It was an emotional signing ceremony for Del Rio High seniors Leianna Jimenez and Kyndal Gladson.
The duo, cheered on by family, friends, teammates and well-wishers, were recognized Wednesday for joining an elite group of Del Rio student-athletes who chose to take their athletic talents to the collegiate level.
Jimenez, a standout for the Queens soccer team, signed to play with Hardin Simmons University while Gladson, an all-district volleyball player and 2019 regional qualifier in track and field, signed to compete in track and field for Tarleton State University.
Jimenez said she would study nursing while in college, and Gladson said her academic pursuits would be geared towards a degree in kinesiology.
The ceremony began with San Felipe Del Rio CISD Athletic Director Ric Smith introducing both girls and reminding those in attendance their journey to this point began in middle school. He also emphasized that their multi-sport backgrounds helped get them to the next level.
“It not only helps you in the sports you prefer, but in the classroom as well. No college is going to spend $80,000 to $100,000 on you for you not to be eligible,” Smith said.
Jimenez was recognized first. A four-year member of the Queens soccer team, she was the District 29-6A Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and has been named to the All-District First Team in her sophomore and junior seasons. Last season she was the Queens’ leading scorer as she led Del Rio back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
Queens head soccer coach Wilber Rivas spoke of Jimenez’s work ethic and how she was a great role model for her fellow students and teammates.
“Good games, bad games … she’s always smiling and willing to work and keep working,” Rivas said.
Queens assistant soccer coach and assistant volleyball coach Isabel Treviño began her remarks by reading a letter penned by former Queens soccer coach Ernesto Martinez, who coached Jimenez during her first two years with the Queens.
“It has always been Lily’s desire and love for soccer that has enabled her to add another chapter to her life. It has always been her dream to play beyond high school and guess what … that dream will come soon true. Her hard work, dedication and commitment has made this dream possible. Congratulations Lily and Kyndal as you begin a new journey in life after graduation. Last but not least, you have made us all proud, including your guardian angel, who is always looking from above, your grandpa Tito (Hector ‘Tito’ Zuñiga) who lives in your heart forever. Once again thank you, and congratulations to both of you,” Martinez’s letter read.
Treviño’s personal comments were geared towards both Jimenez and Gladson. She praised Gladson for being the epitome of a student-athlete and urged her to never give up.
But her comments towards Jimenez brought tears to Treviño’s eyes and to the eyes of many in the audience and Jimenez herself.
“Lily … you were my first class for soccer. I’ve seen you grow so much in these four years. It has been a pleasure to coach you. I’ve seen you grow in many, many, many ways. You really are the true definition of determination, hard work, perseverance and that’s what it takes to be a captain and both of you have all those qualities. I’m excited to see what you do in college. I can’t wait for you to let me know how you all do, how many goals you score. You both will go far in life,” Treviño said. “I know what it feels like to go on and do amazing things and I know you all will do great things. I love both of you all, and good luck in your future endeavors.”
When it was time for Jimenez to speak, she took the time to thank everyone who helped her along the way. She said what made the day even better was getting to sign alongside Gladson, her childhood friend.
“Thank you all for coming out today. It really means a lot. This day has been a long time coming, I know for me and for Kyndal,” Jimenez, who was flanked by her parents Juan and Esther Jimenez throughout the ceremony, began. “Playing at the college level has been a dream of mine since I was in the sixth grade and there are so many people I would like to thank for guiding me on this journey.”
Jimenez took the time to thank God, her parents, her family, her soccer coaches both at high school and on teams away from school, Treviño, whom she called her role model, her cross-country coaches, her best friends since middle school, and her teammates.
“I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life. Thank you,” Jimenez said.
Gladson excelled on the court and in track and field throughout her high school career. In volleyball she was the District 29-6A Newcomer of the Year as a junior and an All-District Second Team selection. In track and field, she’s the defending district champion in the 300-meter hurdles and the high jump and is part of the defending district champion 1,600-meter relay team. She also qualified for Area in the long jump and as part of the 400-meter relay team. She eventually became the Area champion in the long jump and qualified for last season’s regional meet in the long jump and 300-meter hurdles.
Queens head volleyball coach Eloisa Valdez spoke first and discussed how she coached both Jimenez and Gladson in middle school and was proud of the athletes they’d become at Del Rio High. She wished both girls the best in the future and reminded them how the coaches and their teammates would be there for them if needed.
Queens head track and field coach Jesse Limon congratulated Jimenez for her successes, but most of his words were directed towards Gladson. He said he wasn’t solely responsible for her success, but said it was the effort of all her coaches – Rick Torres, Claudia Juarez, Jonte McCrea and Valdez – that made her so successful.
Limon also took the time to thank Gladson’s grandparents, Linda and Jimmie Ballard and Mimi Gladson, and her parents, Guy and Kiki Gladson, for allowing him to coach Kyndal and her sisters and for all their support of the Queens track and field program.
He singled out her older sister, Kayce, for writing him a letter asking him to take care of Kyndal for her. “I hope I’ve done that. It truly matters what you think,” he said.
“Now Kyndal, last but not least … how time has flown by. I can still remember seeing you run hurdles as an eighth grader or scissor-kicking your way to another victory in high jump during that same year. She didn’t know how to hurdle until she got Coach Juarez … well she could, but she didn’t want to I guess. All this while waiting patiently for you to be on varsity. Now here we are, on signing day. I have to admit I’m going to miss the morning meetings we had in my office. I haven’t had a consistent visitor to my office since you came back this semester,” Limon said. “You have won many medals and helped our team win two district championships, one runner-up and an Area championship. After your final meet this year, state God-willing, you will close a chapter on your high school career. I hope that the memories we have made as a team are ones you will cherish for a long time. Soon you will begin another chapter in your life; one I hope will always be filled with lifelong memories. I do not doubt a bit you will have the support you have had all your life. Kyndal, you exemplify the true meaning of what our program is about. We constantly tell our girls you get out what you put in. This is not only in sport, but in academics and in life. You have gotten exactly what you deserved and wanted. You are a great example of when talent meets work ethic and determination. This is a great day for you, your family and our program. We wish you all the best at Tarleton State. You and your family will be greatly missed, but don’t forget we have another season to make championship memories.”
Gladson’s words began with her thanking her Lord and Savior for allowing her to be at the ceremony. She echoed Jimenez’s statements about celebrating with her close friend and how this was a dream since they were both little.
She also thanked her friends, family and teammates for their support, even when there were disagreements and little arguments; her coaches and especially Limon.
“You saw potential in me my freshman year, knowing that I was going to do great things and knowing that I was going to be able to compete at the college level with your help and your support,” Gladson said. “I’m never going to have a coach like you who I connect with so well and I’m going to miss you so much.”
She fought back tears as she addressed her parents and how they supported her emotionally and, at times, physically through her meets and ensuring she was always in the best health.
“You all mean the world to me and my sisters because you’re the best parents we could ever ask for and I love you all so much,” she said.