MELISSA — A bumper crop of Melissa student-athletes signed National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic and educational careers at the collegiate level on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Melissa High School, surrounded by friends, family and coaches. The noon-time National Signing Day assemblage in the main gymnasium honored the achievements of five MHS seniors including Aubrey Grantham, Jace Ingram, Sarah Weideman, Emma Schaeffer and Gillian Stopinski.

Grantham, an All-District outside hitter on the Lady Cards’ 2017 district-champion volleyball team that advanced to the Area round of the playoffs, signed with Arlington Baptist University of Arlington, Texas. The Patriots were 2017 national champions of the Association of Christian College Athletics.

Lady Cards soccer players Weideman, Schaeffer and Stopinski were All-District standouts on last season’s district-champion, regional-semifinalist squad. Weideman signed with Oklahoma Wesleyan University of Bartlesville, Okla., Schaeffer with Ouachita Baptist University of Arkadelphia, Ark., and Stopinski with Central Baptist College of Conway, Ark.

Ingram, a kicking specialist for Melissa’s undefeated district-champion football team that made a run to the state quarterfinals, signed with Navarro College of Corsicana, Texas. Boys athletic director and head football coach Seth Stinton told the gathering there was one play by Ingram last season that he’ll never forget. See below what that play was and what other coaches had to said about these seniors, and also hear from the athletes and their families.

Emma Schaeffer, Ouachita Baptist

“It’s been super satisfying,” Schaeffer said of realizing this goal. “I’ve been striving to play at the collegiate level almost all my life. Ever since I was little I wanted to do this. All my hard work has paid off. It’s a great feeling.”

Schaeffer said she plans to study biology at OBU before attending Occupational Therapy school.

“It’s a beautiful campus, a beautiful student body. I met some of the professors and it was amazing. It blew me away.”

OBU, an NCAA Division II school, competes in the Great American Conference.

“What always impressed me is how Emma can take the ball and beat defenders time and time again,” Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila said. He also noted that Schaeffer is one of the top goal-scorers in Class 4A Region 1. “More important to me than anything else are the assists and the creativity she brings to the rest of the team,” he said. “That’s what’s going to make her successful at the next level.”

“It’s a little emotional because her high school career is coming to an end,” Schaeffer’s mother Michele Schaeffer said. “But she’s blessed to have this opportunity to go play in college. We’re so excited for the school she picked. It’s a perfect fit for her.”

“Emma has always been a fantastic athlete,” Schaeffer’s father Greg Schaeffer added. “She’s always given a little bit extra in her workouts. I really feel like she’s been blessed. She has some tools that other people don’t have. She’s got some speed. … She’s worked hard and deserves this.”

Schaeffer, Weideman and Stopinski are all captains on Melissa’s current undefeated team. Avila noted that over their careers as four-year starters they helped the Lady Cards to a 77-12-5 record, 197 goals scored and a 172-goal differential. “You leave a legacy that is pretty amazing,” he said of the trio. “I wouldn’t trade you for the world. Thanks for making all this possible, all the great memories you’ve given us.”

Sarah Weideman, Oklahoma Wesleyan

“I’m very excited, especially about the college I chose,” Weideman said. “I’m so happy with decision with the coaches and the staff at the college. I’ll be able to study nursing there and further my faith. … I’m pretty proud and happy about it.”

NAIA-affiliated OKWU is a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.

“She’s been playing club soccer for quite a while,” Weideman’s father Mark Weideman said, “and she has been looking forward to this. I’m really proud of her and the achievement she’s attained here.”

“She’s worked really hard for this,” Weideman’s mother Sharon Weideman said. “She’s come a really long way. Mentors and other students that have graduated and gone on to college - some really good friends that we’ve had for many, many years - have really helped her with this.”

“It’s so fun to come to the games and watch those girls,” Sharon said of the current Lady Cards. “They work so hard and they have a really good team atmosphere. They’re always looking out for each other.”

Gillian Stopinski, Central Baptist College

“I was previously committed to another school but decided it wasn’t for me,” Stopinski said. “I believe that God led me to this school for a reason.” Stopinski said she particularly loved the school’s scenic location in Arkansas and the fact that it’s a small institution with religious principles. Stopinski plans to study pre-med there.

CBC is an NAIA school that competes in the American Midwest Conference.

“Over the years, Coach Avila has given me lots of advice, whether personal or on the field,” Stopinski said. “I’m going to take all of that with me. He’s been a really big help these four years, especially getting me acquainted with the girls since I moved here freshman year.”

Stopinski’s father Brian Stopinski said his daughter searched for a school with an excellent student-to-teacher ratio. “Every school she looked at was kind of that caliber. … She’s earned everything that she’s gotten at this point. There’s nothing that we’ve done for her. This is on her. It’s a huge accomplishment for her.”

“It’s exciting and emotional at the same time,” Stopinski’s mom Shannon Stopinski said. “We’re so very proud of her and her accomplishments.”

Jace Ingram, Navarro College

“They have a really good academic program and their football team is good too,” Ingram said of what drew him to southward to Navarro. The school competes in National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) as a member of the Southwest Junior College Conference.

“He just did an outstanding job,” Stinton said of Ingram’s MHS career. “It’s always a weapon as a coach to know that he could kick it in the end zone whenever we wanted him to.” As for that one Ingram play that Stinton will always cherish, it was his perfectly-executed onside kick that helped knock off Gilmer in the third round of last year’s playoffs. “That was so awesome to watch,” Stinton said. “We practiced like crazy for that. I’m so proud of him for that. … I appreciate how hard he’s worked to get where he’s going.”

“We’re very proud of him,” Ingram’s mom Anna Wallace said. “He didn’t start kicking until coming into his freshman year. He just kind of did it for fun and then he really loved it.”

“We’re probably equally excited as he is,” Ingram’s father Wesley Wallace said. Wesley noted that at first he didn’t quite believe it when his soccer-playing son reported feats with a football over three years ago. “One time he comes home and he goes, ‘I kicked a 40-yard field goal today.’ And I go, ‘No you didn’t.’ … We ended up going out to the field - and I saw him kick them.”

Wesley said his son’s kicking really took off under the tutelage of former TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom.

Aubrey Grantham, Arlington Baptist

“I’m just really excited to see what God has planned for me, “Grantham said. “I thank my mom for everything. She gave her life for me. She moves mountains for me. And my brother [Brantley], he’s my father figure. They’re always there for me.”

“I love the Christian aspect of it,” Grantham said of 250-student ABU. “It felt like home.”

Grantham aspires to be special education teacher and also plans to study kinesiology and art.

“She is one of my favorite athletes of all-time,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “Aubrey brought so much to our team last year, and lot more than just her volleyball skills. Her caring for each teammate was evident in everything she did and everything she said. She was never interested in stats on the individual level.”

DePaolo said God played a role in two decisions he made affecting Grantham’s future. The first was when he offered her a chance to be on varsity as a junior with no guarantee of getting to play. She accepted and was soon starting as the team’s right-side hitter. “She was a big factor in us finishing second in the district that year and going three rounds deep [in the playoffs],” DePaolo said. The second time was two months ago when he was contacted by ABU and decided to tell Grantham of this option though he knew she seemed set on another school.

“She’s such a dedicated person, in the classroom and on the court,” Grantham’s mom Lisa Grantham said. “She’s just a great all-around person. I’m so happy to see that she’s going to a place she loves. She’s going to excel there just like she has here.”