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Strong families provided support for Van Buren athletes

George "Clay" Mitchell
Press Argus-Courier

Family is important.

That was on display with the big smiles behind the masks on Wednesday morning when Gary Phillips, Baylor Shook, and Jaiden Henry formalized their commitment to play college football. It wasn't just from immediate family but from coaches, teachers, friends, classmates, and administrators. Everyone was family.

For each, it will be a journey to a new destination and leaving many loved ones behind. But the chance to grow, meet new people, and chase that horizon was an opportunity each one wanted to take. This journey probably wouldn't be made without family being just as committed to a child's success. 

Someone had to drive to and from those practices in junior high and summer workouts. Stay on them to make sure homework was done. Sacrificing vacations or scheduling summer vacations around camps.

Phillips isn't just leaving to go to college, he'll be putting more than 20 hours between himself and his family when he attends school at West Point.

"My mom really didn't like the idea at first," said Phillips. "It's tough to leave family behind but I feel like this is my chance to step out on my own."

Chatting with Phillips' dad during the ceremony, he started to list all the teams the Black Knights will play close to Arkansas. "There are a bunch of them but she (pointing to his wife) ... she already has that all figured out."

It was family who got Phillips moving towards Army. When Phillips was looking at his options for college, his sister Kenya, who is part of the Air National Guard, suggested Army. At first, he didn't give it much thought and was considering other schools.

"But the more I thought about it, the more it started to seem like a real possibility for me," Phillips said.

Henry came to Van Buren before the start of junior year as his dad, Moe Henry, joined the Pointer coaching staff. 

"The people are what made Van Buren so special, that and playing for my dad for the past eight years," Henry said. "I'm really going to miss that. Miss the interaction with the coaching staff, not just at the field house and during practices but in the hallways and the classrooms. The coaches were really invested in us."

Henry said he made some friendships that will last a lifetime.

"Gary is my friend and my brother," said Henry. "I don't really like that I'm going to be far away from him but I'm really excited to see what the future has in place for him."

Shook is taking about an 11.5-hour journey to attend Morehead State.

"The staff and the coaches were like a great big family and that was one of the main things for me," said Shook. "I did get a chance to visit the campus a couple of weeks ago. My mom was hesitant about me wanting to go to Morehead State but once she got to visit the campus with me she loved it."

Morehead State is located about an hour from Lexington, Kentucky, and he's already been in contact with many in his signing class.

"There's going to be a whole lot of new people for me to meet," Shook said. "I've already started to get close to the other players from the group chats and Zoom meetings and getting to know them. It's going to make it easier once I get there for sure."