THE GRIND: Wingate finds the time to star in five sports at Wilson Hall


If you've watched any girls sports at Wilson Hall in the last four years, there's a good chance you know the name Andi Grae Wingate.

The recent graduate played an eye-popping five sports at Wilson Hall and was a key contributor in each of them. Somehow the activity that started it all was one that she dropped so she could pick up two others.

"When I was younger, I actually danced for a long time," Wingate said. "All my friends were playing softball and basketball, and my dad played sports at Wilson Hall. He started me off in basketball at the (Sumter Family) Y(MCA), and then 8U I started softball because my friends were playing and I thought maybe I'd go join them. I made All-Stars that first year and just kept playing all my sports ever since then."

Wingate started with softball and basketball, then picked up shooting while watching a friend compete in a shotgun tournament. At one point she even tried tennis, but decided to get out of the heat and play volleyball instead.

"With shooting, I watched my friend at one of his tournaments and was like, 'Wow, this was pretty cool,' so I went to his backyard and started playing around," Wingate said. "They had one skeet thrower in their backyard and I shot over their back pond and started with that.

"I also played tennis when I was younger, but I ended up stopping that for volleyball because I played volleyball in P.E. and Miss (Karen) Edmondson was like, 'Why don't you play volleyball?' and I was like, 'OK,, because tennis is outside and it's really hot.' "

By the time Wingate got to high school, she was playing five sports. She starts the school year with volleyball, before moving into basketball in the winter. In the spring, she starred on the softball team, while finding time to take part in track and field. Throughout the year, she competes with the Lady Baron shooting team. It's an understatement to say she has a busy schedule, especially when you factor in travel softball and club volleyball.

"Just learning from when I was young, time management," Wingate said of maintaining such a busy schedule. "Having my set schedule, just like this week was packed, just knowing the times for everything like, 'OK, I need to get to this practice 30 minutes early, maybe I need to leave this five minutes early and make up that time alter.' Just knowing time management, knowing your schedule, knowing you have commitments that you have to go to and if you've committed to something, you have to stay with that commitment."

As she got older, each of those sports required more of her time. Wingate could've easily dropped a sport or two and still remained quite busy, but she stayed with them all. Why? Simply put, she stuck around for the people around her.

"Meeting all the people that I've met through all the sports that I've played has really been one of the reasons I've played all these sports and committed to all of these sports," Wingate said. "I've met so many people, I've been impacted by so many people from playing all five sports that I have, even if it was somebody I played with for a week. I've met so many people through these sports and the teammates and the family bond that you get, especially playing at Wilson Hall with all these sports, has really made me stick with playing as many as I can."

However, constantly running around caught up with Wingate early in her athletic career. In eighth grade, Wingate developed stress fractures in her back due to a combination of her busy schedule and growth spurts. She had to cut her eighth-grade softball season short and spent the following summer in a back brace. Unfortunately, that brace didn't solve her back problems, so she spent the next year in a new one.

That meant playing volleyball and basketball in a brace and led to a very difficult decision in the spring.

"I came around to softball and softball was a completely different game with that brace," Wingate said. "There were so many different movements, so many different quick movements -- diving, sliding, all of that stuff. The brace just won't allow me, so I went to talk to (Wilson Hall varsity softball) coach (Teresa) Alexander, and I was like, 'It's kind of hard to play in this brace, but I will be back next year.' She was understanding and said I could stay a part of the team."

Wingate sat on the sideline as Wilson Hall beat Cardinal Newman to win a state championship in 2018. She said it was difficult to watch at times, but she was still the team's biggest cheerleader.

"It was really hard and I was at every game," Wingate said. "My dad and I drove, I rode the spirit bus, but I was in the stands for all of those games and I was just really happy to see Wilson Hall get another state championship. I wasn't on the team, but I was still there and still supporting with that Wilson Hall family."

The most challenging thing about her back injury was the long-term implications for softball. The doctor originally told Wingate that she would never play her two favorite positions again, because catching and pitching put a lot of stress on her back.

"I sat in that doctor's office and cried, I cried on the way home," Wingate said. "I was so upset."

Wingate still hasn't caught since that injury, though she was able to spend an inning behind the plate in an All-Star game as one last hurrah. Pitching was a different story.

During Wingate's sophomore season, the Lady Baron pitching staff was hit with the injury bug. No one else on the team had a background in pitching, so Wingate begged her mom to talk to the doctor and see if there was a way she get in the circle again.

"Catching was the main thing from squatting and the pressure on your lower back, but pitching was really what I wanted to do and whenever our pitcher went out that first year, I was like, 'Mom, I've got to,'" Wingate recalled. "She was like, 'No, you're not doing that, the doctor said you can't.' And I said, 'No mom, I have to; there's nobody else.' Then my dad talked her into it, and we ended up calling the doctor and he set a pitch count."

She was eventually cleared to pitch with a 40-pitch limit. She spent the year trying to build up to more pitches and was eventually able to throw 60 by the time the Lady Barons made a return to the state championship series for a rematch with Cardinal Newman. Wilson Hall ended up losing the championship series, but Wingate learned a lot after battling that back injury and making it back into the circle.

"The main thing I learned from that is coming through, persevering, playing everything like it's your last, because you never know," Wingate said. "It's just awesome to get the opportunity that I was told I'd never get again."

That pitch count also affected the way that Wingate pitched. Because she had to keep an eye on the number of pitches she threw, Wingate had to make every pitch count. While she didn't have the same velocity of other girls, she developed great accuracy to become an effective pitcher.

"My speed is nowhere close to where it probably should be, but with me being able to hit locations, hit spots, that's one thing I learned with that pitch count," Wingate said. "You have to be selective, you have to be able to hit spots so you don't run out of those pitches so fast. I think that is one thing that really helped me with hitting spots, was knowing I only have this many pitches this inning, I have to get out of this inning."

Softball wasn't the only sport that Wingate had to almost relearn how to play, however. She struggled at times during her sophomore season in basketball because she was hesitant to make too much contact without the security of a back brace. Wingate plays forward and being cautious in the post wasn't really an option.

"It definitely affected me. My dad used to yell at me to get in there and be more physical, and I ended up just listening to him finally. Sorry, dad," Wingate said with a laugh. "You just had to beat around in the post like you always did or you're going to get defeated on the court. I just had to know I had to body people and get tough and start going with it."

Wingate lost out on her softball season as a junior due to the coronavirus pandemic, but made up for lost time as a senior. In volleyball, she helped push the Lady Barons into the state playoffs. She was the centerpiece on the basketball team and was a dominant shooter with the shotgun team. For the second straight season, the Wilson Hall shotgun team swept the sporting clays, skeet and trap state championships with Wingate leading the way. Everything then came together in the spring.

Wingate spent most of the season as Wilson Hall's primary pitcher as Amberly Way recovered from an injury. Behind her arm and bat, Wilson Hall cruised through the regular season. Way returned late in the season and the two split pitching duties throughout the playoffs. At the end, Wingate was standing in the circle as the Lady Barons beat Cardinal Newman, exacting revenge for the championship loss two years earlier.

Throughout the entire year, Wingate was the vocal leader on every team, cheering on her teammates through every success and failure. She said one thing she learned through the injury-plagued beginning of her high school career was the importance of positive reinforcement, which she wanted to pass on to her teammates.

"I learned so many lessons through that and I want to share those with other people and make them better. With all that encouragement, all that positive talk, you have to know in yourself that you can do this," Wingate said. "That's what I would do every time someone would strike out or go up to bat, tell them that we know they can, so they know they can.

"That's one of the things I learned through my injury is that people are going to tell me that I've got this, I'm fine and to push through, but if you're not thinking that in your head, you're not going to. You have to have that positive talk in your head, and I just want to pass that on to other people."

Wingate has an innate desire to help people. She doesn't have much free time in her schedule, but always tries to carve out some time to help others. She spent last week helping the Wilson Hall youth girls basketball camp and recently started to coach individual softball instruction.

"I love kids. I love playing with children, teaching them stuff and obviously my passion is sports. With that passion I feel like I can reach out to as many kids as I can and help them grow up and have the same experiences that I had, the same experiences of meeting new people," Wingate said. "With all the coaches that influenced me, I'd love to influence kids by doing that basketball camp, by doing softball lessons and just sharing that passion that I have for softball and basketball and volleyball and shooting and everything else that I do. I'd just love to pass that on to other kids."

Wingate also wants to make a career out of helping people. After meeting a slew of physical therapists as she recovered from her back injury, Wingate found her calling.

"When I was younger, I always wanted to be in the medical field. My mom is a nurse. I definitely feel like with that back injury, being in contact with all of these physical therapists - I went to Columbia, I went to Sumter - and having them help me, I wanted to have the same effect on other people," Wingate said. "I wanted to go help other people."

Wingate will learn to be a physical therapist at Clemson. She hoped to spend her college career playing softball, but after losing her junior season to the coronavirus pandemic, her options to play softball were limited. Wingate wanted to go to a major university and those schools weren't calling her to play softball. She was, however, getting calls to shoot.

Clemson head shotgun coach Rick Willey has been recruiting Wingate since she was in seventh grade. She also received interest from Alabama, but in the end, she decided to stay in state and stick with the coach that was behind her through thick and thin.

"Just knowing that he's kept up with me through all this, I think that was the main reason I chose Clemson," Wingate said. "I love coach Rick and I love Clemson and I've grown up going to Clemson football games. I think that was one of the biggest reasons I chose shooting."

Wingate said she still has people that are shocked to hear that she's going to college to shoot. While it can be frustrating to win six state championships in two seasons with so little fanfare, she's happy to introduce more people to the sport that will keep her athletic career alive.

"It's kind of weird because people will ask where I'm going to college, and I'll tell them I'm going to Clemson to shoot for the shotgun team," Wingate said. "They'll ask what that is so I have to go through explaining what sporting clays is, what trap is, what skeet is, and they think it sounds like the same thing. I'm like, 'No, it's different targets, it's not the same thing!' But it's cool teaching people what it is and it's growing in to such a big sport. It's cool to be one of the people that's bringing that sport back."

While the shotgun team might not get the same attention as softball, Wingate attributes her championship mentality to shooting. She's no stranger to tense situations on the range and her ability to stay calm under pressure helped lead her to success in other sports.

"A lot of times I've been in shoot-offs with just me and another girl up there in front of hundreds of people, shooting in front of everybody," Wingate said. "That's probably helped me with, especially in that state championship, calming my nerves. That's another positive talk thing inside your head that you've got to continue on. You've got to block everything else out and just worry about yourself, be centered and being yourself.

"I definitely feel like shooting for all those state championships and playing for that softball state championship have definitely helped each other and helped me have that confidence."

Whatever the future holds for Wingate, she'll keep helping others. One day, she hopes to go into coaching, but if not, she'll stay in the sports world as a physical therapist. Anything that Wingate can do to help others is fine by her.

"Just putting others before me, keeping others happy, making other people smile and laugh is one of the things I try to do every day," Wingate said. "Obviously I have other things to do, but if I can fit in 30 minutes in my schedule to help somebody else, teach somebody how to play softball, that's just something I'd love to do."