ARDMORE — Andrew Eakes always thought he would grow up playing baseball at Ardmore High School and help the team make it to a state championship game.
For the past two years, Eakes helped Ardmore reach state — but not in baseball. The senior has become one of the school’s best golfers.
It was not by choice.
A rare illness forced Eakes to quit baseball as an eighth-grader and change his future goals, both on and off the field. The Ardmore senior was recently named a Bryant-Jordan student athlete winner in Class 4A Region 7.
“I was a huge baseball fan before I got into the game of golf,” said Eakes. “When all that happened, I had to give up baseball. Luckily, I had a lot of support from my friends. One of my best friends got me into golf and I’ve played ever since.”
In 2009, Eakes suffered from symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. For eight months, he would spend hours on end in hospitals searching for answers. Crohn’s causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain and other complications including malnutrition.
But, in July 2009, Eakes’ illness was finally determined to be ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. He would receive three blood transfusions and a treatment similar to chemotherapy called Remicade over the next year.
Exactly one year to the day of his diagnosis, Eakes underwent J-pouch surgery. The procedure cured Eakes, but forced him to quit the game he loved.
“I had him in middle school and knew the type kid he was,” said John South, Ardmore golf coach. “I knew he loved athletics and when he had this come about and had to give up baseball, I was willing to let him come out and ease into it.”
Eakes began playing golf as a freshman, but was still limited in what he could do. While golf may not be as physically demanding as other sports, walking 18 holes over several hours, less than a year after surgery, was tough.
“The first year he would come out and he might make one or two holes at practice before he had to leave,” said South. “And that was fine, but I knew he was going to be the type kid that was going to give all he could to be the best he could be. It’s kids like that that you don’t mind taking a chance on and letting them stay in the program to build up their stamina.”
A natural athlete, Eakes soon adapted. As a sophomore, he helped Ardmore reach the state tournament for the first time as a team in school history.
He soon became the team’s No. 2 golfer, behind Lee Hodges, who received a scholarship to play at UAB.
“I tried as a ninth-grader, but didn’t really fully get into golf until 10th grade,” said Eakes. “It’s hard trying to keep up with a D-1 golfer. Me and him are like brothers and whenever we play together it’s always a blast.”
South said Eakes would be the No. 1 on most teams they face and routinely finishes with the second lowest score behind Hodges wherever they play. The pair helped Ardmore return to state last year and look poised to get back as seniors.
“I wasn’t medically cleared to play baseball until my junior year,” said Eakes. “I invested so much time into golf and I enjoyed it so much that I was just going to stick with it.”
As a Bryant-Jordan regional winner, Eakes will receive a $2,500 scholarship and be eligible for more if he is named a class winner at Monday’s Bryant-Jordan Banquet at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel ballroom.
Eakes and his teammates will compete for the Limestone County Championship at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 15, at Southern Gayles Golf Course.