Berry College is getting one of Oconee County’s top athletes.

Lula Hailey, a senior who competes for the Oconee County High School track and field team, recently signed to continue her career at Berry College near Rome, Georgia.

Hailey was recognized in a scholarship signing ceremony on Dec. 14. The ceremony, held at Oconee County High School, marked a formal celebration for Hailey’s accomplishment.

Hailey said she originally wanted a more informal affair but the ceremony was a nice moment of reflection and celebration.

“It felt nice to be there with all my family,” Hailey said. “I just wanted it to be private but it was pretty good.”

For Hailey, the signing of a scholarship ceremony capped off years’ worth of hard work and dreams.

She first considered that she could one day be a college athlete when she was in the sixth grade. That’s when she connected with coach Reese Hoffa, who helped Hailey hone her skills in shot put and discus.

Ever since then, Hailey knew she wanted to compete at the next level.

The reality of achieving her dream did not set in until after the signing ceremony.

“At the time, I didn't really feel anything until after I had signed,” Hailey said. “That's when it hit me that I was going to college to play a sport that I really enjoy and that I actually was succeeding in it.”

Berry was not the only college program that came calling for Hailey.

Hailey received other offers from Piedmont College, Gardner-Webb University and a college in Virginia. In the end, a special connection with the Berry campus convinced Hailey to sign with the Vikings.

“My first year of high school, I had made state for shot put and discus,” Hailey recalled. “When we went to our location, it was at Berry College. At first, I didn't really think much of it but after being able to throw there and experiencing my first state competition, I just really fell in love with it. I enjoyed it a lot.”

In addition to a litany of academic and athletic offerings and distinctions, Berry also boasts a campus of around 27,000 acres – heralded as the largest college campus in the world.

The campus is also routinely voted as one of the most beautiful in Georgia and in the United States.

“It's very beautiful,” Hailey said. “I'm very excited.”

Hailey said she was previously torn between studying environmental and animal science along with German. Now, Hailey said she intends to study environmental science when starting classes at Berry.

Of course, she also hopes to continue competing at a high level.

Her athletic passion has helped her make Oconee a standout track and field program.

“I feel very good about it,” Hailey said about her career as a Warrior. “Since coming here, my coaches have told me that I've been one of the most dedicated people on the track team throwing-wise. Our track team hasn't been really known for their throwing but, since I've come here, they say that it's become more known and more appreciated.”

With one more season at Oconee on the horizon, Hailey aims to continue her success.

“For my senior year, [the goal] is just to throw as far as I can, improve as much as I can until college,” Hailey said. “Just enjoy it until the very last.”

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