Athlete of The Month


Blake McLaughlin

Chelsea High School

By Lauren Nix

Blake McLaughlin is a senior on Chelsea’s varsity football team where he plays middle-linebacker, fullback, defensive tackle and o right guard.  Blake is known for his hard work on and off the field and is truly passionate about football.  280 Living spoke with the talented student-athlete to learn more about him.

How long have you been playing football?

Nine years.

What position is your favorite to play and why?

Middle linebacker because I like to hit people.

What is your favorite thing about playing football?

Probably the fact that no matter what happens before you get knocked out and get hit you can come back the next play and hit them again.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from playing football?

Never give up there’s always a chance you can still win the game.

Have you received any honors from playing football?

I’ve gotten player of the game twice, once for offensive guard and once for linebacker.

How has the experience of playing varsity football at Chelsea been like for you?

Fun.  Adrian Peterson’s my role model, and ever since I’ve seen him play I’ve just always wanted to be out there and play.  My brother taught me how to hit, and I just always liked to hit people.

What motivates you to work so hard on the football field?

To get further and go to college.  It’s always been my dream to play in front of a big crowd.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

All I ever do is work out and get ready for football. I take speed training and stuff like that, just stuff to get ready for football pretty much


Wilson Whorton

Briarwood Christian High School

By Lauren Nix

Wilson Whorton is the kicker for Briarwood Christian High School’s successful varsity football team.  Whorton, a senior, has recently been selected as this year’s kicker at the Dec. 11 Alabama-Mississippi Football Classic all-star game, which Coach Fred Yancey says makes him “one of the best kickers in the state.”  He will be playing for Yancey who was selected as head coach for the Alabama team at the all-star game. Whorton is productive as both a wide receiver and a kicker and has started every game this season for Briarwood.  280 Living spoke with the talented student-athlete to learn more about him.

What other honors have you received for playing football?

I was a preseason all-metro kicker before my senior season (this year) and my junior season. I placed second in the 2010 Orlando Expo (field goals) and in Dec. 2009 I participated in the Underclassmen Challenge “Top 15 Elite” kickers in Orlando.

What are your plans after high school?

After high school I would hope to be able to continue my kicking career by playing football in college while getting a degree in engineering.

How do you feel about being selected as the kicker for the AL-MS all-star team?

I was very excited when Coach Yancey told me about the selection. I almost couldn’t believe it but I am excited about the opportunity and can’t wait to play in it.

How long have you been playing football?

I have been playing football since the 5th grade.

What do you enjoy most about playing football?

I love the friendships that I have built while being a part of this team for the past three years. I have made some life-long friendships that have made football more enjoyable.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned playing high school football?

The most important thing I’ve learned in high school has been to always have a good work ethic and do your best at everything. Learning this as a sophomore from my senior teammates really helped me learn to work hard on the field, which has carried over into the classroom.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time when you have a break from football?

In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with my family or friends and going to Young Life on Thursday nights. I also love wakeboarding when I can make a trip to the lake.


Erica Watts, Abby Long and Merideth Rucker with Coach Debbie Sullivan

Erica Watts, Abby Long, Meredith Rucker

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Team Alabama

Special Olympics

By Kathryn Acree

When the national games of the Special Olympics got underway in July in Nebraska, Team Alabama was represented by 130 specially selected athletes competing in the weeklong games. The rhythmic gymnastics competition had six positions available for the trip and these Alabama gymnasts would be the best of the best, meeting the requirement of earning a gold medal at the state Special Olympics.

Oak Mountain-area athletes Erica Watts, Abby Long and Meredith Rucker were part of this select group. The other Alabama rhythmic gymnastics team members hailed from Auburn and Mobile, but Erica, Abby and Meredith were already prepared to work and support each other, training each week with coach Debbie Sullivan.

Sullivan, a volunteer coach with Special Olympics for 25 years, knew Erica, Abby and Meredith would be up for the challenge. The girls train at Head Over Heels Gymnastics on Caldwell Mill Road and began their road to the national games by competing in local meets.

“Team Alabama competed this year at Level One, “ says Sullivan. “The levels begin at A and B, and then Levels One, Two, Three and Four. The program is compulsory, meaning the music and routines are pre-set. Erica, Abby and Meredith were required to learn four separate routines, each approximately two minutes in length.”

Rhythmic gymnastics are a new competitive division for Alabama, and fortunately, Sullivan is acquainted with Cindy Bickman, the Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Delegate who is based in Marietta, Georgia. Bickman and other coordinators develop the program so that the national level of competition would challenge even a “typical” athlete.

The routine categories are ball, ribbon, hoop and rope. Not only do the judges watch for memorization, but also the skill of the routine and making sure particular movements are identified and executed properly. Movements from ballet and dance are intertwined in the routine; arms must be straight and toes must be pointed.

Coaches must teach the movements based on Special Olympic requirements from a 42-page coaching guide.  Even with the stringent requirements, the athletes bring their own touch to a performance. “I love to play up the drama of the movements,” says Meredith.

During their week at the national games held at the University of Nebraska, the girls earned the following medals:

Erica Watts-4th place-ribbon, gold-hoop, bronze-ball, bronze-rope and bronze in all-around

Abby Long– silver-ribbon, gold-hoop, gold-rope, gold-ball, and gold in all-around

Meredith Rucker-bronze-hoop, silver-ball, gold-rope, gold-ribbon, and silver in all-around

“The goal of the Special Olympics is not to put the focus on the medals themselves,“ explains Sullivan. She shares the organization’s mission statement: to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people eight years of age and older with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Now that the national games are complete, Erica, Abby and Meredith have begun training for next year’s events. Their state teammates, Cheryl Hively and Emily Belk of Auburn and Veronica Harwell of Mobile, will do the same. After local meets in the spring, the gymnasts will look toward the Alabama state games held in May. The next national games will be in four years, just like the “typical” Olympics. We wish Erica, Abby and Meredith all the best!


Athletic Scholarships 2010

Briarwood Christian High School

Justin Shade  —   Football  —   Samford University

Callie Richie   —   Soccer   —   Atlanta Christian College

Zeke Walters   —   Football    —  Southern Mississippi

Chelsea High School

Johnna BarnesSoftballJeff. State

Kayla HackettTennisMontevallo

DJ HillFootballFaulkner

Tori HollisSoftballFaulkner (Montgomery)

Alex LevinsonSoccerBirmingham Southern

Oak Mountain High School

Cary BaxterBaseballUniversity of Alabama

Shanna BrooksGirls SoccerUniversity of Alabama

Matt CooperCross Country / TrackU.S. Naval Academy

Davis DudchockFootballStanford University

Jake GayleBaseballNorth West Shoals Community College

Jay HammondFootballMississippi College

Cory JonesCross Country / TrackTroy University

Tanner MoonWrestlingUniversity of Virginia

Julie Moss SoftballUniversity of South Alabama

Morgan MotesGirls SoccerUniversity of South Alabama

Michael ThrasherSoccerU.S. Air Force Academy

Whit WhitfieldFootballU of Central Arkansas

Spain Park High School

Lauren ArnoldGirls SoccerClemson

Taylor BissoGirls SoccerDelta State

Geoffrey BostanyWrestlingUniversity of Pennsylvania

Hannah CollierGirls GolfUniversity of Alabama

Josh DrumFootballUniversity of Pennsylvania

Jeremiah JacksonFootballArkansas

David JonesFootballAir Force

Samantha McDonaldAthletic TrainingCumberland University

Josh MoteFootballAir Force

Jeremiah MullinsFootballDodge City Community College

Connor PrattGolfCoastal Carolina University

Wilson RobinsonFootballTennessee State

Sammy SissonSoftballFaulkner State

DaRon SmithFootballDodge City Community College

Lauren TantSoftballFaulkner State

June 2010

Caitlin Brice

Caitlin Bice


Chelsea  High School

Caitlin Bice wasn’t born with a softball glove on her hand. It took about four years.

Her mother, Sandi Bice, of Chelsea says that growing up she always had a glove on and wanted to play catch with anyone who would play with her.

“Her sister Candice played softball for Pleasant Grove High School and also played travel softball, so Caitlin grew up on the field,” Sandi Bice said.

She was the starting third baseman for the Gummi Bears in Pleasant Grove, Ala. when she was four. It wouldn’t be long before she was starting for Chelsea High.

This year she helped lead Chelsea High to the state playoffs, where they made it to the final eight teams. She led the team in wins as a pitcher.  She was also feared as a hitter.

Her eighth grade year she was pulled up to the varsity team. She was the leadoff hitter and pitched as well. That Chelsea team made it to the state playoffs for the first time ever.  On the way they won the area and the region. they eventually finished fourth in the state. In the state tournament, Caitlin hit a home run, pitched a no-hitter and pitched in every game Chelsea played.

Caitlin also plays travel softball on the Vipers-93 team. they have played in several college exposure  tournaments and won most including the Rising Stars Tournament in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.  This summer they travel to Texas for the Class A nationals and also to Colorado for  the Independence Tournament.

Caitlin has already sparked the interest of some colleges as a sophomore.  She actually gave up her spot as a Varsity Cheerleader to focus on the goal of earning a college scholarship.Caitlin is an excellent student. She is a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society.

Caitlin teaches young girls pitching and fundamentals of softball on weekends and afternoons that she doesn’t have a game or practice.  She reads to elementary students once a month.

One day Caitlin hopes to earn a degree in sports medicine and become a coach.

May 2010

Morgan Reed, Athlete of the Month

Morgan Reed

Briarwood Christian School


Morgan was born in Duluth, Georgia. Her family moved to Alabaster when she was five years old. It seems Morgan has always been involved in sports. When she was just 5 years old, she started playing soccer in the Alabaster city league. She stuck with soccer until 4th grade. In first grade, she added basketball and stayed with it until last year when she played for the Briarwood Jr. High girls’ team just after transferring to the school her 7th grade year.

On top of all of that, Morgan began playing softball in third grade, and hasn’t stopped yet! In fact, she hopes by the end of her high school career, she will have earned a softball scholarship to a division one school. “Morgan is a dedicated, hardworking and humble athlete that strives for excellence. You would never know that she is just in the 8th grade. She is a joy to coach,” says Head Softball Coach, Suzanne Serrano, former softball All-American from the University of Alabama.

Morgan is currently the starting pitcher for Briarwood’s Varsity Softball team as an 8th grader! She was recently named MVP for the 2009 5A South Central Regional Tournament and she was also awarded an “All Shelby County Honorable Mention” by the Shelby Co. Reporter in 2009. As a 7th grader, Morgan was the starting centerfielder on the Elite Eight Team from Briarwood.

Morgan also plays shortstop and pitcher for the 14U Birmingham Vipers travel team. The Vipers have won multiple state and regional tournaments and have attended ASA Nationals for the past 3 years. This team plans to attend ASA Nationals in Moline, Illinois this summer.

Not only exceptional on the ball field, Morgan also excels as a student. She currently holds a 4.2 grade point average. She is a member of Alabaster First United Methodist Church where she volunteers for Manna Charities and the Salvation Army Angel Tree program.

In her spare time, Morgan enjoys listening to music, attending Auburn football games and spending time with her family and friends.

April 2010

Geoffrey Bostany

Geoffrey Bostany

Spain Park High School


Geoffrey was born in Birmingham and raised in the community of Greystone.

Geoffrey has always been involved in sports. He started playing soccer and t-ball at the local YMCA at an early age. Until 8th grade, he played baseball at Hoover East and he played on the Hoover Blue football team from 4th grade through 6th grade.

It wasn’t until 7th grade that Geoffrey entered the wrestling world. The story goes, when Geoffrey was in 8th grade, his parents enrolled his younger brother Tommy in a private wrestling club called the AWC (Alabama Wrestling Club). Geoffrey chose not to enroll because he didn’t want kids from other schools “learning his moves.” According to Geoffrey’s mother Connie, “It was less that a month before Tommy began showing Geoffrey moves he didn’t know. Geoffrey joined the club and that is when he found a true love for wrestling. He met elite wrestlers from all over the city and they soon became his best friends.”

Geoffrey is now a senior at Spain Park. Having lettered in the sport all four years, Geoffrey has racked up numerous wrestling awards. Some of those awards include being named an NHSCA All-American in 2006, winning the Southeastern Regional Freestyle & Greco Wrestling Championship in 2008, winning the AHSAA Section 2 Championship three-times, being a four-time state tournament qualifier, a Runner-up at the 2009 State tournament (6A, 125 lb.), and this year winning the AHSAA Wrestling State Championship 6A, 136 lb. division.

Although Geoffrey always envisioned following his older brother Christopher to the University of Alabama, come this fall, he will be heading north to the University of Pennsylvania to be their 125 lb. starter!

It’s easy to see why Geoffrey was recruited by several schools. In addition to all of his wrestling achievements, he holds a cumulative GPA of 4.11, he’s on the National Math Honor Society, he’s received 4 Suma Cum Laude Awards, 2 Magna Cum Laude Awards and 3 Academic Letters from Spain Park.

When Geoffrey is not on the mat wrestling, he enjoys playing ping-pong with the SPHS ping-pong club, and he participates in an indoor soccer league. He is also involved at the St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church was he serves as an Altar Server and performs traditional dance shows at their Middle Eastern Food Festival. He has also helped deliver Christmas gifts to underprivileged children, visited senior centers, and spent time working for Habitat for Humanity. In fact, Geoffrey has also lettered in Community Service at Spain Park High School for accumulating 80+ hours of service in a 12- month period.

Geoffrey’s parents are Connie and Cecil Bostany of Greystone. His older brother Christopher is a senior at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and his younger brother Tommy is a sophomore at SPHS and may be the wrestler to contend with in the very near future!

March 2010

Sam has played the big boys

Sam Cissell     ( Photo courtesy Katrina Trotter photography)

by Joe Samuel Starnes

The first time Sam Cissell hit a tennis ball, he was 12 years old. “I liked it and my dad said I was good at it,” he said.

Soon after he took a few lessons, and then he won a junior tournament at Hoover Country Club, the first tournament he ever played.

Four years later, he continues to shine on court. Sam ranked as the number one 16-and-under player in the state for 2009 and recently won Alabama’s 2010 Male Junior Player of the Year Award from the United States Tennis Association.

A sophomore who lives in the Spain Park High School district, he is homeschooled to allow him more time to practice and to travel tournaments.  Coached by Dane Clegg, director of tennis at Greystone Golf & Country Club, he practices twice daily, for a total of four hours, and then works on his conditioning for about an hour. “Tennis is on my mind most of the day,” he said. After winning the Alabama State Junior Open in August and securing the number one state year-end ranking, Sam, who turns 17 in June and moves up this year into the 18-and-under division, is working to break through on the national stage. He recently played tournaments in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Tucson and Scottsdale, Ariz. In the Copper Bowl Tournament in Tucson, a major event that draws top juniors from all over the country, he lost in the first round to the number one seed in three sets, but rebounded to win seven consecutive matches in the consolation draw, a promising showing against a very competitive nationwide field. “We had to keep changing our flights to stay longer,” he said.

Sam also has been across the net from some of the best American pros. He and Andrew Crumm, a friend from Montgomery, last year won a doubles tournament that gave them the opportunity to play an exhibition match in November in Pelham against Bob and Mike Bryan. The Bryans, identical twins from California who are the number-one ranked men’s doubles team in the world, beat the Alabama teens 10-3 in a super tiebreaker. “They didn’t miss any volleys,” Sam said. “The ball never gets past them.”

Sam, who spent his freshman year in high school living at the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy in Tampa, Fla., has practiced with John Isner, the 6-foot, 9-inch tall player from North Carolina who was a star at the University of Georgia and continues to rise in the pros. Isner, who won his first ATP tournament in January and reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, now ranks 25th in the world. “He’s huge,” Sam said, adding that Isner’s serve is almost impossible to return because it rises so fast. “I had to jump up to just get to the ball.”

Sam lives in Hoover with his parents, Dr. Darin Cissell, an endodontist, his mother Melissa, and younger sister, Olivia. His long-range goal is to play for a top-tier college team, noting that the list of universities he would like to play for include Mississippi State, San Diego, Alabama and Auburn.

Big Serve Sam

Does he hope to play one day at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open? Yes, of course, but he is realistic about the long odds of making it to the top in an individual sport with worldwide popularity. But he is not ruling it out. “If I have a really good college career, I would love to play in the pros,” he said.

The Bryan brothers and Isner, in fact, had some advice for him on how to get there. “They said work hard, keep playing tournaments and stay out of trouble.”

Joe Samuel Starnes is a novelist and journalist born in Alabama but now lives in Philadelphia. He writes about tennis at

February 2010

Jakes takes it downfield

Jake Ganus

Varsity Basketball/Football

Chelsea High School

Jake was born in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. His family moved to Birmingham the summer of 2008 and settled into the Chelsea community. Jake is now a sophomore at Chelsea High School.

Since Jake was 5 years old, he’s been involved with team sports including football, basketball and baseball. He played in several World Series baseball tournaments, and several of his youth basketball teams went on to play in national tournaments as well. When Jake reached 6th grade he decided to drop baseball in order to focus more heavily on football and basketball.

Now as a sophomore at CHS, Jake has been named Offensive Team MVP and Overall Team MVP by his football team. According to Wade Waldrop, CHS Athletic Director and Head Football Coach, “Jake is a great competitor. He played quarterback, running back, and linebacker in football. He was selected to the Birmingham news All-Shelby Football team. He is a very good athlete with a bright future at Chelsea High School.” Jake’s stats speak for themself! As a running back, he rushed for 797 yards, scored 10 touchdowns and completed 13 receptions for another 113 yards. He played quarterback the last two games of the season and threw for 445 yards, and scored 3 touchdowns. As linebacker, he made 92 tackles with one interception that he ran back for a touchdown.

“Jake is also a starter at guard and the leading scorer on the varsity basketball team,” adds Mr. Waldrop. Jake was named part of the All Tournament Team in the CHS Thanksgiving tournament. And with five games to go in regular season, Jake leads the team in scoring with an average of 11.1 points per game. He also leads the team in assists, steals, and holds the second spot in rebounds averaging 6.5 rebounds per game. “Jake has been an outstanding addition to our varsity team this year. “Only a sophomore, he has excelled on the court. He is an intense competitor, and his infectious personality and wit make him a pleasure to coach. I look forward to the next two years and all of the great things that Jake will accomplish,” says Michael Napp, Boys Head Basketball Coach.

Jake rises high

When asked to compare the competition in Georgia versus Alabama, Jake said, “It’s about the same in all sports, but Alabama seems to take football more seriously. And here I have really great coaches and really great teammates!”

Jake also shines in the classroom as he maintains a 3.8 GPA. His favorite subject is history.

Jake’s family attends Church of the Highlands. This past summer Jake volunteered with his church’s “Dreamteam” performing community service projects in the Woodlawn community.

When Jake isn’t playing his favorite sports, he’s watching his favorite college teams play them. Another favorite pastime: just hanging out with friends! Jake has two older siblings ~ his brother, Calvin, currently attends the University of Alabama, and his sister, Riley, is a senior at Chelsea and will be attending UofA this fall. Jake is the son of Janene and Greg Ganus of Chelsea. Jake says his parents and his grandparents are his four biggest fans. “They attend every single game, every scrimmage, every sport. I get really good support from them.”

January 2010

Cary Baxter

Oak Mountain High School


Cary was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where his dad worked for the Red Cross. When Cary was two, his family transferred to Montgomery. He attended Wetumpka Schools until moving to Birmingham when Cary entered 7th grade.

Cary is an all-around athlete. He has played basketball and baseball since he was six years old, and he played football until the 9th grade.

As a junior on the basketball team at Oak Mountain High School, Cary averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game, and was named all-Shelby County by the Birmingham News. This year as a senior, he averages 20 points and 7 rebounds through ten games.

Last baseball season he earned a 1.6 ERA, averaged 317, and hit 4 home runs in a very tough region that includes Hoover, Spain Park, Pelham, and Thompson. Cary was a two-time selection to the AlaBCA All-State team, a Perfect Game invitee, and all Shelby County. Cary is an early baseball scholarship signee to University of Alabama.

Cary maintains a 4.0+ GPA, is a member of the Honor Society, and has qualified for a Presidential Academic Scholarship to the U of A (in addition to a baseball scholarship) with an ACT score of 30. “Cary is the ultimate student-athlete and everything we want our student-athletes to be at Oak Mountain. He is a leader in the school building as well as in two athletic arenas. All in all, he’s just a great representative of what high school athletics are all about,” comments Donald Clayton, Jr., Oak Mountain High School Athletic Director.

Cary’s primary involvement outside of school/athletics is with “Thrive!” – the Asbury Methodist Youth program. He has been on numerous mission trips in downtown Birmingham, Big Stuff Retreats, and a Costa Rica mission trip. This summer he plans to go on a mission trip to Kenya. Cary also helps when his family houses 12-year-old Kenyan boys when they are in the US on the Daraja Choir Tour (a tour that raises money for their orphanage in Kenya).

Cary and classmate/teammate Alex Few were recently selected to speak to the youth at Asbury on maintaining their values at school and when they go off to college.

Outside of baseball/basketball, Cary enjoys fishing. His brother, Will, is a sophomore on the track team at Mississippi College. And his parents, Lynn and Billy Baxter had this to say: “Cary really is a good, friendly boy and we are proud of what he accomplishes and who he is as a person. He has been blessed to be surrounded by great people – adults, friends, classmates, teachers, coaches, and our church family.”

December 2009

Hannah Waid
Briarwood Christian School
Volleyball Player

Hannah was born and raised in Birmingham. She has been on the volleyball court since 5th grade when she played for a YMCA team. As a freshman at Briarwood, she played for the JV team. Her sophomore, junior and senior years, she played Varsity. “I met Hannah last summer (2008) at a ‘getting to know the new coach’ practice. Hannah stood out as a humble, coachable player, with so much talent in her future,” said Justin Dee, Head Volleyball Coach at Briarwood.

This year, Hannah has served as co-caption of the varsity team. “Hannah was an overwhelming pick for captain of this team. She leads with love, compassion, accountability, and grace,” adds Coach Dee.

Last year she received the honor of All Shelby 1st Team Setter. This year she received All State 2nd Team Setter. Hannah also plays for Alabama Juniors and most recently with BVC (Birmingham Volleyball Club). Hannah says, “volleyball has affected my life in a huge way. It has taught me to work hard, persevere, and overcome adversity.

Hannah is quite the student too. She currently holds a 4.38 GPA, a 32 on the ACT, is a member and historian of the National Honor Society, and member/treasurer of Mu Alpha Theta. In addition, she serves as SGA Vice President, she’s involved in the Music Appreciation Club, she’s a Sweetheart for the Heart Association, and attends Briarwood Presbyterian Church. Perhaps most fitting is her involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“She is remarkable. Every part of her life spurns people to follow. She literally shines Christ to everyone around her. She has talents and gifts that go beyond (the volleyball) setting. She is an amazing young lady after God’s own heart. Not only for her life, but also for all who come in contact with her,” says Coach Dee.

Outside of volleyball, Hannah likes music, attending concerts, art and hanging out with family and friends.

Hannah plans to attend Auburn University next year, and major in Exercise Science with hopes of becoming a physical therapist in sports medicine.

“We are very proud of Hannah as an athlete, student, leader, and most of all as the godly young lady she has grown into,” add her parents.


One response to “Athlete of The Month

  1. Pingback: “Ridiculous Hands” — Top Alabama Junior’s Take on the U.S. Davis Cup Team | Top Spin Blog

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