Faces: Young Athletes

Meet the next generation of champions who call Hilton Head Island home.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography Lisa Staff

Every elite athlete began somewhere. Every “do you believe in miracles” moment came when a child first discovered a sport they loved. And every star who has ever graced a Wheaties box was once just a kid with a love of the game.

And the Lowcountry appears to be fertile ground for these athletic giants. Our numerous sports programs, whether it’s in the gym or on the course, provide some of the finest instruction in the world for aspiring athletes. And despite our laid-back reputation, there is a serious competitive streak that is alive and well and on dazzling display when you look at our young people.

Whether they’re racking up kills in volleyball, earning gold medals for equestrian excellence, or setting their sights on a tartan jacket, these three young locals are proving that the road to the Wheaties box starts here.

Sidney Desimone
CAN YOU DIG IT? • Hilton Head Christian Academy volleyball player Sidney Desimone hopes to play her favorite sport in college. She also hopes to go to medical school.

Sidney Desimone

Killing the Competition

If you were to simply judge Sidney Desimone on her volleyball prowess, that alone would be impressive. Over the course of her high school career at Hilton Head Christian Academy, she has racked up more than a thousand kills – spiked returns that are lethally unreturnable. It’s a skill set this outgoing senior has honed since the fifth grade, leading her to play travel volleyball in seventh grade and making her unstoppable on the court.

And even from a sports perspective, volleyball is just one part of the picture. Starting with soccer at age 3, she picked up basketball in the second grade alongside pursuits from lacross to ballet.

“I absolutely love all of them,” said Desimone of her multi-sport career. “But as you get older, the practices get to be more and more of your time, so I had to choose.”

She narrowed the listed down to just basketball, soccer and volleyball, a full slate on its own. But we’re not done.

You can add to this impressive resume some killer stats on the field of academia, where she holds a 5.2 GPA, putting her first in her class.

“Playing sports and doing all these things all my life really helped me learn time management,” she said. “Also, people go home after school every day and… have, what six hours to do their homework? If I had that much time, I wouldn’t be motivated.”

True, this full schedule has led to some packed days, like in her junior year where she was spending five hours traveling to practice volleyball in Savannah while holding down four AP classes. But the payoffs have been extraordinary, with a choice of colleges before her as she transitions out of high school.

“I ended up applying to 12 colleges, and have heard back from four,” she said. Among her dream schools are Harvard and Notre Dame. “For me, I wanted to go to a high academic college. I knew it would be hard to find one where I could play volleyball, be successful and have the experience I want to.”

Among her choices where she could pursue excellence on and off the court? Johns Hopkins. “If I get into the school, I’ll be able to be on the team. But first I have to get in,” she said. “I definitely want to go to medical school after college.”

With her eyes on medical school, you can rest assured Desimone will approach her academic career in college the same way she has in the years leading up to it: with determination, skill and the motivation to succeed.

Rashawn Young
Medals of Honor • Rashawn Young represented Team USA at the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens, Greece. He won a bronze medal in equitation and a gold medal in relay.

Rashawn Young

Riding high on his horse

People like Rashawn Young. It’s impossible not to.

With his beaming smile and his quick wit, it’s hardly any wonder that guests at the Hampton Inn where he works request him by name. And the stories people tell – of his lighthearted humor, of his irrepressible antics – could fill a book.

But if you really want to know what makes Young tick, get him on a horse.

“I like the freedom of the horses. You just guide the horse where you want to go,” he said. “You pay attention and the horse pays attention. And if you’re not paying attention, the horse will know and stop on you.”

His equestrian adventures began in elementary school, when he was able to ride through Heroes on Horseback and “fell in love with it.” Other sports soon followed, with Young showing a knack for everything from tennis to golf.

“Basketball, track and field… He’s one of these guys that just gets it,” said his coach Bob Lee. “Trainers love him… he’s probably one of the most disciplined athletes I know.”

“We put him in the Bridge Run one year,” said Kathy Cramer, program director for SOAR, which provides Special Olympics sports and recreation programs for area disabled youth. “I just said, ‘Hey you guys, can he follow you?’”

“I got third place in my age group,” said Young with his trademark smile. “I’d never run before.”

This natural talent, cultivated through programs like SOAR and Heroes on Horseback and nurtured by a support system that includes Lee and Cramer, took Young to Athens, Greece, where he represented Team USA at the Special Olympics in 2011.

As team captain, he earned a bronze in equitation and a gold in relay. And even in working trail where he didn’t secure a medal, he exhibited his endearing spirit when his horse colicked out from under him, collapsing to the ground.

“They said all they could give me was fourth or fifth. I’m like, ‘Well, I didn’t die, so I’ll take it.’”

The Special Olympics credo is, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” For Young, you might also add, “and have a great time doing it.”

Jeep Patrick
Pin-seeker • Jeep Patrick is a rising star on the junior golf scene. He holds the course record at First Tee of the Lowcountry and has done well in many junior tournaments.

Jeep Patrick

Golf is his bag

There’s a very special day in the not-so-distant future that Jeep Patrick already has marked on his calendar. The date itself is still TBA, but it will take place in mid-April, 2031.

That’s the day that Jeep Patrick is going to win the RBC Heritage. He already has the venue for the victory party planned.

“I really like Fiesta Fresh, and I get the same thing every time – burrito with steak, bean and cheese, and fries with queso,” he said. It’s a bold call, but Patrick has the golf chops to back it up.

As a sixth grader at Sea Pines Montessori Academy, he’s only been playing golf competitively for two years. But in those two years, he’s already racked up some impressive showings and a startlingly high level of competition. Last year as an 11-year-old, he played in the high school state tournament on Dustin Johnson’s home course.

“It was very intimidating at first, but it was more comfortable the second and third rounds,” he said. “It was from the back tees and it was hard to execute. But I did really well.”

That’s on top of his achievements closer to home, like setting the course record at First Tee of the Lowcountry and tearing it up at HHIJGA and US Kids Tournaments. His passion for golf began with his father Kevin, an avid golfer. “Every year, I’d go out with my dad twice a week in the summer.”

Not content to just hone his skills on the course, Patrick is a multi-sport athlete,
bouncing between golf, basketball and cross country.

“Basketball is very fast. Golf is basically the opposite — there’s not people screaming,” he said. “I’m probably leaning more towards golf, but I just love both of the sports. And then cross country is basically to keep me in shape.”

Parents take note: while his dad fostered his love of the game, Patrick never feels pressured to pursue one sport or another. “My parents keep it very chill. They don’t want to overdo it to the point where I lose interest,” he said. “They want to keep it chill so I’m having fun.”

And that attitude has produced a passion for the sport in young Jeep. Between Thursday birdies classes at First Tee, after-school practice at IJGA and tournament play whenever he can, he is showing the determination needed to one day take home that tartan jacket.

(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)