At the GISA clay target shooting championships in December, Sean Grossnickle lost his hat.
For the first time in his shooting sports career, Grossnickle hit all 25 targets in one of the skeet rounds. That caused his teammates to engage in a little tradition of sorts, a perfect-round salute that involved taking his hat, wrapping it around a clay target and taking aim.
Grossnickle’s effort helped Stratford win the GISA’s general division, a competition for private schools that are members of the GHSA or the GICAA.
That was just a small part of Grossnickle’s senior year, a year that included a championship game appearance in soccer, participation in the GHSA swim meet, a playoff appearance in football and a stint as a 400 meters and relay competitor on Stratford’s track and field team.
Add a 4.2 GPA and Eagle Scout honors, among other activities, and Grossnickle’s calendar has been full.
“On some nights during the school year, I’ll only get a couple of hours of sleep,” Grossnickle said. “You just have to stay up and get the homework done, go to practice, go to workouts. It can be a grind, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Headed to Duke in the fall, Grossnickle is The Telegraph’s Martha Pennyman Scholar-Athlete Award winner.
Grossnickle’s resume is stacked, both in terms of athletics and other pursuits.
In football, he was a two-way starter for a team that reached the GHSA Class A private school playoffs in its first year of membership in the GHSA. He started every game in Stratford’s secondary, finishing second on the team in tackles with 89, and had 33 carries for 399 yards and five touchdowns in the Eagles’ wing-T offense. He also had five extra-point kick attempts, making all of them.
“I got talked into playing football during my eighth-grade year,” Grossnickle said. “My brother (Charlie Grossnickle, the 2011-12 Martha Pennyman Award winner) would come home every night and be, ‘Sean, you need to get out there.’ So I went out there and played for Coach (Rodney) Collins and Coach (Mark) Farriba, and I’ve had a great experience on the football field.”
Grossnickle’s winter sport, swimming, came about more as a matter of necessity than anything else. Looking to rehab following a football ankle injury during his junior year, Grossnickle took to the pool. He wound up swimming during his senior year, as well, and he was part of a 200-yard freestyle relay team that qualified for the GHSA championship meet.
“I knew swimming would be a good time because it was in the offseason, and I would be able to rehab those injuries,” Grossnickle said. “It worked out great. I had a good time swimming with the team.
“We had three other guys who were very strong swimmers. I had done a little swimming when I was younger, so I remembered a little bit of the technique. We had a good run. Qualifying for state was a big deal for us. We were excited to be able to go up to Georgia Tech and compete.”
In the spring, Grossnickle anchored Stratford’s soccer defense as the center back. The Eagles, who finished second to Atlanta International in the Class A playoffs, never allowed a goal at home the entire season, shutting out all of their Area 2-A opponents home and away in the process.
While playing soccer, Grossnickle had time to squeeze in six track meets. He competed in the 400, the 4x100 relay and the 4x400 relay, placing in every meet in which he took part.
“Some of us in the summer, going into our senior year, we were a little hesitant because we didn’t know what we would get from the GHSA,” Grossnickle said. “I think our whole class buckled down and set the tone for what Stratford was going to do in the GHSA. We competed pretty well in most sports and some sports contended for state championships.”
He did all of that while maintaining high standards in the classroom and in other projects.
Stratford’s salutatorian, Grossnickle put in more than 100 community service hours, including work with the Macon Volunteer Clinic. Last summer, he went on a trip to Central America, where he taught children at a school in Belize.
“I really enjoyed it,” Grossnickle said. “We stayed in the rainforest on one of the islands in the Caribbean. It was cool to interact with the locals and see how their culture operates, the language, the food, which was awesome.”
A look at the other Martha Pennyman Scholar-Athlete candidates:
MEGHAN BRENNAN, JONES COUNTY
Participated in cross country and soccer, overlapping sports; played travel soccer for four years, all as captain; played four years of soccer at Jones County, was team MVP in 2015 and led team with 30 assists to go with four goals; graduated with a 96 average.
SYDNEY BOZEMAN, TRINITY CHRISTIAN
Standout in basketball, track and softball; three-time GISA Region 3-AAA all-region softball pick, four-time basketball pick; two-time Trinity Christian female athlete of the year; three-time All-Middle Georgia basketball honoree; averaged 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks in basketball career; spent two spring breaks doing mission work in Dominican Republic; graduated with a 3.81 GPA; has signed with Furman.
ELLEN MARIE JONES, CENTRAL
Three-year soccer captain; moved from defense to forward and scored nine of team’s 15 goals in 2015, earning first-team all-region; winner of Brandon Bennings Student-Athlete award and female athlete of the year at Central; Macon Sports Hall of Fame scholar-athlete; had highest average in biology, economics and IB math method 1; member of National Honor Society; four-time nominee for Governor’s Honors Program; graduated as salutatorian.
KALEB MCLEOD, TRINITY CHRISTIAN
Three-time All-Middle Georgia boys cross country runner; multiple times All-Middle Georgia distance runner; among state’s top distance runners; involved with church youth group and local missions; graduated with a 3.7 GPA; has signed with Belmont.