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National Signing Day provides breath of fresh air

Not long after a few prep athletes put their pens to paper and made their collegiate choices official Wednesday morning, a handful of comments popped up on Bradenton.com.

They all said something like this:

Great job. We’re proud of you. Hit those books and excel.

What they were really saying was this:

Thank you.

For a community rocked by the details of the horrific home invasion that dominated the front page earlier this week, National Signing Day was a salve. It was the equivalent of spreading ice-cold Aloe all over a vicious sunburn.

Sixteen golfers, soccer players, football players, baseball players and track and field athletes presented a much-needed breath from the bad stuff.

And it’s not about what they did on the field.

If it was, Florida head coach Urban Meyer wouldn’t have said that aside from Kedric Johnson’s range, work ethic and frame, the Palmetto senior who will be a Gator in the fall comes from a great family.

“We love him as a person,” Meyer said.

If it was, Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe would have stopped after talking about Damian Copeland’s hands and acceleration.

“He’s a fine young man,” Kragthorpe said of the Tiger wide receiver, who will be a Cardinal in a few months.

None of Wednesday’s signees are perfect, and all have the same foibles and flaws as the rest of us. But they are getting the most out of what it takes to play.

I cringe when people minimize the games we play, especially at the high-school level.

They keep kids in school. Keep them focused. And while some prep athletes do still find their way into trouble, there are those who did what they did Wednesday — use sports to further their education.

Four years from now, a majority of them won’t be in the NFL. But the hope is that they will be college graduates, equipped with what it takes to better themselves, and most importantly, the world.

This goes for all sports. On the soccer fields today, Braden River’s girls team, which was mercy-ruled mercilessly when the program began four years ago, is playing in its first regional championship game.

And St. Stephen’s is playing in its second, proof that last year’s run to the round of eight was anything but a fluke.

Great stories involving young people are everywhere in the community, whether in the football stadiums or in the classrooms, or on the baseball diamonds or the honor roll.

Wednesday, the county got to toast a batch of promising folks, doing their best to be their best.

Next year, we’ll do it all over again.

They’ll be more people putting pens to paper, making the most of their hard work and long hours.

This time, however, the timing couldn’t have been better.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.

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