By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

SLOCUM – Believe it or not, the 2016-2017 school year is nearly half over. Thanksgiving is next week and shortly afterwards, students will begin their Christmas break. When they return to school in January 2017, many seniors who haven’t already made plans for their future after high school will be forced to face the cold, harsh reality of what to do with themselves after they walk across the stage to receive their diploma.

Slocum High School Senior Makayla Bickerstaff, however, took the worry out of her spring semester as she signed her National Letter of Intent (NLI) to take her softball prowess to the next level on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

In a ceremony, held in the newly constructed Slocum High School gym, Bickerstaff was joined by faculty, staff, family, friends and teammates as she signed to go play collegiate softball at Texas Southern University (TSU).

Once all the photos had been taken and while the ink was still drying on the NLI, the Slocum Lady Mustangs’ shortstop sat down to discuss what this meant to her.

“My dream became real! It wasn’t just a dream anymore. My dream became reality!” the newly signed TSU Tiger exclaimed.

Asked why she chose TSU over other colleges who were interested, Bickerstaff replied, “It was the coaching staff, the team and really the community at Texas Southern who made me feel like I was at home.  They recruited me to play shortstop.”

Also recruited by Lamar University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University along with several other colleges, Bickerstaff was asked how she planned to balance the academic part of school with the athletic part.

“That’s going to be difficult, but I’ve always been a multi-tasker so, I think I’ll be alright. Plus, playing high school sports has helped to teach me how to balance school work and athletics. I’ll study a lot and use my free time wisely,” she said.bickerstaff

She said one of the things which concerned her about going to school in Houston would be “… the culture shock, especially coming from such a small town. But, I think I’ll be alright.”

Bickerstaff expressed the first time she was approached by TSU recruiters was in the summer before her junior year in high school. “I had just finished playing and I had a great game. I made a lot of stops and hit the ball really well.  They came up to me afterwards and told me they were interested. I think they chose me because e of my athletic ability, but I also think when I went down there for a visit, I fit in really well with the team and the other girls.”

Before going back to class, Bickerstaff was asked what advice she would give to her teammates after she leaves Slocum High. “I would tell my teammates to make the most out of everything. It doesn’t last forever and let’s make the last part of this year great. Follow your dreams, no matter what,” she replied.

As the gym began to clear out, her parents – John and Tammy Bickerstaff – were asked for their thoughts on the day.

“It’s a relief,” Bickerstaff’s dad said. “It’s something (playing competition softball) we have been doing for the last several years. She had several other colleges looking at her, but it really is a big relief. We’ve been travelling around for about 12 years playing softball.”

Her mom laughed and said, “My first thought was, where is Texas Southern and she told me it was in Houston. That was my reaction!”

When asked what they saw as the biggest factor in their daughter’s ability to move to the next level, both agreed it was through her hard work and participation in college prep ball. Her dad stressed, however, Slocum High School deserved a lot of credit as well. “Coach David Ives really has a lot of dedication but also I credit the college prep ball. It’s not really a select team, but rather a showcase team. The team was Impact Gold – Tatum. It’s a nationwide organization that gives young ladies a chance to get out there and be seen,” he said.

“I also think her ability to go to the next level could be credited to all of her years of hard work, from the time she said she wanted to play college ball. She set that as a goal for herself and all the outside organizations she has played with since she was seven or eight, until she started with Impact Gold four and half years ago certainly helped. She is the last of Impact Gold’s original group and she is the only one to sign with a Division I school. That’s a pretty big accomplishment,” her mom added.

“Everyone on that team has signed a scholarship to go play somewhere,” Bickerstaff’s dad continued. “We didn’t know much about  the recruiting process – being from a small school – but as we started getting into the college prep and showcase teams, there would be 10, 15 or even 20 college recruiters there watching the girls. They never kept score. They were just looking at the talent and it gave the girls an opportunity to get their names out there.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.