ASHLAND — Wednesday afternoon proved to be a day that Karl Kemper hadn't previously seen in his decade-and-a-half as Ashland High School's athletic director.
The crowd in the foyer of Mountain Avenue Gym was representative of that.
One-by-one, three Ashland student-athletes signed letters of intent to play at four-year schools on National Signing Day, as Mya Elder-Hammond will head to Eastern Washington University to play soccer while Drake Morey and Anthony Swanson will continue their football careers at Columbia and Southern Oregon, respectively.
"I've just been waiting for today to actually sign and be a part of it," said Morey, who verbally committed to play at Columbia in late-August. "It definitely feels good. I've been working for this for the past four years. It's definitely been one of my goals to play a high level of football and get a great education at the same time. I was able to go up there and sign and say I've done it and for the next four years I'm going to go play football and get a great education."
Playing in the center of the Girzzlies' midfield, Elder-Hammond was one of the top players in the Midwestern League and scored 19 goals and had 10 assists in her senior season this past fall.
In her four-year varsity career, Elder-Hammond scored 51 goals and dished out 41 assists.
Elder-Hammond played as both a right and left back in defense for her club team, FC Portland — which is likely going to be the area of the field where she starts her career at Eastern Washington, an NCAA Division I school the competes in the Big Sky Conference.
"This (recruiting) process was super scary. I thought I was behind in it because most of my friends were committed by their sophomore year and I didn't commit until the end of my junior year, so that was really nerve-wracking," Elder-Hammond said. "It was a big-time commitment because I've had to drive up to Portland for practices and games, so everything was through Portland. It took a lot of time and it was a lot of commitment to trust myself and my soccer abilities."
A National Honor Society member, Elder-Hammond plans to major in physical therapy.
"The step up is going to be crazy big. The girls are going to be stronger, they're going to be faster," Elder-Hammond said. "I chose Eastern Washington because I really liked the feel that I got when I stepped on campus. I liked being able to walk anywhere and feel safe. My grandma lives close in Idaho, so I liked having somebody in my family if I needed help nearby."
Standing 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Morey —a three-year starter for the Grizzlies — was a first-team all-league selection on both the offensive and defensive line. He also earned all-state recognition as an offensive lineman.
This past season, Morey recorded 22 tackles, with nearly half of those being tackles for loss.
Morey, who has aspirations of working on Wall Street one day, plans to major in financial economics.
"The education was just so hard for me to pass up," Morey said. "It's an Ivy League school, so you can't get any better. Obviously, I want to go play football, but I want to have a plan after college so getting an Ivy League education is going to be great for me."
A second-team all-MWL selection at wide receiver, Swanson led the Grizzlies in receptions (25), receiving yards (333) and touchdowns (5) this past fall.
Swanson will be the first Ashland graduate to suit up at SOU for head coach Charlie Hall since he was hired by the Raiders last March after coaching the Grizzlies for over a decade.
"It means everything. I said it once and I'll say it again, family comes first," Swanson said. "Being able to play here in my hometown, in front of my family and friends and be able to play for coach Hall and run a similar offense to what I did in high school ... it's definitely a big jump, but I'm ready for it."
Swanson said he also had offers from Division III schools on the West Coast, but decided staying home was the right move for him.
"I took a lot of official visits and I went up to Washington and the Portland area, but when I took my last official visit, it was at SOU. When I was there, I just felt a vibe," Swanson said. "Everything just clicked. The coaches work with me well and it just felt like the right choice."
And for the trio to make their college choices official alongside two of their classmates just made the day even sweeter.
"The stigma is that usually we don't have a lot of kids that go to four-year colleges, but this year we had a lot of great athletes like Anthony and Mya," Morey said. "It just feels great to be in this class and we're all going to play our sports at a higher level and get an education while doing it."
Danny Penza is the sports editor for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.