Across the country, approximately 8 million students participate in high school athletics. Of that group, just six percent pursue their sport in college. At GPS, senior athletes commit to playing college sports at almost three times the national average.
National Signing Day is the culmination of years’ worth of grit, dedication, and determination for student-athletes who have chosen to pursue their athletic endeavors in college. Wednesday, in front of family, classmates, teachers, and coaches (albeit virtually for most), three GPS seniors confirmed their intentions to participate in sports at the collegiate level.
“These girls have had to navigate their way through the turbulent waters of recruiting in the face of all of the other challenges that COVID-19 has given us,” said GPS Director of Athletics Jay Watts. “They have faced greater uncertainty as college rosters spots grew scarcer when the NCAA granted many current college athletes an additional year of eligibility. They had to make college visits without the traditional college tours available to them. In short, what these three girls did, as well as what our three committed athletes were able to do in the fall, may be the most impressive individual performances we have seen all year.”
Watts went on to note that this group of student-athletes was especially unique, composed of two multi-sport athletes—a rarity at this level—and a service-minded trailblazer set to make her mark on a top Division I athletic program. He also thanked their families for their enormous support through both successes and setbacks.
Class of 2021 Spring Signing Day Participants
Chapel Cunningham | Softball & Volleyball | Southeastern University
Chapel has been a five-year starter on the GPS varsity softball team and a three-year starter on the volleyball squad. She was also a member of the varsity basketball team for two seasons. She was All-Region in volleyball her junior and senior years and selected for the Times Free Press Best of Preps team this fall. She has been an honor roll student; a member of the National Honor Society, the Class Leadership Council, and the Bruiser Leadership Council for Athletics; and she has served as vice president of the GPS spirit organization, GyPsieS. Last year, she was the GPS Battle Award Recipient and participated in the FCA Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy.
"When I think about the addition of Chapel, I am most excited about her versatility both on and off the field,” said Southeastern University Head Softball Coach Kayla Watkins. “Chapel is a multi-faceted player and person, and I am really looking forward to seeing how she will impact our team. Athletically, her speed and grit are a special combination and will fit our style of play very well. Most importantly, Chapel is a high-character young lady who has worked hard to be where she is, and as her future coach, I believe the sky’s the limit for her!"
Gabby Johnson | Football Manager | University of Mississippi
Gabby will serve as the first female football manager in the history of the University of Mississippi. During her time at GPS, she has been a manager for basketball, lacrosse, and softball. She has served as a member of the GyPsieS and the Girl Scouts and also participated in the Bruiser Track and Field program during her ninth and 10th grade years. Outside of school, she has been a member of multiple local track clubs.
“Gabby is here today because she has been offered a team manager position for the football program at Ole Miss under the direction of Coach Lane Kiffin,” said Watts. “This position comes with a signed agreement and the potential for a scholarship after her first year in Oxford. While her path to reach the stage today has looked very different from her counterparts, she has attacked her goals with the same laser focus as her peers to achieve at the highest level.”
Nicola van der Merwe | Track & Field | Belmont University
Nicola has been a fixture in the GPS Athletic program since her ninth-grade year as she has participated in volleyball, swimming, climbing, cross country, and track. As a senior, she was a member of the State Championship Cross Country team and co-captain for the track team. She is the current school record holder in the pole vault, with a personal best performance of 11 feet.
Nicola is an honor roll student who is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. She has previously won the Elizabeth Collier Farmer Athletic Award. In 2019, she finished in second place in biomedical engineering at the Chattanooga Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
“I’m very excited to have Nicola join the Belmont program,” said Belmont Track & Field Associate Head Coach Cameron Harvey. “She has lots of potential in the pole vault and will be a great addition to our jumps crew.”