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Sam Thomas signs to play baseball at Alice Lloyd

For some students, getting ready for college is a long, stressful process full of difficult decisions and careful planning. Many find their first few semesters away from home challenging, their finances strained, and their academics struggling. Because of these pressures, or at least their perception, some students don’t even bother with going to college at all. Yet, in a few cases the stars just seem to align and despite all the odds things fall into place as if they were meant to be all along. This was the scenario that led up to JCHS alumni Sam Thomas’s signing last week in Pippa Passes, Kentucky where he will now join the Eagles baseball team at Alice Lloyd College.
“It’s just a neat story how it all unfolded,” said Johnson County Coach Pete Pavusek. “Nobody really knew what kind of student he was, what kind of opportunities he was eligible for. It went from him not even wanting to do anything to all of a sudden let’s get him into the school, now he wants to go, but it’s getting late. I’m just so happy for him and his family. He’s so excited to get to go to school. I’ve talked to him a few times and he can’t wait to get out there and get going.”
The real turning point in Thomas’s decision to go beyond JCHS actually came when fellow senior and teammate Blade Hampton went through the process of signing with Berea College. Sitting there in the high school media center, seeing Hampton surrounded by his friends and family, the reality of his own position apparently hit Thomas hard.
“It was at Blade’s signing and I looked over and he was happy for Blade but you could tell there was a sadness to that look he had,” said Pavusek. “I talked to him the next day at ball practice and I said, ‘Sam, you want to go to college, don’t you,’ and he said, ‘yeah I do.’ I went and looked and come to find out he had a 3.5 GPA, had been in dual enrollment, already had honors classes. He was in the upper third of his senior class. He was already eligible for several scholarships and didn’t even have to do anything, and if anybody can do it Sam can do it. It’s just the kind of person he is, he’s not going to have any trouble making friends or with academics. There aren’t many kids that can work, play ball, and get a 3.5 GPA, so I said let’s go for it.”

After speaking with Thomas’s family and helping him to fill out the essential paper work just in the nick of time, Pavusek was able to help get Thomas on the fast track toward a college education. That’s when Assistant Coach Nicholas Perkins stepped in and played a big role in Sam’s second goal, getting to play college ball. An alumni of Alice Lloyd College, Perkins has had numerous reasons to introduce some of the students he has coached to the school. First and foremost, it is one of only seven “work” colleges in the country where students are encouraged to have a job on campus to not only gain experience but also help reduce the cost of attendance. Of those seven Alice Lloyd is only one of five to have a baseball team, along with Berea.
This work-study program is only offered to a select number of Appalachian counties, with Johnson, Sullivan, Hawkins, and Hancock being the only four eligible in East Tennessee. For this reason several Johnson County players have gone on to Alice Lloyd and it remains one of the main schools that the Longhorn coaching staff have promoted.
“Even with scholarship money, financial aid, and things such as the Tennessee Lottery money, many student athletes still owe colleges thousands of dollars out of pocket,” explained Coach Perkins. “Unless a family tells me they are comfortable with student loans and their son going in debt, I do not feel comfortable plugging many private colleges to our student athletes simply because of the financial strain.”

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