Jay Paris: North County athletes sign on to a bright future at Hall of Champions

The consecutive cheers filled the San Diego Hall of Champions. No surprise, the second one was considerably louder than the first.

It was a big day at the hall, with nearly 250 prep athletes, friends and family jamming this treasured museum in the heart of Balboa Park on Wednesday.

It was the college announcement and signing party — and why did the parents yell louder than the kids?

That’s easy: more than $10 million in scholarships were being represented on stage.

“That definitely helps out a lot,’’ Josh Nelums said.

His son, A.J., an Oceanside High shortstop, is headed to Southern Nazarene University, which is just outside of Oklahoma City.

That’s A-OK with the son and pops.

“It has great academics,’’ the younger Nelums said.

This morning was about sports, but you would have to be ignorant to stop there. Through athletics, these students are able to pursue their sport, and ultimately, their spot in society with higher education on their resume.

“Through athletics, they get to an opportunity to do something after high school,’’ Josh Nelums said. “It’s very exciting.’’

There were more smiles in the Hall of Champions than animals in the nearby San Diego Zoo. Pride was in abundance, as were fresh college shirts proclaiming what was the next step for these accomplished teenagers.

Vista’s Emma Franck, a water polo player, is pointing her GPS toward Cal State Northridge. She’s set to do a cannon ball in the CSUN pool to celebrate, but there are other reasons why she wants to make a splash.

Franck will major in deaf studies. While she loves competing, it’s clear her goals are much higher than scoring many of them for the Matadors.

Roughly 2 percent of San Diego County’s prep athletes receive an athletic scholarship.

Franck was among them and surrounded by other standouts.

“This whole event is great,’’ she said, in scanning the facility with well-wishers hanging from the rails.

Jack Gonzales, an El Camino lefty, had the right stuff. He’s bound for Utah’s Dixie State University.

“All that hard work paid off,’’ he said.

Yes it did and it should give the naysayers time to pause.

The narrative that the younger generation is entitled, that its beak doesn’t find the grindstone and is a bunch of slackers wasn’t in play at the Hall.

These young adults need to be saluted for the passion and poise, for meshing their excellence in and out of the classroom to further their education.

These are our leaders of tomorrow, which tells me we’re in good hands.

Jennifer Kerr, a San Dieguito Academy tennis player, will take a bite from the Big Apple. Columbia University in upper Manhattan is her next stop, which is a long way from laid-back Encinitas.

“I wanted to be in the city and Columbia is in a perfect place in New York City,’’ she said and where she’ll focus on neuroscience.

Some schoolwork was taking a back seat on Wednesday. Maybe a class or two was cut, but the culprits didn’t have to worry about their parents finding out — most were in attendance, jammed among the 500 or so.

Someone not there was the San Diego Fire Marshall. Let the record show the room was busting at the seams and the stairwells were kept clear (wink, wink).

“What this tells you,’’ said Drew Moser of the Hall of Champions, “is that San Diego produces a heck of a lot of good athletes.’’

Yes it does and everyone should puff their chests out.

But this morning was about more than what a scoreboard might reveal after a competition.

These kids are more than all right, and, really, they aren’t kids anymore.

Instead they’ve used sports as their vehicle for their passage this fall to college.

That deserves a big yell from everyone.

“This is really cool,’’ Torrey Pines tennis player Alexa Meyer said, wearing her new University of San Francisco shirt. “It’s neat to see everyone.’’

These athletes will soon scatter to matriculate elsewhere. But many will do so while leaning on their North County roots.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Read his book, “Game of My Life San Diego Chargers,” which is available at local stores and at amazon.com.

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