While Austintown Fitch students were on spring break last week, two athletes returned to school Wednesday to sign letters of intent to continue their sports careers in college this fall.
Tradazia Merchant from the track and field team signed with the University of Akron and Falcon golfer Rachel Williamson signed her letter of intent with Notre Dame College of Ohio.
Merchant will be continuing on the track team as a weight and shot put thrower. She has earned all-state recognition while on the Fitch team and is currently ranked 18th nationally. Merchant was a regional and state qualifier last year in outdoor track and field and was an OATCCC state qualifier during the indoor season. While she has proven her abilities, she said she wasn't always involved in the sport.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Two Fitch seniors signed their letters of intent last week to continue their sports careers in college. Seated from left are: golf standout Rachel Williamson who signed to attend Notre Dame of Ohio and Tradazia Merchant who signed to continue her track career at the University of Akron. Back row from left are: Fitch girls golf coach Lennie Gessler, Jeff Williamson, Andrew Williamson, Michele Williamson, Diana and Ken Williamson, Brisha Merchant, Latasha Merchant, and Fitch track and field coach T.J. Koniowsky.
''I was in class one day and I walked from my desk to hand in a paper,'' Merchant said. ''Coach T.J. Koniowsky was in the room and when he saw me, said he wanted me to come out for track. I had no experience and look where I am at now.''
She said it took some getting used to, but she wanted to be part of the team and over the past four years has progressed to a championship level.
''It was a project to get her started in her freshman year,'' said Koniowsky. ''It was tough to start training, but I had a lot of good senior leaders who helped out. Each year she got stronger and now she is a real success story. Track has given her a lot on a personal level as well.''
According to Merchant's mother, Latasha Merchant, when her daughter came home and said she wanted to try out for the team, she was met with the support of her family.
''I always encourage my kids to try something new,'' she said. ''Tradazia joined the team and worked hard at it. She came home from practice and was always excited.''
Merchant said she chose the University of Akron because she felt she belonged there. She said it felt like home. She plans on pursuing a degree in business administration with a specific goal in mind.
''I want to own my own restaurant someday,'' she said.
Joining her for the signing event was senior Rachel Williamson, a four-year letterman in golf. Over her career at Fitch, Williamson racked up the low average all four years, was the first Fitch golfer to lead the team in scoring all four years, was the only Fitch female golfer to advance to districts twice and has qualified for the Greatest Golfer of the Valley for the past two years.
Williamson's father, Jeff Williamson, said, ''She started playing at age five. I cut down a club to fit her size and would take her to the driving range.''
She continue to enjoy the game and improved her skills. When she entered Fitch and joined the girls golf team. According to coach Lennie Gessler, Williamson was impressive from the start.
''She is the most competitive golfer I've ever seen,'' Gessler said. ''Most high school golfers hope to play a good game, but she expects it. She understands the game when so many her age don't.''
While Williamson remains a force to be reckoned with on the golf course, she still enjoys a round with her father.
''My dad still beats me in golf, but I do get a win in now and then,'' she said.
As for her choice of Notre Dame of Ohio, she said it was a good fit. She took part in an overnighter at the college and liked the coach and the team.
At Notre Dame, Williamson plans to major in biology with a career goal of becoming a pediatric speech pathologist.
Both Williamson and Merchant will be attending their respective colleges on partial sports scholarships.