Both Rylee Ratliff and Darius Shankle had dreams of playing collegiately.
And both Grace Community School seniors would not let injuries or roadblocks deter them in their pursuit of the next level.
On Friday in an emotional ceremony at Taylor Gymnasium, the Lady Cougar and Cougar inked with their colleges.
Ratliff signed to play soccer with Eastern Oklahoma State College, an NJCAA Division I program in Wilburton, Oklahoma.
Shankle signed to play basketball at East Texas Baptist University, an NCAA Division III program in Marshall.
Although some speakers admitted they had doubts Ratliff may not reach this signing day, the Grace senior felt she would reach her goal.
“I was able to overcome my injuries through the strength of the Lord,” said Ratliff, who suffered knee injuries at the end of her sophomore year and another that prevented her from playing her junior season. “Having those injuries and having to overcome them have made me the person I am today, through perseverance and the help from God, my family, friends and teammates.”
Assistant soccer coach Mitch Smith added that Ratliff was his hero as she was not willing to accept the fate from the injuries that sidelined her.
“You are an inspiration, not just how your overcame your injuries, but how you went about it,” Smith said.
Ratliff, who will play center midfield for the Mountaineers, signed with the Oklahoma school with her parents, Tony and Brandee, sisters Finlee, Adalee and Emilee, and grandmothers Kim Boyd and Sharon Horton in attendance.
Ratliff said she would likely major in physical therapy so she can help athletes with their injuries.
For Shankle, he signed with his parents, Reginald and Sharon, and brother Daniel attending.
“I am so excited and thankful for this day,” Shankle said. “I am thankful for everything God has done for me and given me. He made a way for me to get here today. I am also thankful for my family, coaches and people who have supported me and helped me to get to this point.”
Shankle, a 5-10 guard, averaged 16.0 points per game with 1.9 steals, 2.3 assists and 1.5 rebounds.
During the season he surpassed the 1,000-point mark in his career and was selected for both the Azalea and Hoops for Autism All-Star Games.
Cougars basketball coach Eddie Francis said he expects big things from Shankle at ETBU, which competes in the American Southwest Conference. Francis said he will be successful if he “Keeps putting others before yourself ... Outworks and out-competes everyone ... and keeps God first.”