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Scholar Athlete: Seventh grader makes mark in classroom, inside the circle

Robert Lewis Magnet School seventh-grade student Carleigh Sproulls plays softball for Natchez High School along with earning a 4.0 GPA. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Robert Lewis Magnet School seventh-grade student Carleigh Sproulls plays softball for Natchez High School along with earning a 4.0 GPA. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — When Carleigh Sproulls first began her athletic career, she believed basketball would quickly become her first love.

To her surprise, it wasn’t.

Sproulls grandmother, Mary Sproulls, signed Carleigh up for softball when she was 8 years old, and Carleigh has joyfully played it ever since. Mary, along with her mother Toya Sproulls taught Carleigh at a young age to accept challenges, which Carleigh said has helped prepare her for many situations in life.

“I would consider my grandmother and my mother as role models because they always helped me and encouraged me to do things,” Carleigh said.

Now as a seventh grader, Carleigh has already been thrown into the fire against an MHSAA 5A powerhouse Brookhaven softball team, as Carleigh stepped inside the circle for the Lady Bulldogs first game of the season. The Lady Bulldogs ultimately lost, but Carleigh had the guts to test her skills against one of the best teams in 5A.

“I was nervous at first, but then I started getting the hang of it,” Carleigh said. “It worked out fine. I’m used to it. I play all of the time.”

Natchez head softball coach Falana McDaniel got a taste of Carleigh’s fearlessness in the early goings of the season. During a meeting before the season, McDaniel challenged her club to be leaders, communicate with one another and to do the things necessary for the team to be successful. To McDnaiel’s delight, Carleigh responded with poise and leadership.

“Since the first day, she just stepped up to the plate, and every practice she gives her all,” McDaniel said. “I can tell the difference between her initiative and others.”

Carleigh’s initiative carries over in the classroom at Robert Lewis Magnet School, where Carleigh holds a 4.0 GPA.

“Because I’m a teacher, that’s more important,” said McDaniel, who teaches business education classes at Natchez High School. “She’s a great kid with a nice personality. Some of the girls I have to tell them to do something twice, but I’ve never had to tell her to do anything twice. She stands out.”

McDaniel is hoping Carleigh will not only continue to stand out academically but also on the softball field. But most importantly for McDaniel, she never has to worry about Carleigh’s drive on and off of the field, which in the end, means the most to the first-year softball coach.

“I tell them that all of the time, that I would rather not have a team than have a team that doesn’t want to succeed,” McDaniel said. “She wants to succeed.”