CONTRIBUTED BY SUSCC
Being part of a sports team is often likened to being part of a family, but for four Southern Union State Community College (SUSCC) athletes, being a Bison is truly a family affair.
Those four are Ricky, Christy, Thomas and Savannah Collins, two generations of Collinses from Newnan, Georgia, that have found personal and professional success through Southern Union’s athletic program.
Their family story began in 1993 when Ricky, an All-American high-school baseball player, arrived at SUSCC’s Wadley campus from his hometown of Stockbridge, Georgia. A standout pitcher and hitter, Ricky had already been chosen by the Texas Rangers in the 1993 Amateur Draft, but he and two of his fellow high-school baseball team members wanted a chance to develop further before going pro. So, when SUSCC offered them all scholarships, the trio jumped at the chance to play for the Bison’s then-head baseball coach, Joe “Jabo” Jordan.
During Ricky’s first year at SU, he and his Bison teammates were state junior college league champions, missing a chance to go to the National Junior College Athletic Association (JUCO) World Series by just three outs. In June of 1994, Ricky was again picked in the Amateur Draft, this time by the Oakland A’s, and was named that year’s Alabama Male Junior College Athlete of the Year, the top award given across all sports.
That same year, Ricky also met another Bison athlete, Christy Byrd of Newnan, Georgia, a former gymnast and by then an All-American cheerleader who had arrived at SUSCC on scholarship to become part of the Bison cheer squad. Christy’s first impression of Ricky, whom she met as he helped her roommate, a friend of his from Stockbridge, move into the dorm, was less than stellar thanks to a goofy wardrobe incident. However, Christy and Ricky soon became a couple and continued dating even after Ricky left SUSCC in 1995 to play for Auburn University’s baseball program and Christy joined the Jacksonville State University cheer squad in 1996.
After a year at Auburn, Ricky joined Christy at JSU where he further honed his pitching and hitting skills before going on to play independent ball in Michigan. Unfortunately, a year and a half later Ricky threw out his arm, which ended his plans for a professional baseball career, but not his passion for the sport.
The two married in 1998 and settled in Newnan to pursue their careers, she as an educator and he as a builder and now project manager, and soon their family had doubled in size with the birth of Thomas and, 14 months later, Savannah.
Thomas apparently inherited his father’s baseball talents; according to Christy, at the age of six months he was already flexing his hitting prowess by knocking balloons across a room. “I remember calling Ricky and saying, ‘He’s hitting lefty!’” (Ricky himself was a lefty.) By the time he was two, Thomas was hitting and fielding balls on a field.
Like his father, Thomas was interested in pursuing a professional baseball career but also wanted to take some time after high school to further develop his skills and strength. He had several offers from four-year schools under consideration, but his parents knew Southern Union would be a great place for Thomas to further develop his skills, so they gently nudged him toward their alma mater.
“We’ve always thought highly of Wadley and Southern Union,” Ricky said.
Both he and Christy appreciated that it provided them with a small, tight-knit community where they were able to excel while also being held accountable by their coaches, professors and even local residents.
“It was good for us,” said Christy, “but we wanted Thomas to make his own decision.”
However, when Thomas got an unexpected “random” text from Southern Union’s then-coach, Aaron Everett, to come for a visit, he and his father drove over.
Thomas, who was recovering at the time from injuries, didn’t try out for the team that day but the conversation with Everette was enough to help him make up his mind.
“We got about halfway home when Thomas said, ‘This [SUSCC] is where I’d like to go,’” Ricky recalled.
“I didn’t get any pressure from my parents,” Thomas said. “I just knew it was the best choice for me and it just happened to be the best choice for everyone else in my family.”
In 2020, Thomas arrived in Wadley on an academic scholarship ready to begin his college experience. He, too, appreciated Wadley’s small-town atmosphere and home-away-from-home vibe, which allowed him to concentrate on classes and on things there were important for his athletic aspiration — “playing baseball, lifting weights and eating food,” he said. “Everything I needed was right there for me.”
In 2022, Thomas transferred to Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, where he is majoring in sports management with an eye toward a career in baseball. Whether that career is as a player, coach on another role, Thomas is sure of one thing: “I want to stay around the game,” he said.
Savannah, too, was a natural athlete who started playing softball while very young before switching to volleyball in middle school.
“She told us she was hanging her cleats up because ‘my dad doesn’t know that much about volleyball so he can’t coach me,’” Ricky said.
In 2022, as Savannah began looking for colleges, SUSCC wasn’t on her list nor was she sure she even wanted to play college-level volleyball. But she sent out her volleyball highlight videos to several schools including SUSCC and ended up coming to Wadley for tryouts. When Bison volleyball head coach Ametrice Jackson called to offer her a scholarship Savannah was thrilled.
“I always liked Southern Union when I would come watch my brother play,” Savannah, who is majoring in nursing, said. “When I went to the tryouts, I realized it was a great team and a great environment. I also knew it would let me start small before going onto a bigger school.”
And she was right. The experience of playing volleyball and being part of a close community has been wonderful, and one she happily recommends to others.
Of course, none of that is a surprise to Ricky and Christy, who truly think of their SUSCC family as “family.”
“When you’re here, your teammates really become your brothers and sisters,” Ricky said.
“We are proud that our children chose to go to SU,” Christy said, and especially that they chose it for themselves. And they, too, often recommend it to others.
“We tell people all the time that they will not find better facilities anywhere, even at a lot of Division 1 schools,” Ricky said. “We all should be proud of everything here.”
Now is a great time to experience that sense of Bison family firsthand by attending home games at the SUSCC Baseball Complex for their 2023 season, which opened in mid-February. Schedules for all Southern Union athletic events can be found at www.suscc.edu.