There’s a common assumption that the optimal route and often only path to the professional level in sports is for an athlete to attend a Division I institution until they are eligible to declare or ascend to the next level.
Typically, when athletes from the UNC schools make it to the pinnacle of their sport, most people automatically assume the hail from the Chapel Hill, Charlotte or Greensboro campuses.
Even though there is a healthy pipeline to the professional leagues from Pembroke’s larger sister schools, there are some Braves that are bucking that trend. They’re setting a new precedent that student athletes at the Division II colleges in smaller markets and unheralded programs can make it to the biggest stages as well.
Over the past few years, UNCP athletics has seen a proliferation in the number of trailblazers that formally put the Black and Gold that have made it to the ultimate level of their respective competitions, ranging from softball to baseball and even the spirit squad.
On June 6 the softball team had a pair of Lady Braves drafted by the E1 Pro Ballers in the inaugural draft of the American Softball Association (ASBA) in Mobile, Ala. Infielders Jamie Johnson (left) and Taylor Gerhart (right) are now members of the newest alternative in women’s professional fastpitch softball in America.
“This summer has been one of the best times of my life. I can’t really express in words how much joy I have to say that our program has had two players go pro. I’m kind of a fan now. I bought some jerseys and I can’t wait for them to come back and sign them, so I can put them on my wall,” said Head Coach Britany Bennett.
“I’m really proud of Taylor and Jamie. They both wanted to play softball as long as their bodies would allow them to play and this is the avenue of which they can succeed at that,” Bennett said.
Two months later, the Black and Gold baseball program had their own pair of Braves sign free agent contracts with the Boise Hawks, which serves as the Class A-Short Season affiliate for the MLB’s Colorado Rockies. The Peach Belt Conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year Trey Jacobs chose to waive his remaining three years of collegiate eligibility to sign the minor league contract.
“I would like to thank UNC Pembroke for taking me in this year, and also the Staunton Braves for a great summer experience and the Cotuit Kettleers for allowing me to play in the Cape for the last week. There are a lot of other people to thank but, most importantly, to thank is the good man upstairs and my family for making all of this possible. This is a start of a new chapter in my life and what will be an amazing experience,” said Jacobs on a post via Facebook.
Additionally, former right-handed pitcher for the Braves from 2016 to 2017 Jesse Stinnett inked his deal with the minor league organization just a few days later.
He spent last season in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) as a member of the Utica Michigan Unicorns.
Dasja Johnson: From Spirit Squad to Panthers Cheerleader
As competitive as it is to make an NFL roster, it can be equally as difficult to make the cheerleading squad of a professional football team.
However, that did not deter former UNCP Spirit Squad standout Dasja Johnson from pursuing and achieving her craft at the highest level when she graduated in 2017.
Johnson is now a proud member of the Top Cats, the official cheerleading team for the Carolina Panthers.
Credits: Headshots Courtesy of UNCP Athletics; Dasja Johnson Photo Provided by TopCats