West Winfield, N.Y. - Imagine being able to go to your dream school to play your favorite sport. That's exactly what Mt. Markham senior Hayleigh Gates is about to do.
Gates is set to attend Paul Smith's College, about 20 miles northwest of Lake Placid, and will play for the Bobcats women's basketball team that competes in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA).
"I'm very excited, I've always really enjoyed the game and I can't wait to be able to play in college as well," said Gates. "A lot of my family has gone to Paul Smith's and I just love it up there. I've spent a lot of time up in Lake Placid as a kid camping, and I've always been in love with the college. It's the only college I've ever wanted to go to."
Gates is a three-sport student-athlete at Mt. Markham High School, excelling in basketball, soccer, and track.
A four-year starter for the Mustangs' basketball and soccer teams, she has earned Center State Conference All-Star honors three times in each sport.
In track, she is a two-time Section III Class C-1 champion (2018, 2019) in the 100-meter hurdles event.
On the basketball team, she plays for her father, Steve Gates, where she currently sits at 768 career points while awaiting a potential shot at 1,000 should high-risk winter sports be authorized to play.
Last season, the Gates duo helped to lead Mt. Markham to a resurgent season finishing at 15-6 overall.
"I'm just very proud," said Steve Gates. "Because of the pandemic, I'm really happy for her to be able to continue playing basketball after this. If this was her last season to play and she never got to play again after this it would be a real bummer, but it makes me feel a little bit better about the situation that she gets to go on and still play at a higher level."
Hayleigh, one of the top students in her class, plans to enter the Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences program in hopes to become a forest ranger.
"I've always loved the wilderness and the environment," said Hayleigh. "I want to protect it. One of my family friends, Bob Piersma, is a forest ranger and he really inspired me to become one. He saved a couple of people from a lake when their boat tipped over and after hearing that story I thought wow, that's what I want to do."
With Paul Smith's location and available programs, along with the family history at the school, it was a perfect fit.
"It's great," said Steve. "We've been going to the college for quite a few years and I think we all fell in love with it. We're all kind of outdoors people and the campus is just amazing. It's really the program that drew us there, the type of things then do and the hands-on, being outside, she just fell in love with the program.
"To be able to play basketball too is just icing on the cake."
The bond that Hayleigh and Steve share as father-daughter has only become stronger because of their time as coach-player.
"It's a blessing and a curse at the same time," Hayleigh said with a laugh. "I absolutely love it because he's honestly the best coach I've ever had. I've been able to learn so much because I'm always with him and I see how much time and effort he puts in to coaching."
Hayleigh said that the only difficult part of having her father as her coach is the disappointment they both share after a game they lose. Having each other for moral support makes it a bit easier though she said.
Luckily in 2019, the Mustangs didn't do a whole lot of losing.
"I have to give my older daughter a lot of credit, I learned a lot from coaching her first," said Steve. "Hayleigh is really easy to coach, probably one of the easiest athletes I've had to coach. Even though she's my daughter she just works so hard, always tries to be first in everything no matter what, even with her dad being the coach."
Hayleigh said that she hasn't had the opportunity to meet any of her future teammates yet, but that she did meet a few of the men's basketball players from Paul Smith's.
What she saw from them only made her look forward to the upcoming journey with the Bobcats even more.
"I love how connected both teams are," she said. "They travel together and cheer each other on at games so I'm really excited for the community of both teams and I just can't wait."
Both Hayleigh and Steve hope to be able to have some sort of season to have one more chance to take the court with Mt. Markham together.
Despite the fact that she will miss her teammates and friends from high school, and representing her community while playing for her father, she said that this opportunity will provide her with a chance to form new bonds and make another community her own.
"It's basically all of my dreams come true"