Compton said, but the experience changed her life. It’s not a man’s game, she says – it’s everybody’s game.

“This sport doesn’t have a lot of girls that are playing golf,” Compton said. “(This) kind of shows them that, if I can do it, you can do it as well.”

Compton was one of seven Centerburg seniors to sign a letter of intent on Thursday. Kristi Vargo, who committed to Mount Vernon Nazarene University for basketball, was surprised by the number. She was also appreciative of the students who came out to watch the signing ceremony, as the bleachers in Centerburg’s auxiliary gym were nearly full.

“That’s really cool. I didn’t realize so many people were going on (to play in college),” Vargo said. “Like, we’re Centerburg. You don’t think of us as going on and making a difference in the athletic world. I think it’s pretty neat. And it says a lot about our community, you know, how supportive we are of our student-athletes.”

Vargo hadn’t thought about playing college basketball until a month ago, when a MVNU coach reached out to Centerburg's coaching staff following the Mount Vernon News all-star game. They were interested in Vargo and said she might have an opportunity to play at the next level. It all clicked into place, Vargo said.

“I was like, ‘Oh my word, I don’t want to give up basketball yet,’” Vargo recalled. “Basketball has just been such a part of me, you know? Since first grade, it’s a part of my life. It’s a part of my identity. So just being able to continue playing with a team really means a lot to me.”

Kristi Vargo

Vargo (right) signs her letter of intent alongside football standout Michael Kuhn on Thursday.

Vargo was one of Centerburg’s key perimeter threats last winter, and she’ll compete for playing time on a MVNU team that recently finished 13-18. Vargo plans to study integrated social studies with the hope of becoming a high school history teacher, like her father.

Savannah Gammell, Vargo’s teammate since sixth grade, signed to play basketball at Otterbein. Gammell led the Trojans in points (12.4 per game) and rebounds (8.5 per game) last year, earning first-team all-KMAC honors. She plans on studying nursing and playing in the post – something she didn’t think was possible until she spoke with Otterbein’s coaching staff.

“I was told, to my amazement, that I would never be able to be a post in college because I was too short. But then I went to Otterbein and most of their forwards or posts are, like, around my height,” Gammell said. “They told me they liked to hear that I wanted to be a post or a forward because that’s what they were looking for.”

Gammell said Centerburg's struggles – the team went 6-17 last season – have helped mold her into a better leader and a tougher competitor.

“Things aren’t always good for us – they usually haven’t been – and so it teaches me to, I think, have better sportsmanship and to just be more positive about everything,” Gammell said. “I think that’ll help in college because I can’t expect everything to be great just because I am going to college to play basketball. It’s not going to be some fairy tale.”

Two more Trojans committed to Otterbein on Thursday, as Stephen Schmitt and Michael Kuhn signed to play football.

Schmitt plans on studying nursing as well, while Kuhn will major in criminal justice. While both were pivotal pieces to the Trojans’ offensive attack last year – Schmitt led the team in receptions and Kuhn was a reliable rusher – they’ll vy for playing time at outside linebacker in Westerville.

Stephen Schmitt

Schmitt and Gammell sign to play football and basketball, respectively, at Otterbein University next year.

Schmitt was named second-team all-KMAC last year, as he led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss. Kuhn was effective in limited defensive reps, as he battled injuries throughout the fall.

The two said playing college football together wasn’t originally the plan, but when the stars aligned, they were thrilled about the concept.

“It’s going to be nice knowing someone from the same school, going to the same place and playing on the same team and everything,” Kuhn said. “It’s going to be easier going in as a freshman.”

Schmitt and Kuhn also said they liked the idea of staying close to home – Otterbein is just 30 minutes away from Centerburg – and they liked the atmosphere of the campus. Minutes after signing, Schmitt said it felt like “a big weight lifted off your shoulders.”

“It doesn’t hit you ‘til it’s happening,” he said of playing college football, “so it’s a great realization.”

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One of the KMAC’s finest baseball players signed Thursday as well. Jackson Goulter, Centerburg’s do-it-all man, committed to Cuyahoga Community College.

Goulter was named second-team all-Ohio last season, and he’s remained unstoppable as a senior. He’s currently hitting .531 for the Trojans, with three wins and 34 strikeouts on the mound.

Goulter said he liked CCC’s campus and coaching staff, and he hopes to one day transfer to a Div. I school. CCC players have had recent success doing so; four Challengers have already signed with four-year schools in 2019, and two have gone D-I.

“I just like the idea of going to a community college because it gives me a chance to develop more as a player,” Goulter said. “It’ll give me a chance to become better and move on to the next level and go even further.”

Goulter will likely play an outfield position for the Challengers, and he looks forward to proving himself at the plate. Goulter said playing college baseball has been a “lifelong dream,” which made Thursday all the more surreal.

“I’ve been trying to do this since I started playing baseball. I’ve always wanted to be here,” he said. “It’s just… it’s amazing.”

The only runner to sign Thursday was Sarah Thatcher, who is currently rounding out a strong senior year on Centerburg’s cross country and track & field teams.

Thatcher signed with MVNU because she wanted a “small, Christian college,” and The Naz was just 30 minutes down the road. She’ll join a women’s cross country team that finished third in the Crossroads League last fall and a track & field team that finished sixth.

Thatcher has been a key part of the Trojans’ running renaissance over the past four years, as she has led the girls cross country team to two straight state appearances. The program has grown since her freshman year, Thatcher said, and she can’t believe her time at Centerburg is almost up.

“It’s kind of crazy, I don’t know. It just all flew by so fast,” Thatcher said. “I remember walking onto the team in eighth grade and just… I don’t know, it’s all gone by so fast. It’s really cool to see what has happened with my running career.”

Thatcher plans to study early childhood education at MVNU, in hopes of becoming a teacher. She’s helped teach Centerburg first-graders this year, and said it’s something she’s “really enjoyed.”

“I think I would be happy doing that for a lot of years,” Thatcher said.

In college, Thatcher hopes to build new friendships through running. She’s enjoyed the camaraderie of track and cross country, and she hopes that will continue at the next level.

“I kind of just wanted to keep the same small family and just the team,” Thatcher said. “I don’t know, I just wanted another nice group of girls to run with, and I just wanted to have another group of friends outside of school.”

Two other Trojans have signed to play collegiate sports next year, although they did not attend Thursday’s ceremony. Violet Miller will golf at Fairmont State, while Madeleine Watson will continue her gymnastics career at Cornell.

Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.