Signing with a college athletic program is always a big deal, but for nearly every Gwinnett high school it’s become commonplace. Some of the bigger ones will have 30 or more seniors ink with college teams each school year.
At the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, those signings are rare. As in it’s never happened.
That changed this week, though.
Senior Elise Lombard was the guest of honor at a Tuesday morning signing party, thrown by GSMST faculty members who may have been more excited than Lombard and her family. The Lawrenceville charter school, in its seventh year of existence, doesn’t offer school sports teams, a sacrifice its students make when they earn one of the prestigious enrollment spots as ninth-graders.
The teachers and counselors don’t get to root for sports teams, but they are pretty fired up that one of their own will play college soccer at Truett-McConnell. Robotics trophies? They’ve got plenty. College-bound athletes? Not so much.
“It’s really scary honestly,” Lombard said of the hubbub at GSMST surrounding her signing. “When Mrs. (Meg) Scheid (GSMST’s college placement specialist) first told me (about the signing party), I was freaked out. But I realized if I didn’t do this, I would look back and wish I had. It’s cool that I will be the first one and have that honor as I leave.”
As every GSMST student does, Lombard entered as a freshman. There is a fair amount of attrition with the school’s rigorous curriculum, but she is one of the ones who stuck it out at what some of her friends call the “nerd school.”
GSMST spawns some of the brightest young minds in Gwinnett — U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 rankings had it the No. 3 best public high school and No. 2 charter school in the nation — but not as many high level athletes. Lombard didn’t get to play high school soccer like she would have at her home school, Central Gwinnett, but she still spends time at Central, where her sister plays soccer and is in the marching band.
Lombard didn’t give up on soccer despite her heavy academic load, either. She played at the club level with United Futbol Club and earned a scholarship to Truett-McConnell, where she will play with her best friend, Dacula senior Katie McAdams and will pursue a career in nursing.
“When I first decided to come (to GSMST), honestly it was because some of my friends were coming,” Lombard said. “But then a lot of them dropped out and I just continued with it. I figured I might as well stick it out. My grades did take a hit. But being here, I realized I’ve had more opportunities than most people would. It’s been really cool to see all the classes and see the levels I’ve been exposed to.”
The academic load is massive undertaking for GSMST students, but it doesn’t dominate all of their time, which is what the school’s faculty members stress.
While the school doesn’t have sports teams, it still aims to produce well-rounded students who obviously have a wide range of interests.
For some, like Lombard, that interest is athletics. It’s why GSMST treated her to a big signing party, making her the reluctant poster child of the school’s “well-rounded” mission.
“I think it’s a big deal for GSMST to have an athletic signing,” GSMST principal Jeff Mathews said. “It’s certainly a historic day. I think it shows students here are passionate about what they do. When they find an area they want to excel in, they have the ability to do that.
“We do concentrate on bioscience, emerging technology and engineering here, but someone like Elise has the ability to pursue outside interests if she puts that on her list of things she wants to accomplish. Obviously she’s done a great job with that.”
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.