STARKVILLE — Ralesheia Gee sat in front of friends, family, teammates, coaches and schoolmates Monday and was quiet as a church mouse.
She had a big smile on her face, but after Starkville High School girls track and field coach Caroline Woomer said some words praising Gee, Gee declined to say anything. Woomer joked that’s how Gee is on the outside.
But when she is working on her craft, that’s not the case. Gee is focused on track and field and that determination paid off. She signed a track and field national letter of intent with Ole Miss Monday afternoon in the Beehive.
“You could tell that she was just extremely competitive,” Woomer said. “She was focused even as a seventh grader. She wanted it, she didn’t always know how to do it, but she was going to give it everything she had to do the best she could do. She wanted to win.”
Gee proved herself this spring and won the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state championship in the long jump. She recorded a jump of 19 feet, the longest girls jump in the state of Mississippi in 2016. She also won the region and north state championship in the long jump.
As she looked back on her journey, she couldn’t do anything but smile.
“It’s been a lot of ups, not really downs,” Gee said. “Having coaches like them, they constantly push us and encourage us even when we don’t believe in ourselves.
“I think I’ve developed a lot, a whole lot. Especially when (boys) coach (Steve) Griffin came into the picture because he was my official jump coach. He helped me a whole lot in that area. Coach Woomer, she’s a pusher, period.”
Griffin took over the boys program in the summer of 2012 and he has thrived in his four seasons. The girls program has had been successful with the likes of Caroline Mattox and Emily Woomer and coach Woomer leading the way, but Griffin has added a different perspective.
Ranked as the 28th best high school girls long jumper, Gee was a four-time MHSAA long jump state finalist (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016).
She began to compete in long jump as a freshman and immediately thrived. She said there is more to it than running and jumping.
“People think it’s just running down the line and jumping, which it’s not that,” Gee said. “It’s so much more than that. You have to have technique and you have be consistent with your run.”
Woomer is not only proud of Gee’s athletic ability but her work in the classroom. Owning a 3.7 grade point average, Gee is a perfect example of a student-athlete.
Woomer said they always stress being a good athlete and a student.
“It doesn’t really matter how good you are as an athlete because if you don’t have the academics to follow, you’re not as attractive as you should be,” Woomer said. “If they want to be a dynamic package, they need to show everyone that they’ve got the academics, the leadership skills, the work ethic and the athletic ability.”
Woomer feels like Gee will fit in nicely with the Ole Miss program and in Oxford. Gee is happy for the opportunity because of the potential she sees in being a student-athlete in the Southeastern Conference.
She becomes the third Yellow Jacket to sign a Division I scholarship. Patton Little, the 2015-16 Mississippi Gatorade Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, signed a scholarship with Southern Mississippi, while Emily Woomer signed a scholarship with the Naval Academy. She will enroll in the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, in August and stay one year before making the move to Annapolis, Maryland.
Coach Woomer is extremely happy to see both programs thriving and providing their athletes with opportunities to compete in college. But with the competitive nature of Gee, Woomer didn’t expect it to be late May before Gee got the opportunity to sign.
“For her to be the last one to get a scholarship is frustrating because she should have been the first one,” Woomer said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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