Bryant is Golden Ram#8217; By Thadd White 05/28/2008 She may be the most decorated athlete in the history of Ridgecroft School. Reading the awards Hayes Bryant has earned in five seasons of varsity co

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2008

She may be the most decorated athlete in the history of Ridgecroft School.

Reading the awards Hayes Bryant has earned in five seasons of varsity competition at Ridgecroft, one might think you were viewing the accomplishments of an entire class of athletes.

She has been named Player of the Year three times by three different organizations. She has earned All-State honors five times in two sports. Her laundry list of Most Valuable Player Awards covers four seasons.

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Not only did individual awards come during Bryant’s playing days at Ridgecroft, she was also part of two state championships and played for a third.

It was for that reason that Ridgecroft School, for the first time in its history, presented Bryant with the Golden Ram Award at the school’s annual athletic banquet.

Members of the Ridgecroft School Athletic Association contacted Headmaster Elton Winslow before the banquet and suggested they look at honoring Bryant’s career.

“We knew Hayes had a distinguished career and it seemed appropriate to do something to recognize it,” Winslow said.

The process began by having Bryant’s coaches put together a list of the awards she has earned during her prep career.

The list was almost overwhelming to the coaches and it was decided to honor Bryant with a Golden Ram Award that would only be presented when a student-athlete’s career reached that level.

“When you start to put together all of the times she has been named All-Conference, All-Region and All-State and then add to that the fact she was able to make her team better in every sport she played, that is something special,” said Winslow, who coached Bryant in basketball. “Not only that, but I have never seen Hayes lose her temper when she was playing. In fact, she almost always has a smile on her face.”

Winslow said that total package made it necessary to honor Bryant’s career.

“I felt like when you look at the body of work n individual awards, team accomplishment and sportsmanship n that’s a pretty special performance,” he said.

With the honor being given for the first time, Bryant said she had no clue what was happening.

“Honestly, I was thinking, ‘another award?’ and then they started talking about ninth grade tennis and I was like, ‘that’s me’,” she said. “I had no idea.”

Bryant said when the list of awards she had won during her career were read, she was as shocked as anyone.

“I definitely didn’t know there had been that many,” she said. “I was surprised.”

While surprise was her first emotion, Bryant’s second thought was a mixture of happiness and sadness.

“It’s a great feeling. I was overwhelmed, but I couldn’t do it without my coaches and my teammates,” she said. “At the same time I was sad because I knew that meant it was really over. It didn’t hit me so much at the end of each season, but that night it hit me that my high school career was over.”

During her five years of playing varsity sports, Bryant won two state titles and competed for a third. In the eighth grade, Bryant was a key component of Ridgecroft School’s first-ever state soccer championship.

That state title was an important memory for Bryant, but there are others that mean a lot as well.

“The state championship is a great memory, but it is also the only sport in which I was able to play with my sister, Miller, and that is important too,” Bryant said. “I’ve also had a great coach who means a lot to me.”

A year later, she combined with Whitney Pilson to earn a North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) doubles title in tennis. Her tennis career, though as promising as any sport, came to an end early in the next season due to a nagging knee injury.

The final appearance in a state title contest came in the 2007-2008 season when she led the Lady Rams’ basketball team to their first appearance in a state championship game.

“Being the first team to make the state championship game in basketball was something I’ll always cherish,” Bryant said. “Being an underdog going into the tournament and making it to the finals was great.”

She also said she would remember making the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state tournament in basketball in each of her years on the varsity team. Another important memory, Bryant said, would be the closeness of her team and the hard work of Winslow and Doug Cobbs coaching the squad.

Cobbs said that while he and the other coaches are already missing Bryant, her full impact on the Rams’ athletic program will be seen next season.

“I don’t think the full impact of what Hayes has meant to our school will be actually known until next year when she’s not here,” he said.

Cobbs coached Bryant all five years in basketball on both the junior varsity and varsity levels and said she was also a special player.

“She was our go-to player when we needed a basket,” Cobbs said. “She was always smart enough to realize to take a good shot or, if one was not available, to give it to somebody else.

“I think one of the most unique things about Hayes is that from junior varsity to varsity, she has always been able to play any position,” Cobbs continued. “In the state tournament this year, we moved her to the post and she did an excellent job for us.”

As he looks back on her career, Cobbs said he would especially remember one moment.

“I think even more memorable than the state championship game was when we won the Tarheel Independent Conference tournament,” he said. “It was the ultimate of what we achieved and seeing Hayes and the other two senior so happy, that was probably the best memory for me.”

Ridgecroft Soccer Coach Aron Martin said Bryant had been a true joy to coach.

“Hayes has, with the help of her teammates, been the heart and soul of our team,” Martin said. “We relied on her offensively and other teams knew that. Sometimes she was double and triple teamed, but she was still able to generate scoring.

“The most impressive thing about Hayes, however, is her ability to play through injury,” Martin continued. “I don’t remember many times in the past three years that she has played pain-free. She always played, even when she didn’t feel at her best.”

Martin said all coaches speak well of their players, but that Bryant was special.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach her,” he said. “Hayes has been a truly special student-athlete both on and off the field. She watches out for her teammates.

“I think it is impressive that she was looking to build up her teammates, not just in a match, but in practice,” he continued. “That shows she is not just a good teammate, but a good leader.”

Bryant graduates from Ridgecroft School tomorrow (Friday) and will resume her educational and athletic careers at East Carolina University in the fall.

She is the daughter of Mike and Beth Bryant of Ahoskie.