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Playing in paradise

Enjoying a trip of lifetime are Syrupmaker baseball players, l-r: Tyler Steele, Hugh Russell Lee, and Trey Kimmel.

Every summer young athletes give up valuable summer vacation days to stay in shape for the upcoming season of their chosen sport. Weight room workouts, summer ball, conditioning, camps are all a part of a high school athlete’s summer. However, imagine if you will the excitement felt by four Cairo athletes when they learned part of their summer vacation would be spent playing ball on the beautiful islands of Hawaii.
That’s exactly where Hugh Russell Lee, Tyler Steele, Trey Kimmel and Jennifer Donalson found themselves last week. All four Cairo High School athletes received the trip of a lifetime, June 16-23, when they were asked to play in the King Kamehameha Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Lee, the son of Vic and Cecilia Lee, recently graduated from Cairo High School and was an all-region shortstop and pitcher for the Syrupmaker baseball team.
Steele, the son of Dan and Wanda Steele, will be a senior at CHS this year and was a region pick as an outfielder for the Syrupmaker baseball team, as well.
Kimmel, who is the son of Burks and Gina Kimmel, was Cairo’s all-region catcher and will be a CHS senior this year.
The lone female making the trip, Jennifer Donalson, is the daughter of Robert and Tammy Donalson and will be a senior at CHS as well. Donalson is the Syrupmaids all-region and all-state third baseman.
By virtue of being all-region picks and attending area camps, these four Cairo High School athletes were invited to play for Team Georgia at the annual Hawaiian Classic Tournament. The sponsor of the week-long event is Elite Sports, a sports organization whose sole purpose is to offer high school athletes and college coaches the opportunity to travel to some of the world’s most exciting destinations and, at the same time, play the game they love.
In addition to Hawaii, Elite Sports also takes thousands of young athletes to amazing places like England, Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Germany  and Switzerland. Not only were these young athletes showcased in the tournament by Elite Sports for college coaches from around the nation, but the players were given added exposure by VYPE Magazine and, exposure these young athletes would not have received otherwise.
“It was a trip of a lifetime, we all had a wonderful time, and our kids represented not only Georgia but Cairo High School well in Hawaii,” said Tammy Donalson, who along with her sister Dr. Sherry Colvin and Cecilia Lee served as the group’s chaperones.
The boy’s team placed second overall in the tournament, losing only to the host team Hawaii.  Considering the fact the Georgia team had a just few days of practice together, and the Hawaii team plays year round, Team Georgia fared very well. ” This is the highest Team Georgia has ever placed in this tournament,” said Georgia coach Craig Young. Meanwhile, Donalson and the girl’s team placed third in the tournament. Young and the girls’ Team Georgia coach, Ken Phillips, both coach at Middle Georgia College.
“We had a great week, and we are so proud of our Cairo players. It was a very exciting tournament, and a fun week,” said Hugh Russell Lee’s mother Cecilia. However, the trip was not without some tense moments encountered before ever leaving the mainland. “Our flight from Tallahassee was over booked and that caused a delay, which caused us to miss our flight out of Atlanta. However, our bags and ball equipment didn’t miss the flight, so we were stranded in Atlanta without clothes and the kid’s equipment, which made them all quite nervous. But the airline put us up for the night and took care of us and we were able to continue on without any more problems the next day,” Donalson said with a smile.
In addition to playing in the tournament last Saturday and Sunday, the preceding week was chock full of activities for the players and families. After a traditional Hawaiian Lei greeting at the airport on Tuesday, the group was whisked off to the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort and Spa. Wednesday was a day full of sightseeing and fun, including the Aloha Flea Market, the fabulous Pali Lookout, and some of the most beautiful spots on the island of Oahu. Thursday was spent exploring the island of Oahu, where the group had a chance to snorkel in Hanauma Bay and climb to the top of the Diamond Head Crater. The evening was capped off with a traditional Polynesian Luau and dinner.
Friday was spent at the resort where the group watched the King’s Jubilee, which is a colorful tribute to King David Kalakua, and even took in an exciting Samoan Fire Knife dance.
After a busy week of practice and sightseeing, the teams settled in for two days of ball. “It was a great experience, we all got a chance to make new friends and meet athletes from all over the United States,” said Jennifer Donalson. Almost every state was represented and when the dust settled, the two teams from Georgia were in the hunt for the championships.
While the trip was fun and exciting, it was not free.  The players and chaperones had to pay their own travel expenses. Each of the players and their families want to thank the many local businesses and individual sponsors that made their exciting week of fun possible. “We will be thanking every contributor personally, but we all wanted to say how special it was for the people of Cairo and Grady County to help our kids make this trip,” Tammy Donalson said.
It was most assuredly a trip of a lifetime for the four young Cairo athletes.

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