HAMMOCK: The rewards of sports path

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Each path had its lure.

Meredith Montgomery pared her college options down to North Georgia, with its offer of college basketball at the NCAA Division II level, and to Georgia, where she already had been accepted.

For the hundreds of Gwinnett County seniors each year who earn athletic scholarships to high-level college programs, there are many more who face a similar decision to the one Montgomery had to make back in 2007. Do I play college sports at a smaller level? Or do I go to a place like UGA, with its 30,000-plus students and its SEC football team, and be a regular college student?

“That was such a big decision,” Montgomery said earlier this week. “But I didn’t want to regret not (playing college basketball).”

And so she chose to play.

Now the Hebron Christian graduate has 101 college basketball games behind her, not to mention the countless practices and other team activities, commitments that demanded heavily of her time. The path is so rigorous that many college athletes give up their sport, as many of her teammates did. A two-time team captain, she is the only player of nine in North Georgia’s 2006 and 2007 signing classes to play all four seasons.

On top of getting to play basketball, Montgomery is less than two months from earning a marketing degree.

“I can’t imagine not playing because of the relationships I made with people,” she said. “I’m getting married soon and two girls I met at North Georgia will be in the wedding with me. I met so many people and learned so much about myself and about life. ... When I got home from a game at 3 in the morning and had to go to an 8 o’clock class, I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ But looking back, I’m so glad I did it.”

During the past four seasons, Montgomery maintained relatively good health (only four MRIs, two cortisone shots and a minor knee surgery) and a high GPA that allowed the HOPE Scholarship and her basketball money to fund her entire education. She also got priceless memories of a basketball career that her father Mark estimates at 475 games and more than 1,500 practices.

It also prepared her for her next big decision.

“Now I’m trying to figure out this whole job thing,” Montgomery said.

Based on her college experience, she can handle a demanding one.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.