Of all the honors and awards Abigail “Abby” McLaughlin earned over the course of her six years as a student-athlete competing for the cross country and track teams at Camden High School, this was one which the recent CHS graduate would gladly not have received.
As part of last month’s South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) state track and field championships held inside Harry Parone Stadium at Spring Valley High school, McLaughlin was the inaugural recipient of the Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Scholarship.
The scholarship’s 45-year-old namesake is the late track and field coach and speech pathologist at Goose Creek High School who was one of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston who were brutally murdered while attending a prayer meeting at the historic church the evening of June 17, 2015.
The stipend is presented by the South Carolina Track and Cross Country Coaches Association and awarded to a deserving high school senior from the Palmetto State. The application process includes questions to be answered by the nominating coach --- in this case CHS track and field coach Daniel Sisk --- as well as the applicant.
McLaughlin, who will be a freshman at Winthrop University in the fall, was also awarded one of two Camden Bulldog Club scholarships at the school’s banquet and was also honored as a SCHSL Scholar-Athlete Award winner which goes to student-athletes who have lettered at least twice and maintained a 3.5 Grade Point Average.
“I’m honored to have received this award but at the same time, I’m sad,” McLaughlin said of the circumstances which led to the creation of the scholarship.”
Like most South Carolinians and even those beyond the borders of the Palmetto State, McLaughlin can recall her feelings when she first heard the news of the murders by an alleged lone gunman. Then, when she learned of the location of the church in downtown Charleston, things became clear and very real.
The sorrowful scenes which were beamed to a worldwide audience hit close to home for McLaughlin and her family.
“My family goes down to Charleston a lot and we know the area,” she said. “We were just devastated. We couldn’t believe that anyone would do that.”
Coleman-Singleton ran track herself at South Carolina State University, helping the Bulldogs to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship while in Orangeburg. After working in school districts in Georgia, she returned to South Carolina and first taught at Stratford High School in 2007 before having taught and coached eight years at Goose Creek.
While McLaughlin never met Coleman-Singleton, she had heard stories about her and the affect she had on her student-athletes.
“I knew a little bit about her,” she said. “I have some friends down there and I have one friend who actually goes to Goose Creek so, I knew a little bit about her. I learned more about her after the incident.”
Shortly after Coleman-Singleton’s passing the state’s track and cross country coaches decided to honor one of their own members in a way which would be fitting with the way she lived her life. The scholarship assures that Coleman-Singleton’s legacy will carry on.
When Sisk first learned of the scholarship, he immediately thought of McLaughlin, who had been a five-year member of the Lady Bulldogs’ track and field team as a distance runner and a six-year letterwinner in cross country for coaches Pam Chickering and Andrew Lipps.
After Sisk told McLaughlin about the scholarship, the two went to work filling out the application. For Sisk, writing a recommendation for McLaughlin was easy. McLaughlin was a member of the National Honor Society, the Beta Club and National Honor Latin Society while maintaining a 3.814 GPA. In addition, she was a captain in both cross country and track.
“Abigail is a true example of a person who exemplifies the six pillars of character,” Sisk said. “Her involvement in both school and community speaks for itself. Abigail is the most respected girl on the track and cross country teams. Her teammates can count on her to be at every practice, on time, and to set the tone.
Abigail is a motivator and leads by example. Her leadership and trustworthiness have led to her being named captain of both the cross country and track teams. She is one of the most responsible student athletes that I have ever coached. I have seen first-hand what it takes to balance academics, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities. Not only is Abigail an outstanding athlete, she is also an outstanding student.
“Coaches want people like Abigail on their teams,” Sisk continued. “She treats everyone with respect and fairness. Abigail is a true team player. She supports all of her teammates and because she has a strong sense of fairness, she brings out the best in others. This is also a major factor in her leadership qualities.”
When it came time for her to accept the scholarship, McLaughlin listened as the presenter described Coleman-Singleton and the person which she was and the ideals for which she stood. He talked of Coleman-Singleton’s work at Goose Creek, as the mother of three children and her deep faith and involvement in the community through being a minister on staff at Emanuel AME Church.
Having heard what was being said about the late Lady Gators’ track coach led to McLaughlin’s wanting to live up to the standards set by the woman in whose memory the scholarship was named. She said receiving the honor will spur her on to try and live up to the standards set by Coleman-Singleton during her all-too-brief days on this earth.
“I plan on giving back wherever I go,” said McLaughlin, who ran in the AAA state track qualifier in May and was an All-Region 6-AAA cross country team member in 2010. “I’ve been thinking about doing something down in Charleston but I haven’t really figured it out yet.
“I’m just so honored. I can’t believe that I was so blessed to get such a prestigious award. I was very excited and thrilled. Words can’t describe how I felt.”
Sisk said he has no doubts that McLaughlin will be someone the state track and cross country coaches as well as Coleman-Singleton’s family will be proud of.
“Abigail has a passion for caring for others on the track, on the cross country course, in the school and in the community. Her willingness to volunteer has provided her with numerous opportunities to help others,” he said.
While at Camden High, McLaughlin served as captain of the school’s Fellow ship of Christian Athletes and was also a student assistant for head trainer Robert McCarthy’s Sports Medicine program. She also volunteered with the Special Olympics of Kershaw County and was a volunteer at Pine Tree Hill Elementary School.
In the community, McLaughlin is a member of the youth group at River Church, has served as a volunteer at the Walter Crowe Animal Shelter, has helped the United Way of Kershaw County “Stuff a Bus” with school supplies, as well as the United Way’s “Fill a Truck” toy and coat drive.
Sisk said that McLaughlin has used her own health-related diagnosis to aid those in similar circumstances.
“During Abigail’s eighth-grade year,” Sisk said, “she was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes. Her willingness to help others with diabetes really exemplifies how much she cares for others. She has been a camp counselor at the Adam Fisher Type 1 Diabetes Camp for three years. She has also volunteered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for four years.”
McLaughlin’s work in the community led to her receiving the 2016 Classy Camden Community Service Award for volunteer work in the community.
As for the immediate future for Abby McLaughlin, she is focused on opening a new chapter in her life when she begins classes at Winthrop. Rather than have the added pressure of being an athlete in her first year of college, she does not plan on running cross country or track as a freshman, though that could change, she said, at some later point in time.
McLaughlin will not stop running altogether as she said she would like to run in various races or, join a running club to keep up with what she likes doing the best in the realm of athletics. The latter option may suit her best as she said the one thing she will miss after having competed for six years on the high school level is the family-like feel which one receives as part of one group.
“My favorite aspect of running is having that team camaraderie and stuff like that,” said McLaughlin who will major in exercise science at Winthrop with an eye on becoming a physical therapist. “I’m really going to miss going out and running with my girls each day and having fun at track meets. But I’m very, very excited about going to college.”