Minnie Wilder : Impacting Thousands of Effingham Students

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Shelia Scott
Tears fill Minnie Wilder’s eyes as she talks about retirement. The 77-year-old Effingham County native admits that being officially retired hasn’t hit her yet. As she shares her life story, it’s easy to understand why this new phase in her life brings with it mixed emotions. She dedicated nearly 48 years of her life in order to have a positive impact on the thousands of students’ lives she touched.
The Good Ole’ Days
If you went to school in Effingham County and rode a school bus, there’s a chance Minnie Wilder was behind the wheel. In 1970, at the advice of her friend, she became a substitute driver and drove pretty much as often as a regular driver. A year later, she was a full-time bus driver. “For my training, I made one big circle on the football field and away I went,” recalls Minnie. She chuckles thinking about that now as she talks about all of the required training that is necessary to drive today.
Back then, Minnie, only 118 pounds, had to improvise in order to drive the school bus. “There was no power steering, there were hydraulic brakes and the steering wheel felt like one of the big tires. I had to have the seat up high to turn the wheel, a block put on the gas pedal to reach it and had the seat completely unbolted and moved forward,” says Minnie. As Minnie flips through a scrapbook she made after retiring, there are pictures of her sitting behind the wheel. The tiny lady with a big smile looks just as happy as can be and even more comfortable. “The buses used to be stick shift and I had to open the door with all my arm strength,” says Minnie. Throughout Minnie’s career, she went through four new buses. Her first new bus was automatic, which was a big step up. The last bus she drove had air conditioning and instead of using her arm to open the door, she just turned a knob.
Making a Difference on the Roads
Spending 48 years on the road, it’s safe to say Minnie is as experienced as they come. She recalls one technique she implemented a long time ago. “I started the tradition of pulling over and letting cars go by. I would see lines of cars behind me, so if I had more than six cars waiting, I would find a safe place to pull over and let the cars pass,” says Minnie. “Cars will try to pass and that could be a danger. Eventually, other bus drivers started doing the same thing and now it’s a rule.”
In Minnie’s scrapbook, there are newspaper clippings of things she’s done in her years as a driver. One article was written 19 years after she started driving. The headline reads, “Bus driver thought fast, avoided wreck.” The story is about the time Minnie used her skills to prevent injuries to her young passengers. She was stopped letting kids off and noticed a truck with a trailer full of produce barreling down the road. She knew the driver wouldn’t be able to stop in time, so she acted fast. She yelled at the kids to cross quickly and pulled to the side of the road. The driver slammed into the stopped cars behind her; however, because of her quick thinking, the cars didn’t slam into the back of her bus.
Other articles mention her trips to the State Capitol to discuss issues related to school bus drivers with state legislators, as well as her participation in Road-eos where Minnie competed against other drivers in a series of bus movements that prepared drivers for the safe transportation of students. She also has plenty of training certificates that highlight her years of dedication. While Minnie spent many hours transporting children, she also was a school bus trainer, passing on her knowledge to other drivers just starting their careers. “The safety features have come a long way. Buses as a whole have come a long way and the changes are impressive,” says Minnie. “As a driver, you have to attend safety meetings once a month, attend defensive driving courses, participate in classroom and on-the-road training, remain CPR certified and have regular physicals.”
Minnie also drove the bus for extracurricular activities to include band and sports. She remembers one time she took kids on a trip to the mountains of Boone, North Carolina, and had to drive in the snow and ice. “While the trip was fun, driving in that weather was not,” Minnie says with a smile.
Making a Difference in the Classroom
If driving a school bus wasn’t enough, Minnie eventually found her way inside the classroom. She spent two years as a substitute teacher before becoming a paraprofessional in the County’s alternative school where she assisted teachers in the classroom. She later started working at Effingham County High School with special needs students. She spent 13 years as a paraprofessional and kept up her duties as a school bus driver. “It was there I became part of the children’s lives. As the years passed, the children I met while subbing in lower grades, started coming up in high school. I even got to attend senior prom with some of the students,” says Minnie. After spending time with these students, an opening became available to drive the special needs bus. Minnie accepted the position and spent 13 years behind the wheel of that bus. For Minnie it came full circle; she drove some of the children of the kids she drove when she first started driving.
“I feel like I made an impact and a difference. When you pick up a child, you don’t know how their life is at home. When they step on board, you can make their day by just saying good morning,” says Minnie. She says it was the same thing in the afternoons when students headed home from school. “The kids may have had a bad day and I was there to talk to them. Many would give me a hug and I would help take their minds off whatever was going on.”
Plans for the Future
As Minnie reminisces about her highly successful career and the joys she experienced over the years, she can’t help but think about the future. The retiree has big plans and they don’t include slowing down. She has three children, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, a cat and a dog who will keep her plenty busy. “I love to spend time with my family and I enjoy being outdoors. I love camping, fishing, kayaking, bicycling, quilting and riding my four-wheeler,” Minnie says with a big smile. At 70, she bought herself the four-wheeler and last year she bought a new Volkswagen Beetle. “Now I feel like if I want to take a trip, I can fill up and hit the road,” says Minnie with a big smile.
While she talks about the fun she plans on having, she admits she has another plan for retirement. “I have everything I need so that I can still substitute on the special needs bus if they ever need me,” adds Minnie. “When I told the kids I was retiring, they didn’t want me to. I told them they may see me again.” That will likely be the case. While Minnie may have hung up her full-time keys, she still has a spark and a desire to get behind the wheel. After all, the thrill of spending nearly half a century doing what you love doesn’t go away overnight.

Putting Heart and Soul Into A Masterpiece : Cathy Heidt

story by Kelly Harley      photos by Shelia Scott

Tucked behind her house in Effingham County sits Cathy Heidt’s shop; you could even call it her little piece of paradise. The big red shed is filled with all of the tools she needs to create what many call unique masterpieces. The walls are lined with sheets of tin, aluminum, old shovels, gas cans, saws, big oil drum lids and pretty much any other metal you can cut. Some may look at these items as rusted or worn out tools, but to Cathy they are her canvases. Eight years ago, Cathy learned to run a handheld plasma cutter machine. That’s when she discovered her passion for making handmade creations and hasn’t stopped since. While she doesn’t call her hobby a business, Tin Signs & Backyard Creations has definitely grown over the years, and despite her humble demeanor, her products are in demand.

How She Creates 

     Cathy’s approach to plasma cutting is one she has down to a science. Self-taught by reading the tricks of the trade and making plenty of mistakes, it’s safe to call her an expert. She’s very disciplined in her approach and is adamant that safety comes first. Before she even begins cutting any piece of metal, she spends nearly a half hour doing maintenance on her equipment to ensure it is properly working. The plasma cutter runs on 220 volts of electricity and the heat coming out is 20,000 degrees. She has to check for any moisture in the compressor and air lines because if there is any, she could stand the chance of being electrocuted.

     She also dresses the part when she begins cutting. “My clothes can’t have any frays. I have to wear heavy work pants and pants with no cuffs,” says Cathy. “I also wear leather shoes, a mask and eye protection.”

     Cathy, who describes herself as a simple person, exudes simplicity while she works. The table she cuts on is actually an old cabinet that she added wheels and blocks to make it the height she needed. It’s only about 3 feet by 2 feet; however, Cathy insists that’s all she needs. Offers to make her a new, bigger table have come, but Cathy’s mentality is if it isn’t broke, why fix it. If you watch her work, you’ll see has everything she needs to make beautiful pieces of art. Fancy isn’t a necessity.

An Artistic Eye from the Beginning  

     During her younger years, Cathy recalls the love she had working with her hands. As a child, she had very few toys and spent most of her time in her father’s shop playing with tools. Her father, who was a machinist, always let her and her brothers learn how to do things. “My dad placed no restrictions on the fact that I was female,” says Cathy. “He believed in equal opportunity and instilled a great work ethic in us. I never heard him say you can’t do something.”

     Cathy says she was also given a gift by God and that gift is to draw. “If I can see it in my head, I can transpose it on paper,” says Cathy. When Cathy creates a sign or a design on a shovel or saw, she hand draws it. Her drawing tool of choice is white chalk. If she messes up, she simply uses her hand to erase it and starts over. While many other sign cutters use computers to map out their designs, Cathy won’t ever go that route. “Lines don’t have to be perfectly straight, that is what makes my creations unique,” says Cathy. “With computer-based drawings, everyone gets the same design. With my hand-drawn creations, even if I draw the same thing, no two are alike. Something is always different.”

A Passion for Creativity 

     Cathy proudly displays the very first sign she created on her barn wall; it’s a smiling sunshine. Her daughter later asked her to cut a friend’s monogram in a piece of old tin for a bridal shower decoration. From that creation, people quickly started asking her to make signs for them. Every sign she creates is done in her free time. She works full time as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Effingham Hospital, where she’s been for 20 years. She works in the emergency room and admits some days are stressful and sad. While she loves her job, there are days when she needs to come home and decompress; that’s when she retreats to her red shed and cranks up her machine. “The machine gives me the time and solitude and I feel like I’m in a whole other world.”

     In 2014, Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer and used her creations to get her through the treatments. After beating cancer, Cathy made a sign for herself. It reads, “Lord let me live every day as the gift that it is.” It’s one sign that Cathy says she “retired,” meaning she won’t ever make another one like it.

Design with Meaning 

     Like her sign she made for herself after beating breast cancer, there are plenty of other creations Cathy won’t recreate. These particular signs or creations are ones she makes for people and ones that have meaning behind them. People will call her and say I have an old saw or piece of tin I found in my grandfather’s shed and I would like for you to create a design on it. To Cathy, those are the ones that matter most. “When I can find those people and they get to save a piece of their history, they almost get tearful. That’s what it is all about,” says Cathy.

     Cathy also uses her talent to help local organizations. One in particular is the organization CURE Childhood Cancer. Each year she donates a sign to the Savannah, Statesboro and Springfield banquets to be auctioned off. One sign raised over $400 dollars for the organization. She also donates signs to Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center and The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society. “My God-given gift to draw and cut these signs is a blessing,” says Cathy. “A Higher Power gave me this ability and this is a way I can pay it forward.”

Always a Hobby, Never a Business 

     Cathy says business has really picked up in the past two years, mostly by word of mouth and people seeing her work. She does very little advertising and she doesn’t care to attend craft shows and festivals. She doesn’t want it to be about the money and she definitely doesn’t want it to feel like work. While she said it’s not like work, Cathy definitely pours her heart and soul into her passion. When she gets a day to cut, she will spend all day in her red shed, bringing her ideas (and those of others) to life. Her shed has no air conditioner and she uses several fans to keep cool and ventilate her space, yet she never complains. The joy she can bring to others and to herself beats having a fancy shop filled with the latest and greatest technologies.

     Over the years, it would be hard to estimate how many hours she’s devoted to her hobby. She has photo albums filled with all of the wonderful pieces she has created. If you flip through the pages of each album, you’ll notice one thing; each of Cathy’s creation is unique and each one has meaning, especially for those they are made for. “I love being able to take something that doesn’t look very nice and make it look pretty. I like to try everything I can,” says Cathy.

     And try she does. Each creation is an inspiration. It proves that using what God gave you and putting it to good use can make a difference. Cathy’s passion is certainly a driving force behind her own happiness and the happiness she brings to others.

     To see some of Cathy’s creations, you can visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/customtinsigns/.

CHRIS SHEA : Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year


Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you know it’s not an easy job. Even if you haven’t ever stepped foot on one, you can likely imagine the time and energy that goes into maintaining one. It involves manual labor. It depends on the weather, which could affect grain prices and ultimately your crops.  Chris Shea knows that farming requires a certain type of work ethic. “When you have a farm, you always have something to do. It’s not a 9-to-5 job, you have to work around the clock, even on weekends,” says Chris.

     Chris should know. He owns two farms, one in Effingham County and one in Statesboro, Georgia. The Effingham County-native, with his family, started the 80-acre cow farm 15 years ago and now raises 75 cows. He lives on the farm and between him and his family, they do all the work. They farm the hay for the cows and feed them. His daughters, ages 17 and 11, also play an active role on the farm. “It’s enjoyable. It takes time, but it’s valuable time,” adds Chris. They raise the calves and sell them when they get around six to eight months old, usually at a cattle auction in Swainsboro, Georgia.

     Chris’s other farm in Statesboro is a 243-acre longleaf pine farm. He started that farm about a year ago as a business opportunity. He sells the pine straw for people to use for things such as flower beds and then cuts the timber off the mature trees. Chris offers advice for someone considering farming, “If you have a passion, go after it. Do what you love.”

     That’s exactly what Chris is doing. His passion for farming, cows and the outdoors started at a young age. He calls himself a normal country boy who grew up hunting and fishing. When he attended Effingham County High School, he participated in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization. FFA was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928 with the mission to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population.  The program teaches that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting – it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.

     While Chris participated in the program, one of the highlights for him was showing cows. He raised the Red Angus cows that he showed. He participated in local fairs and competitions. He says being part of FFA taught him responsibility and he built lasting relationships with other people who had similar interests, interests that his daughters now share. Both are part of the FFA program and they, too, show cows. “It’s really rewarding as a father to see my daughters do this. I help them with the cows and spend great quality time with them. I even teach them some tricks I know,” says Chris.

     Chris isn’t just a farmer, he’s also a businessman. After graduating high school in 1999, he attended Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton, Georgia. He then transferred to Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia, and graduated with a business degree. From there his love of buying and selling heavy equipment took off.

     “I’ve always bought and sold tractors and backhoes with my father, so in 2004, I went to work for Low Country Machinery,” says Chris. After working as a salesman at Low Country Machinery selling JCB equipment for 12 years, Chris worked his way through the ranks and, in 2016, decided to purchase the dealership. In addition to owning Low Country Machinery, he also owns the subsidiary businesses of Low Country JCB, Low Country Massey Ferguson and Low Country Kubota in Statesboro. Since 2016, Chris says his companies have doubled and he now employees 48 people. Chris says every day is different and he enjoys meeting new people.   “Customers are looking to me for advice on what kind of equipment to buy,” says Chris. “It makes me feel good that they put their trust in me. Some people work their whole lives to buy one tractor.”

     Chris’ hard work pays off, not only personally, but professionally. In 2017, Chris was honored by being named Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year. The award was presented to him at the 2017 Effingham County Young Farmers Annual Awards Banquet at Ebenezer Retreat Center by Georgia State Representative Jon Burns. Ironically, Chris worked for   Jon at a feed store while he was in college.  The award isn’t something you apply for, you have to be nominated. “I was totally shocked when I received the award. I thought we were there for my daughter who was getting an award for showing cows,” says Chris. He says the award means the world to him because he went from loading bags at Ijon Webb’s feed store at age 14 to owning his own company.

     As a farmer and business owner, he is very aware of the changes in the farming industry and Chris says the farming industry is constantly evolving. Tractors are becoming automated and are equipped with GPS, auto steer and auto spray. He says the smaller farmers are fading out and bigger farmers are coming in. He credits that change to cost in equipment. “A lot of smaller farms are teaming up with other smaller farms in order to share equipment cost,” says Chris. “One farmer might have a cotton picker and the other a combine and they will help each other out. It takes teamwork to keep smaller farmers going.”

     Chris doesn’t come from a family of farmers. He learned the trade just by being around friends that had farms and working at the feed store. Of course, FFA played an invaluable role in preparing Chris for what he’s doing now. Chris recommends everyone find something they enjoy doing, especially when it comes to children. “I think everyone should learn a trade. Kids sit behind a shut door and play video games or text on their phones,” says Chris. “If we want to occupy the time of the younger generation, we need to teach them how to do something.”

     If you spend enough time with Chris, you might find his passion for farming and helping others achieve their success in farming may rub off on you. If it’s not farming, it could be his genuine interests in helping his customers or his passion for working hard every day.

3 Year Old Piper Hill Battles Cerebral Palsy

3 Year Old Piper Hill Battles Cerebral Palsy

story by Karlee Collins  photos by Tonya Perry

Everybody falls in love with Piper. She’s just so happy,” says Debbie Floyd of her three-year-old granddaughter Piper Hill. Piper is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy Spastic Quadriplegia, which means she lacks muscle control in all four limbs. In addition to her CP, Piper has CVI which is Cortical Vision Impairment and Epilepsy, and due to these diagnoses, she has  significant global developmental delays, which means she is behind in all areas of development that the average toddler should be able to perform. Piper and her big sister, Caralina, are being raised by their grandma, Debbie. Debbie works full-time and is fully responsible for Piper’s care. She gets to see Piper for the beautiful girl that she is. “I like to say her little body is broken but her spirit is fully intact. She is such a happy baby. She, in her little three years, has taught me so much about life and living and love,” she shares.

     “Unless something is hurting her or she’s hungry, then she’s laughing,” Debbie says. “She loves music, any kind of music really, but her favorite is praise and worship.” When Piper hears music, she stops what she is doing and directs all her smiling attention to the sounds. Despite her issues with her vision, she enjoys watching music videos too and tries to stay focused on them the best that she can.

     When it comes to play time with her sister and cousins, she loves to be tickled. “She loves for them to come up and tickle her. They can just make the sounds and touch her like they’re going to tickle her and she will laugh,” Debbie explains.

     The only thing that really makes Piper upset is when she is hungry! “She would make the perfect participant on a Snickers Hangry commercial. You let her get to that point where she’s just beyond hungry and she’s ‘hangry,’ she’s going to scream,” laughs Debbie. As long as mangos are not on her menu, then she is going to be satisfied with anything she’s given. “She does love her vegetables,” says Debbie. “But we all love vegetables.”

     Each week Piper attends multiple therapies to help her grow and develop and stay healthy. “She’s getting Speech Therapy and they are working on trying to get her to say the sounds because she is nonverbal,” shares Debbie.“She makes her little sounds, but she doesn’t say any kind of words or even try to form words.” Her biggest form of communication is her laughter, but her therapist is working on increasing her sounds. She participates in two types of Occupational Therapy. With one therapist, they work on reaching and purposeful movement. With another therapist, she is working on feeding and working on chewing. Right now, Piper’s diet is strictly purees. To round out her therapies, Piper gets Physical Therapy to help keep her little body moving.

     This year, Piper started three year old preschool. “She’s going to school two days a week for a half a day. That is a good start,” Debbie says. At school, she receives some of the same therapies that she is already working on and gets to play and learn with some awesome teachers. “This past week the teacher said that they were working on animal sounds, and Piper was loving the animal sounds. The teacher sent me a picture of her with a huge smile on her face,” Debbie says. “And my little baby is riding the bus!” The days of school are already encouraging for Debbie. Piper is getting extra support from those who are working with her at school, and the activity and busyness of a half school day seems to be helping with the insomnia that she battles. Her little brain is so active from her epilepsy that Piper struggles to sleep at night. “Her neurologist said that her neurons are just firing all the time and she has a hard time shutting her brain off. Some nights she just lays there and plays, but some nights you can tell she just wants to go to sleep so bad and can’t.” says Debbie. For a grandma to see her baby struggle to sleep, it can be heartbreaking. Debbie is thankful for school and hopes the pattern continues where busy school days lead to nights of good rest for Piper.

     Debbie is a single parent to Piper and her sister. She shares that there are not any support groups in our area that are specifically related to families facing Cerebral Palsy. “All the support groups around here are either for Autism or Down Syndrome,” she says. “CP is such a large diagnosis.”

     Many that are diagnosed with CP may only have issues with one body part and it may not be an obvious struggle. Others, like Piper, have difficulty in many areas and the CP affects all parts of her life. For a family that is dealing with CP, a network of help and support is so needed. Fortunately for Piper and Debbie, the Effingham County   Navigators have welcomed them into their support group. Although this group is not targeted to families dealing with CP, it has been a blessing to Debbie. “We’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from that group. It’s just a monthly meeting that you go to and then they have events that you can go to. They had a Christmas party in December,” she says. “It was pretty cool.”

     CP is a broad diagnosis and the awareness about CP is much less than other disabilities. For Piper and Debbie, the need for greater awareness in our area is great, and Debbie hopes that by sharing Piper’s story people will see the need to seek out and support Piper and others that are battling this lesser known disability.

     Currently, Debbie’s mission is to raise the funds necessary to purchase a handicap van to assist in transporting Piper to her many doctor’s appointments and therapies. “I’m only five foot three, and she’s already three feet tall. It’s just only going to get harder and we know it’s going to take us a while to come up with this money, and that’s why we’re starting now,” she says. “It’s getting to the point where we just need to be able to transport her.” Right now, Debbie moves Piper from her car seat to her wheel chair and back in again every time they need to go somewhere. During cold or rainy weather, this difficult process becomes more taxing, and as Piper continues to grow, it will be nearly impossible for Debbie to go through this process. A better mode of transportation is necessary in order for Debbie to leave Piper in her chair and roll her straight into the van, but a handicap van comes with a 50,000 dollar price tag. The fundraising has begun, and they are just shy of 3,000 dollars.

     Piper’s story can be followed on her Facebook page, “Prayers for Princess Piper.” There, information can be found to donate toward her handicap van via GoFundMe and get involved with upcoming fundraisers. The page will be carrying information about a Boston Butt sale in honor of Piper’s van fund that will take place March 30-31. As a community, Effingham should rally around Piper and be aware of the needs of those that battle a Cerebral Palsy diagnosis.

Josh Reddick: Effingham’s Mr. October

story by Julie Hales

photos by Andrew Yousse, Photographer for Houston Astros

You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

                                                                                              ~Jim Bouton


     Baseball surely has a grip on Josh Reddick. For the most part, it’s had a grip on him his entire life. Josh started playing T-Ball in Effingham when he was only 4 years old. Now, at age 30, he is still ‘in the game.’

     Kenny and Cheryl Reddick really didn’t know what to expect when their five year old son told them he wanted to play in the Major Leagues. Most parents would brush that off as a childhood whim, but these parents didn’t do that.

     Cheryl shares, “We supported him in every way we could. We wanted to make sure he had every opportunity to succeed.” Kenny coached Josh and his team mates in the county recreation department and they paid his way to gain more experience through travel ball.

     Josh then played high school ball for the South Effingham Mustangs under the leadership of Coach Kirkland, a man he admires and admits helped him find success on the ball field.

     Middle Georgia College was his next stop in his baseball career. Josh was named Region XVII Junior College Player of the Year during his short time there. As a freshman outfielder, he led the conference with a .461 batting average, he scored 57 runs on 89 hits, seven of which were homeruns and had 33 RBI’s…not bad for a college freshman.

     In 2006, Josh Reddick was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 17th round of the MLB Draft. Yes, MLB stands for Major League Baseball.  This guy’s dream was coming true.

     In 2011, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics where he played right field for his first full year in the majors. “It was a different team with different dynamics. It was very different from Minor League baseball,” says Josh about his beginning experiences with the Oakland A’s.

     But, he adapted very well. It was here, in 2012, that Josh won the Golden Glove Award.

     In 2016, Josh found himself being traded again…next home…Los Angeles. As a Dodger, Josh was immediately headed to the playoffs.  He loved playing with them and there was a much larger excitement level there than he had experienced in Oakland.

     But, his time in LA was short lived…Josh found himself being a free agent.  However, his free-agency was very short lived.  He says, “Houston came calling pretty quickly.” This made the transition a very smooth one for our favorite right fielder.

     It was in Houston where Josh continued to flourish and his Major League career reached new heights.  Here, OUR major leaguer accomplished the dream every little leaguer dreams about…Josh Reddick is now a World Series Champion!


     Anyone who knows him knows there is a little boy lurking somewhere within the man.  There aren’t many professional ball players that have as much fun as Josh Reddick. He will be the first one to tell you that he likes to make it fun…whether it be Spiderman climbing the fence to steal a homerun or his love for wrestling that has traveled with him wherever he goes…even to his new home, now better known by Reddick fans as “Wooston,” he is having fun.

    And, that man remembers where he came from and what it was like to be that little boy with big aspirations.

     “Winning the World Series is a childhood dream come true.  That’s any kid’s dream as a five year old in the backyard putting that scenario through their head of game 7 of the World Series, and going through the motions in the back yard of winning it. Being able to live through that is something I feel is the accomplishment of my childhood dream,” he shares.

     Most people in Effingham County have followed his career.  Many watched him play as a child in the recreation league, others followed his high school career and on to college.  Some may have only started following him when he was picked up in the MLB draft.  But, whenever they became a fan, they remained a fan.

     As a fan, they all experienced the excitement of watching him play in the big leagues and making it to the World Series. They shared in the excitement of every inning of every game.  But, no one can imagine the excitement Josh himself was feeling.

     When the series came down to game 7, the excitement turned into anxiety for many.  But, the Houston Astros proved to us all they were indeed the best team in the nation. Josh shares, “I was so excited.  My heart was racing the entire 9th inning. I remember sitting in the dugout next to Carlos Beltran, who had just recently retired. Knowing that he wouldn’t be back and being able to experience something like that with him, it being my first one and his first one in such a different age group, it was just amazing. My heart was racing. There was just so much excitement. I don’t think I have ever sprinted as fast my whole life as I did onto that field when that last out was made.”

     When Josh was asked what it felt like to be a World Series champ, he shares, “It feels really great.  I am trying to find special words to explain it. Awesome is the word I keep going back to.  Being able to hold that World Series trophy and knowing I am going to be able to bring it to Effingham for a few days. To be able to share that with my hometown is going to be something that I am going to enjoy and hopefully bring some smiles around the county as well. I want to be able to share it with the hometown that I love so much and try to help out as much as I can, the town that gives me so much back to me personally.  It is just going to be a special moment.”

     Josh is very close to his family. This man knows, and loves, his roots. Having his family at the World Series was very important to him. “I couldn’t imagine it without them.  To be in my first World Series, to have all my family around, my best friend and my girlfriend, all my loved ones, to be able to experience this with them, whether win or lose, it showed how much support I had.  I really wanted them all to be there. I can still look back to before I was in the big leagues, to when I was playing travel ball and when I was in the minors,  they all came to watch me play and supported  me and I felt they all deserved to be there. They all helped me get to where I am today,” he says.

     On his first trip home after the series, Josh was surprised with a huge pep rally at South Effingham High School.  Coaches, family, students, county officials and others were there to show their support. He says, “I was shocked. I was told to come to the high school and I really didn’t know why or what to expect.  Knowing Trey (President of the Josh Reddick Foundation), there’s not really much you don’t expect.  The sky is the limit with him. I know how crazy he can be and how crazy this foundation can be. I was very thankful for what the people at South Effingham High did for me. To be supported like that as a high school alumni there, made me feel really special.”


     Since its inception in 2014, the Josh Reddick Foundation has been on a mission to advocate for the youth of Effingham County with a focus on supporting students, preserving recreational parks and helping those in need.

     The Foundation hosts all charitable events in Effingham County and the money raised is given back to the community.  Portions of all money raised go toward the recreation departments as well as the sheriff’s office, fire departments, animal shelter, the Manna house, the Treutlan House and others.

     The Foundation also gives money back to the Board of Education by being a platinum level sponsor to both Effingham County High and South Effingham High.  They also gave money to each elementary school this year and have plans to give to each middle school in the Effingham School District.

     In July, the Foundation started accepting nominations for “The Josh Reddick Athlete of the Month.” The first winner was recognized in August and the contest is open to any athlete residing in Effingham County from 6th grade up.

     Athletics are not the only focus of the Foundation.  Each year, the organization awards four graduating seniors, one male and one female from each high school, a $1000 college scholarship for academic excellence.

     Josh’s desire to give back to this community has remained evident in everything he does. The Foundation is an avenue where he can continue to do this. When speaking about the Foundation, Josh shares, “In the off season, it means everything to me.  To be able to come back and run a few events and be able to give back to this county that I love so much is important to me.  I just really enjoy trying to help this county to improve  on what we  already have. If there is any way I can help, to kind of leave my mark, it makes me feel good inside to give back. This is where I got my start, this is where it all began.  I feel like I have to give back to it, to be able to help the next generation as much as I can. We are all supposed to leave it better for the ones behind us.”


     With Houston having suffered so much devastation from the hurricane earlier this year, the World Series title was something each player desperately wanted to bring home.  Even with it being Josh’s first year in Houston, he still found himself on the streets and in the neighborhoods doing what he could to help these victims…that is the Josh Reddick Effingham County has grown to love.

     This man is always giving.  And, his biggest gift is going to be something absolutely amazing for all of Effingham County.

     The groundbreaking ceremony for the Josh Reddick Field was recently held at the new Clarence E. Morgan Sports Complex in Springfield.  This field is being built with a gift of one million dollars by Josh so that all the youth of Effingham will have a place to play.

     This will be a turf field which is being built to be accessible to children with special needs.  Josh feels like every child in our community should have the same opportunities to play, to live their dream.

     One of the most important messages Josh wanted to relay in this story was his thanks to Effingham County for all their support of him throughout his career.  Well Josh, we want to thank you for all you do for the people in Effingham County!

Winston Hencely : Soldier and Survivor

Story By Kathryn Vandenhouten     Photos By Nelson

Winston Hencely doesn’t consider himself a hero. He says he was just doing his job. He never imagined a confrontation with a suicide bomber would leave him struggling to survive. He’s still on the road to recovery, but the Effingham soldier is defying expectations at every turn.

     In November of 2016, the ECHS graduate was an army specialist soon to be promoted to sergeant when he was nearly killed. He recalls knowing instinctively that something was wrong that day. Unlike most Afghan Nationals, the man looked mean and out of place, so Hencely approached him.

     “If I see something, I’m going to say something,” he says. When the man ignored Hencely after questioning him, he grabbed the man’s shoulders from behind, and that’s when he felt the vest. “He blew up right next to me.”

     The explosion killed five people and injured sixteen. Four died onsite and another succumbed to injuries later. Hencely suffered a penetrating traumatic brain injury and multiple shrapnel wounds. “Shrapnel went in the front of my forehead and lodged eight bone fragments in the frontal lobe, and the shrapnel is still back between the occipital lobes,” he says.

     He then lifts his shirt to show a large scar across his chest where he was cut open to remove even more shrapnel from his body. Immediately after the incident, a large piece of his skull was removed due to brain swelling.

     Most people celebrate their twenty-first birthdays by going out on the town; Hencely spent his 21st birthday getting a metal plate in his head.

     His mother, Vicki Hencely, says she remembers the day of the bombing like it was yesterday.” I was sitting here, and I was watching the news, and ticker tape went across the screen and it said ‘Suicide bomber on Bagram in Afghanistan kills 4 and injures 17,’” she recalls.

     When she couldn’t reach her son by phone, friends tried to assure her that she would have gotten a call if something had happened to Winston. Twelve hours later, she got a call from Fort Hood, Texas that confirmed her fears. “I just had that gut feeling. Just that uneasiness. That feeling that something wasn’t right,” she says.

     When her son arrived to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., doctors had to prepare her for what she was about to see. “It was hard to walk in and see him on life support and the machines breathing for him, and he’s just shaking because the part of the brain that controls body temperature was damaged so they couldn’t control his body temp,” she says. “It was horrible.”

     Miraculously, Hencely woke up from his coma and never looked back. Doctors said he would be paralyzed on his left side, likely never to walk again. Hencely had other plans. “I made a decision early on,” he explains. “I could’ve easily given up and just be in the bed the rest of my life. Have somebody feed me, change me-I could’ve, but what quality of life is that?”

     So he did what any soldier would do; he fought. After months in the hospital and multiple surgeries, he never stopped fighting, and his hard work has paid off. “They told me that I wouldn’t walk. Six months later I was walking. They told me that I wouldn’t run-what next?” says Hencely.

     If there’s one thing he loves, it’s proving people wrong when they say he can’t do something. “I use a lot of that as motivation,” he explains. “Sometimes you just get dealt a really bad hand. Whining about it doesn’t make your situation any better.”

     It is that determination that has gotten him this far. He still has a long way to go on his road to recovery, but after multiple surgeries, months of hospitalization, and ongoing therapy, he is proud of how far he’s come.

     “I’ll never be the same as I was, and I’ve accepted that,” he says. His mental scars will last as long as his physical ones. Since the explosion, Hencely has suffered from post traumatic stress and anxiety. The constant fear of danger is never far from his mind.

     Fortunately, a service dog, Loki, was donated to Hencely to ease his anxiety, and the two are now inseparable. “It’s just nice to have something you can talk to that doesn’t talk back but still shows some sort of love for you,” he says.

     The love and support from the community has been overwhelming as well. Hencely and his family were amazed at the homecoming he received in Rincon when he came back. Hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome him home. There are still yellow ribbons lining the road to his home, put up by friends and neighbors to honor him.

     “I’ve never seen so many people come together,” he says. “I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers and everything they’ve done for me.”  The homecoming parade, get well cards, and thousands of well-wishes on social media shows the overwhelming support he’s received from family, friends, and the entire community.

     “Americans don’t know how good they have it, that’s for sure,” say Hencely. “It’s nice being back in America.” If there is one thing he has learned from his brush with death, it is gratitude. In fact, he says the whole experience has made him a better person.

     “It took all this happening to me to realize I don’t deserve anything,” says Hencely. “I’m really more open minded now. I value my life a lot more.”

     He wears a memorial bracelet with the names of those who died that day. It reminds him how lucky he is to be alive, and he vows to do something great with his second chance at life. “I have that with me because they didn’t get the chance to live and I did,” he says. “It’s really hard. Every day is a struggle for sure. My body’s getting better, but I have a lot that I need to work on to mentally overcome.”

     He still struggles with survivor’s guilt, but he is more focused on the future than the past. “There’s a lot I want to do,” Hencely says. “I want to focus on something in neurology or neuroscience. I have a lot of interest in that and I’ve learned a lot.”

     Along with his many coins, awards, and his Purple Heart, he has an exact replica of his skull with a hole in it the size of a fist. To see it is to truly realize how lucky he is to be alive.

     Hencely’s motto is “make the rest of your life the best of your life.” No matter how cliche it may sound, he believes he is here for a reason and he plans to live life to the fullest.

     “There’s a lot more in store. I have big plans. Be patient with me. I love the support and I plan on giving back,” he says. One of the causes that have become even more dear to the Hencely’s is the Adopt A US Soldier program, which connects supportive civilians to deployed soldiers.

     Hencely himself spent months in the hospital, and his mother and grandmother never left his side. Other soldiers are not so lucky. “Walter Reed took a part of my soul away,” says Vicki Hencely. “You can’t visit a facility like that and walk away whole.”

     She says the image of sick and injured soldiers with no family was heartbreaking, which is why the Adopt A US Soldier program is so important. “It’s our young kids missing two arms, missing both their legs and don’t have anybody. Their mom’s not there. Their dad’s not there. Their family’s not there,” she adds.

     Luckily, Winston had strong family and community support throughout his entire ordeal. In fact, he says that waking up to see his family there gave him the encouragement he needed to get well. “That was key to my recovery,” he adds. “Waking up and having my family there.”

     In addition to supportive family and friends, he also gives credit to the staff at Effingham County Hospital, where he continues physical therapy. Little by little, he is regaining strength and mobility.

     Winston Hencely will never be the same person he was before he was injured, but maybe he wasn’t meant to be. And though he doesn’t like being called a hero, this soldier’s battle to recover has made one thing certain: he is a fighter.

The Josh Reddick Foundation Lending A Hand In Effingham County

story by Tessa DeMeyer     photos by Nelson LaPorte

For most of the year, Josh Reddick is 954 miles from home, but due to an organization he created that strives to give back to the county, Effingham residents feel like the hometown hero never left. Since its inception in 2014, the Josh Reddick Foundation has been on a mission to advocate for the youth of Effingham County with a focus on supporting students, preserving recreational parks and helping those in need. These efforts are spearheaded by Josh and the foundation’s president, Trey Saxon. With the help of a knowledgeable board of directors and countless volunteers, the two organize multiple events every year that improve various aspects of the county.

“We try to do all the events here in Effingham, and all the money raised is given back to the county,” Trey said. Portions of all proceeds acquired go toward the rec departments as well as “the fire department, K9 Units, the animal shelter, the Manna House and the Treutlen House.” The foundation is a “platinum level corporate sponsor” for Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School with future plans to make $250 donations to the physical education programs of every elementary and middle school in the Effingham County School District.

Perhaps the most well-known of all the foundation’s functions is the charity concert held annually at Freedom Park. The family-friendly mini country music festival, which has featured food vendors, face painting and inflatable attractions in the past, will return for a fourth year in late January or early February 2018, and the foundation plans to continue its tradition of working collaboratively with other nonprofit organizations in order to disperse the profits around the community.

In addition to the highly-anticipated concert, the foundation hosts a home run derby which directly benefits Effingham. The derby will remain at Sandhill Ballpark for the seventh consecutive year, and though the event always welcomes anyone who wants to step up to the plate, Josh hopes to see some new faces at the seventh installment of the competition. “Girls can participate in the derby! It’s always [been open to] boys and girls, but we never have girls show up. We would love to have females in it as well.” In the past, an annual charity golf tournament was held at local courses, most recently Lost Plantation Golf Club, but will not return in favor of more inclusive events.

In late July, the foundation began accepting nominations for their “Athlete of the Month” contest with the first winner being recognized in August. Open to Effingham athletes in the sixth grade and older, the winner will be presented with a certificate and a gift card from one of the organization’s local sponsors. Another new event set to make its debut later this year is a 5K.

“Run the Town with Reddick,” coined by Trey, will be held in November, and competitors will race through Springfield in pursuit of prizes awarded at the finish line.

Athletics aren’t Josh’s only concern, nor are they the sole focus of his foundation. Each year, the organization encourages students to pursue higher education by awarding four graduating seniors, one male and one female from both high schools, who displayed academic excellence with a $1,000 college scholarship. Josh also emphasizes the importance of reading by visiting local elementary schools for storytime. Most recently, he stopped by South Effingham Elementary and Springfield Elementary to share a story with fifth graders.

In June, Josh brought smiles to more children when he and Trey visited patients at Memorial University Medical Center, and the foundation later supported Zach Norton, a young man with a rare form of cancer, during his Celebration of Life Event. Earlier in the year, the foundation sponsored Zach and three other boys battling cancer by donating $1,000 as well as additional items to their families to help cover medical expenses.

With the MLB season in full swing, the foundation consistently works to sustain the connection between their namesake and the county they serve. Though plans have not yet been finalized, Josh revealed that he “wants to work in another [charity] event during the season” to maintain involvement despite being in Houston. Dedicated board members like Vice President Brian Coulter, Treasurer Jan Landing and Secretary Donna Shepard along with the help of the two newest additions, Productions Coordinator Donald Oliver and Media Specialist Julie Hales, ensure that the Josh Reddick Foundation and its positive impact on Effingham will continue to grow.

The future of the organization looks promising, and Trey has confidence that it will continue to expand and improve with time. “Considering the age of the foundation, I think it’s off to a great start. Great things are definitely in store for us.”

To keep up with all upcoming events and developments, like the Josh Reddick Foundation page on Facebook or check out http://www.joshreddickfoundation.org.

Chandler Fritts Young Gun, Old Ways

Story By: David Pena

Photography By: Shelia Scott

Local country crooner Chandler Fritts would rather stick to his roots than follow the current musical crowd.


Musician Chandler Fritts has always been something of an anomaly. The recent Georgia Southern graduate says he doesn’t really listen to the radio much, preferring instead to listen to more “traditional” country music like Merle Haggard and George Jones. And with his easy, self-deprecating manner, he is quick to downplay his own abilities, opting to let his music speak for itself. Ah, if that attitude could only be bottled and sold to today’s artists. And although Fritts is not a huge fan of any of today’s country crooners, he feels that all artists should have the same basic goal in mind: to convey a genuine emotion to the listener. “Music has always been about ‘feel’ to me. A musician should try to convey to the audience exactly how they feel, while at the same time trying to evoke the same feelings in them,” says Fritts. “All the songs I play are true to who I am; that’s why I picked them to begin with. The first time I heard (each song), they had an immediate impact on me. That’s what I’m about, and that’s what I want my audience to experience with me.”

Aside from attending GSU in Statesboro, the twenty-three-year-old musician has always called Rincon his home and remembers getting bitten by the musical bug quite early in life. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been musically inclined,” Fritts recalls. “I started out playing percussion in my middle school band and just went on to a full drum set from there. I practiced every chance I could at home.” Being more of an athlete, however, Fritts soon abandoned the drums for the grid iron. “After about the eighth grade, I really didn’t have too much time to play (drums) since I started playing a lot of sports in high school. Once he graduated, however, Fritts had something of a musical epiphany. “After I finished high school, I pretty much decided out of nowhere that I wanted to learn to play the guitar,” he says with a laugh. So he bought his first guitar before leaving Rincon to attend the University of North Georgia in Athens.

Despite the new and exciting change of scenery, the move to Athens actually helped Fritts as a musician. “There wasn’t much to do there, so I ended up playing a lot of guitar on my own. I’ve never needed any kind of music lessons because once I figured out the chords, I picked the guitar up pretty quickly. In fact, I started playing complete songs about three or four months after starting to play, and it just progressed from there.”

After playing guitar for only about six months, Fritts started to also develop his voice, so it was only a matter of time before he could play and sing songs well enough to perform for others. When he started developing his repertoire, Fritts didn’t have to look far to find musical selections that reflected both his taste and style; all he really had to do was break out the family record collection. “My parents and my grandparents really influenced me in terms of the music I listen to, especially my Papa. I know it’s kind of strange, but I really don’t listen to the radio. That’s because I grew up loving traditional country music with folks like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings,” he explains. “But at my gigs I’ll throw in the occasional Alan Jackson song for good measure.”

After changing his major from agriculture to business, Fritts decided to attend Georgia Southern University, which was also closer to home. It was actually upon moving back that he started taking his music a bit more seriously.  “At first I did a few open mics before opening for local groups around Statesboro. I really just wanted to get my name out there. But beginning in my sophomore year (2013), I started playing professionally at venues like Retrievers Sports Bar, where I played my first real gig.” Despite having the butterflies that night, the young singer quickly knew he had found a calling once his first song was underway. “I got up there in front of my friends, which made it a bit easier. However, once I started playing the first song, I just felt a giant release of all my nerves. That’s when I knew that I was meant to do this. Soon I moved on to places like the Millhouse and RumRunner’s, where the audience response was amazing.”

About a year into his musical career, Fritts got involved with William Bridwell of Airbound Entertainment. That’s when he says his number of bookings increased dramatically. “I was playing three or four shows a week. After a while, it was a bit much, and I actually had to turn down gigs.” Although the number of gigs might have decreased, Fritts found himself playing to bigger audiences in more upscale venues. This culminated with an opening slot for national recording artist Corey Smith at South City Tavern in Statesboro. Around that time Fritts joined forces with guitarist Riley Lowery, who’d just returned from Nashville where he had been working steadily as a lead guitarist. “He’s such a fantastic musician and has become a really good friend. I was really lucky to get him,” Fritts says.

The pair played as a duo for few months until they picked up a drummer, then finally hired a bassist to round out their sound. The band played its first show during the opening week of school in 2016 to rave reviews. And although Fritts says he prefers performing with a band, there’s a new kind of pressure that accompanies making music with others. “It’s kind of unsettling because there’s so many moving parts within a band. Plus the band is named after me, so I want it to go well. I feel I’m responsible for anything that goes wrong, but it doesn’t help that I’m probably the weakest musician in the band by far,” he says with a laugh. Despite all the “moving parts,” he loves the reaction from the audience that only a band can evoke. “The crowds are usually more into the music, and you actually don’t work quite as hard being part of a band as opposed to being a soloist. You do a lot less singing and with all the camaraderie, it’s definitely way more fun playing with the guys.”

Lately, however, it’s not been all about picking and grinning for Fritts. The recent college grad will soon be working for Colonial Fuel and Lubricant Services in their management training program. “Even during my last semester of school, I had to pull back on the reins a bit. I didn’t really play nearly as many shows as I had in previous years. At this point, I’ll probably stick to weekend gigs and staying closer to home doing shows primarily in Statesboro and Savannah. I just do it for fun now,” he says. But although he now considers himself to be a part-time musician, Fritts is quick to point out that his passion for music has not subsided; he just prefers to be a realist about his music. “The biggest thing I’ve realized sadly is that the kind of music that I play doesn’t make the radio anymore, and I’m not really willing to change in order to be commercially successful. I’d rather stick to my roots and play music I love for people than become part of the (music industry) machine.”

With that said, Fritts is quick to point out that even though his musical schedule is a bit more limited at the moment, he’s not ruling anything out. He has the familial and financial support to take it to the next level. “My family has been super supportive of my music. They helped me get all my guitars, so they’ve been fundamental in everything. I couldn’t have done it without them.” In fact, when Fritts was thinking about going to Nashville, he said his folks were surprisingly positive about the move. “They said if it was something that I wanted to do, and my hang up was money, then they would do what they had to do to make that happen.”

Whether he’s playing a show at the Millhouse in Statesboro or the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Fritts is grounded in the fact that his purpose will remain true. “As an artist, I’m trying to evoke some really strong emotions from the audience. I love the fact that people can go to a concert and just forget about anything that’s negative in their lives, even if it’s just a couple of hours. They can feel good about life or themselves for that brief amount of time. The best songs are either going to make you smile, make you laugh, or make you cry. If you’re not doing that (as an artist), then you’re not really experiencing what music is all about.”

Adam Heidt: Taking Archery To The Olympic Level

story by susan lee

photos by tonya chester perry

Adam Heidt has a strong sense of focus. Whether he has his eye on an archery target during a national championship or he’s contemplating the steps in his Olympic journey, his focus is unwavering.

What started out as a hobby has turned into Olympic hopes for the teen. At the moment, he’s getting settled in as a Resident Athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

The Effingham teen, who just turned 17, became interested in archery when he was in elementary school. “I was always into hunting and fishing,” said Adam. “My dad was into bowhunting and I would always be outside with him when he was practicing. He never did it competitively but he enjoyed it and that’s how I was introduced to it. Then, of course, the Hunger Games came out and it got me really interested.”

It wasn’t long before Adam got a simple recurve bow and started shooting in the backyard. “I was addicted from the start,” he said. “Then, on TV, I saw the U.S. archery team competing in the 2012 Olympics. I didn’t even know archery was an Olympic sport, but from then on I was really into it.

When it was time to move up to the next level of bow, Adam and his dad, Chris, headed out to The Range, an archery shop in Statesboro. That store happened to be owned by Carl Greene, a U.S. Archery Level 5 coach (the highest level). “It was their first meeting, but Carl talked to Adam for two hours about archery and competitive shooting,” recalled Chris. “He could tell right away how interested Adam was.”

Greene also happened to be the coach of the 4H archery team in Statesboro, and he invited the young archer out to practice. He also set up Adam with a new bow, this time an Olympic style recurve bow.

Since Effingham at the time didn’t have a 4H archery team, he became a permanent member of the Statesboro team. He joined the 4H team in Statesboro, also coached by Tim Cooper and Tim Wall, and started shooting in state tournaments. It wasn’t long before Adam started earning recognition. “I got invited to the national championships, which were held in Ohio at the time,” he said. “Even though I was only 13, I competed in next age group, the 15-to-17-year-old division. It was my first national competition and I ended up getting 16th in the country. After that, I really started training harder.”

Next, Adam set his sights on the Olympics. “I knew it could have just been a dream, because I know lots of kids dream of going to the Olympics,” he explained. “But then I thought that I might be able to do it if I really work hard.”

Since that first meeting at the archery shop, Carl Greene has been Adam’s coach and is now his primary archery coach.

In 2015, Adam tried out for the 2016 Olympics, competing in the adult division at the age of 15. He almost made the first cut. “I was in the 11th position, but then this huge storm came through and the wind was horrible, tents were flying everywhere,” he said. “I got completely messed up and bumped to 30th. I still had a quarter of the competition to go and I did end up climbing back up to 20th, but I just couldn’t recover.”

Although he didn’t make the Olympic cut at that tournament, Adam did make the national team for his age group, the Cadet Division for 15 to 17 year olds. He earned the 5th spot on the 5-person team.  This past year, he finished in first place and became the team captain for the division.

Since then, Adam spent the year competing in a variety of national tournaments throughout the country. In 2016, he won two gold and four silver medals.

In November of last year, Adam took a major step toward Olympic competition when he tried out for the Resident Athlete Program. “The Olympic team is almost always comprised of resident athletes, which are the athletes who train at the Olympic Training Center in California,” he explained. “I knew that if I really wanted to get into the program I had to move out there so I went out there in November for the two-month trial process. I ended up doing really well.”

After a Christmas break, Adam went back to finish trials at the center in January and then returned home to Effingham. A few weeks later, he got the call that he had made it and was invited back to train permanently at the center. Now he’s on a direct path to making the Olympic archery team.

Adam’s life at the Olympic Training Center is a dramatic change from his home, where he lives out on the farm with his dad, mom Annika and 12-year-old brother Alex. “I was really excited at first about going out to California and being on my own,” he said. “Then I got out there and it was all a bit overwhelming and I just wanted to go home.”

Adam said he has since gotten more comfortable at the center, but his parents understandably are still anxious about him living so far from home. “I worry about him all the time and text him a lot,” admitted Annika. “He’s so far away, it’s not like you can be there in a couple of hours. But I think he’s grown up a lot and the experience has made him more responsible. I also feel like he appreciates things a lot more when he’s home.”

“We’re very excited for him, but nervous at the same time,” added Chris. “But all we can do is put our faith in God, in Adam and all the people watching over him out there at the center.”

At the facility, Adam’s week consists of full days of archery practice as well as intense workouts. “A lot of people think we mostly just use our arms in archery but most of it is our back, shoulders and core,” explained Adam. “So we do a lot of core workouts, targeting our abs, obliques and lats. We also do cardio, because tournaments can be really long and tiring, so you need to have pretty good stamina.”

Adam said physical fitness is also important because the archers at the Olympic Training Center use the National Training System, a technique that no other country in the world uses. “It’s a biomechanically efficient method of shooting a bow, so you really have to know the muscles you’re using,” he said. His coach at the center is USA Archery head coach Kisik Lee.

The athletes, who range in age from 16 to 22, are off on Sundays and Adam spends his free time hanging out in the dorms, sightseeing in San Diego or working on homework. He’s been attending school online this school year because his frequent competitions made it impossible for him to continue at Effingham County High School. “The school worked with me as much as possible, but I knew I was going to be shooting in even more tournaments than normal this school year so it just wouldn’t work,” he said.

While at the training center, Adam will still have a full calendar of national competitions. He has hopes of making the team for the world championships in Mexico City this year.

As for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Adam said he has a lot more work to do before the tryouts in 2019. “There are only spots for three men and three women, but everyone here says they’re going to be on the team, so it’s really competitive,” he said. “We’re all planning to go all the way.”

And Effingham County will be cheering for him.