Over the next three weeks, our Morgan’s Finest series will continue with a three-part story of a trio of great athletes from Morgan County High School. The uniqueness of this feature finds three athletes attending the same college after graduation from MCHS. While at Piedmont College, these three friends find themselves as the only three students attending there from MOCO with scholarships in three different sports. In the spring of 2001, each student-athlete is awarded the Most Valuable Player Award in each of their respective sports. This first week’s article features David West who was the MVP in tennis. Next week we’ll take a look at Stephen McClain who was the MVP in baseball. The final week is a feature of softball MVP Kim Massey. Without a doubt, this is quite an unusual story and certainly worthy of our Morgan’s Finest series. We hope you enjoy reading about these former student-athletes.
David West was not a tennis player in his early years. Like most young men growing up in rural Georgia, he was enamored with the game of baseball. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that his PE teacher, Rena Holt, introduced him to the sport. He said, “She had played a lot of tennis and thought I would make a good player. My good friend John Tillery and I had both burned out on baseball. When Coach (Davis) Bell came to us in the ninth grade and asked if we wanted to try out for the team, we did. He asked if we wanted to two-platoon in baseball for the rest of our high school careers. That got my attention.”
As a freshman, West made the varsity squad as the last guy on the team at number two doubles. The following summer he attended a summer tennis camp at Clemson. “I hadn’t played that much tennis at that point. I started working at it and came back to earn the number one singles spot on the team. That’s how much I improved. I held that spot until I graduated in 2000,” he told us.
West recalled his high school team as being pretty good, but couldn’t remember the details of any championships or awards that they or he garnered during that time. Upon graduation, he said that he had no intentions of playing tennis at the college level, but instead was planning on attending the University of Georgia on the HOPE scholarship and majoring in horticulture. His education would be fully paid for at UGA. But, in stepped his Aunt Rena and Uncle George Holt who were alumni of Piedmont College. They encouraged him to try out for the PC tennis squad. “I had already been accepted to UGA and it was going to be totally free. Coach Bell loaded up a van with my family and we headed to Piedmont for a personal tryout with the Coach. After the tryout the coach (Shane Wood) told my parents he wanted me to come there to play tennis, but we had a big decision to make. Division III schools don’t give athletic scholarship money, only academic and the tuition was higher. Mom and Dad told him that money was an issue for them. He was able to get me $11,000 of the $13,000 tuition due to my high grades and test scores that I wouldn’t have to pay back. We decided to go for it, and that’s how it all started,” he commented.
Upon arriving at Piedmont, West said he knew no one there, but met his roommate for the next two years the first day on campus. “My career skyrocketed there. Most of the guys on the team had been playing tennis their entire lives. They’d been taking lessons, playing tournaments, and practicing for hours every day since they were young. I think most of them had maxed out their potential for the most part. I hadn’t. Tennis became life for us, but especially me. We practiced and played five days a week, three hours a day for the next two years. My talent blossomed in that environment. I was always a pretty good athlete, but didn’t have the hours under my belt that they had. The more I played, the better I got,” he commented.
During that freshman year, West went on to play the number five singles slot and number three doubles as well. When the dust cleared after a great season, the Rutledge boy had finished the season at 17-5. At the spring sports banquet, he was named the Most Valuable Player for 2001. He returned for an encore season his sophomore year and had, in his mind, another great year. He gave way to a Romanian player who eventually played professional for the MVP that season, but was awarded the coveted Coach’s Award instead. Piedmont won back-to-back Conference Championships those two seasons before West turned his mind toward the University of Georgia and higher learning. He said, “I had a blast at Piedmont. It was two and out for me because they didn’t offer the major that I was looking for. I got my horticulture degree at Georgia and never looked back.”
The 37-year-old West is the son of Robby and Julie West of Rutledge and is married to the former Ms. Chrissi Spitaleri. She is a first-year teacher at Morgan County Middle School. They’ve been married for 10 years and have four children; Tyler 22, Caitlin 16, Aiden 8, and Addison 7. After working for Great Estates Landscaping for the past 13 years, West has recently changed directions. He is now employed by Chris Cepuran, a good friend who is the superintendent for East Coast Grading and Paving. His title is Director of Business Development. He said, “Chris kept bugging me about coming to work for him and I finally did. Some people say all I do is wine and dine our big customers by taking them on hunting and fishing trips, and I do some of that. The biggest thing I do is tap into the municipal part of the business by getting us on bid lists of cities, counties, and municipalities.”
Our featured athlete reminisced about some of the talent in his graduating class mentioning several college stars. Danny Tillery went on to play tight end at Jackson State where they won a National title, Merritt Ainslie played baseball at North Georgia, Derrick Ballard played football at Memphis, Kim Massey was a dual scholarship athlete at Piedmont, Stephen McClain played baseball at Piedmont, Tracy Franklin, Chad McClain, and Wade Whitaker all had stints in college athletics. “We had a talented class of athletes that have done well. It’s cool to look back and all around town to see all these people doing well with their careers. They were good people.”
Let’s give a shout-out to this week’s Morgan’s Finest Athlete, David West. It’s not often that a late bloomer goes on to become the MVP of a Conference Champion in his freshman year. Congratulations on becoming Morgan’s Finest newest member.