Prep Signing: East discus thrower Gardner headed to UNC-Pembroke
By Ronnie Gallagher
GRANITE QUARRY — After six years of pitching on travel softball teams, Haylee Gardner was sure she had found her sport once she reached East Rowan.
Then, she was cut.
Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to her.
Gardner, a talented discus thrower, is on her way to UNC- Pembroke as a conference and regional champion.
“I can’t describe it,” beamed Gardner. “It feels amazing that you can completely adapt to something and excel at it.”
Let’s not forget she had a pretty good teacher in Lu Gamewell, the East Rowan coach who threw the discus in the ACC at North Carolina.
“I should be able to teach that, if nothing else,” Gamewell laughed.
When Gardner was cut from softball, she went to assistant track coach Laurie Wyrick for a little consolation.
“I was devastated,” Gardner said. “Coach Wyrick said I should come out for track.”
And that’s where Gamewell took over. She saw a diamond in the rough.
“Anytime you’ve got a good softball arm, you make a good discus thrower,” Gamewell pointed out. “She had never thrown before but she had a knack for it.”
Not at first.
“I was awful,” Gardner chuckled. “I didn’t get good until my junior year.”
By her senior year, Gamewell had nurtured her into a future college athlete. Gardner said she worked every day for at least two hours and began lifting weights under the direction of football coach Danny Misenheimer.
“And Coach Gamewell devoted so much time after school,” she added.
The improvement Gardner made over the last month of the season secured that scholarship to the Braves of UNC-Pembroke.
She placed second at the Rowan County track meet with a throw of 92 feet.
That was on April 11.
Gardner won the North Piedmont Conference championship with a throw of 93-10.
About two weeks later, everyone was going, “Wow.” On May 4, she won the Midwest Regionals with a personal best of 100 feet, 6 inches.
“I wanted to do awesome in the regionals,” Gardner said.
Gamewell wanted the same thing and gave her a little pep talk beforehand.
“She was the most experienced person we had going into the regionals,” Gamewell said. “And we talked about that. I told her to just relax and have fun.”
Gardner was opening eyes by then, and it continued in the 3A state meet. She threw another personal best 108-6, placing sixth and scoring points for the Mustangs.
Increasing her distance that much in such a short time had UNC Pembroke increasing the offer.
“I had contacted them and sent in a questionaire,” Gardner said. “I was supposed to be walk-on, actually, but I improved so much during the season, they offered me.”
Gamewell is one proud coach.
“I’ve never had a discus thrower work as hard as she has,” Gamewell said.
Gardner said the discus throwers in college throw anywhere from 110 feet to 129 feet. Can she keep improving?
“As much hard work as I’ve put into it, anything’s attainable,” Gardner said.
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