Smiles from ear to ear. T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats in new school colors being worn, many for the first time. A packed room of friends and family. And of course pens and official paperwork.
Football players weren't the only ones making their college choices official on Wednesday, Feb. 6, as part of National Letter of Intent Day. The day also marked the first day that high school cross country and soccer stars could make their NCAA college choices official by "signing on the dotted line."
While the Lynden football team celebrated sending four players on to NCAA Division I schools on Wednesday afternoon, there was another party Wednesday evening on the other side of the county that was loaded with just as much future college-level talent.
The Whatcom Tesseract Youth Running Club was scheduled to host the event in Bellingham to celebrate sending three Whatcom County runners to Division I cross country and track and field programs.
Squalicum High School senior Patrick Gibson selected Stanford, Blaine rival Tom Bradley chose the University of San Francisco and Squalicum senior Brittany Gappa announced her intentions to run for Boston University.
Those three are perhaps just the tip of the iceberg, as a number of other area runners are expected to continue their running careers in college and will likely sign soon.
"It's remarkable when you think about it," Gibson said in a phone interview earlier in the week. "It's a huge number - six or seven of us could go D-I this year. It's a statement about the quality of runners we have here in Whatcom County."
As a two-time individual state champion with the Storm, Gibson was definitely at the head of that list.
Besides the traditional Pac-12 power Cardinal, Gibson also had Notre Dame and Georgetown on his short list of college choices.
Ultimately, Gibson said, it came down to the education he could get at Stanford, where he is currently undeclared but is considering majoring in inter management science and engineering, which is code for business management.
"Academically, nobody ever has any complaints about what you get at Stanford," Gibson said. "It fulfilled everything I wanted in a school. I could get a great education and get a chance to compete on a team of that caliber - a team that can go deep into national competition. I've always said that running was a great avenue for me to get where I wanted to go in life, and Stanford is part of that."
Gibson will follow former Sehome standout runner Jake Riley, who graduated from Stanford last spring. He said he got a chance to run with Riley over the summer, and that might have opened the doors to being recruited by the Cardinal.
Winning a second-straight state cross country title, the Nike Border Clash title and advancing to the Footlocker National Championships last fall didn't hurt, and neither did winning the 2A state title in the 3,200 meters last spring.
"It's flattering," Gibson said. "This whole process has been a humbling experience. For me, it's been a chance for me to reflect on my experience running and think how blessed I've been and where I've come from."
When Gibson does arrive in the Bay Area, he won't have to look all that far for a reminder of where he came from, as friend and rival Bradley will be only about 35 miles away at USF. The two schools often compete against each other.
"That's a really cool aspect of this whole thing, is we'll still get to see each other," Bradley said in a phone interview earlier in the week. "Patrick and I are so close, and we've been racing so many years, and I guess we get to do that for another four years."
Bradley chose the Dons over Utah State and Loyola Marymount, a program that Gibson's older brother, Danny, is currently running for as a sophomore.
Bradley said the location and education he could get at USF put the program over the top in his mind, as he plans to major in environmental science or business marketing.
"I really liked the school and the program and the location," Bradley said. "It was a perfect fit. The school is only a mile from the beach, and there are some great parks to run in. It's a private school, so you know you can get a world-class education. Everything was perfect."
Former Squalicum runner Sophie Curl is a senior at the school, and Bradley said she talked up her experience.
Like Gibson, Bradley takes an impressive high school resume with him, as he finished second to Mount Baker's Dillon Quintana at the 1A State Championships less than three weeks after winning the Northwest Conference Championships last fall.
"USF is a very good, young team," Bradley said. "I felt it was a program I could grow with and maybe make a few championships in cross country."
While Bradley and Gibson are remaining relatively close to each other, Gappa is branching out to the other side of the country.
Even though she said she didn't intend to narrow her choices to the Northeast, she ultimately chose Boston over the University of Connecticut.
"I liked the environment a lot better," Gappa said in a phone interview earlier in the week. "I went to Philly, too, and I thought Boston was a lot prettier. ... When I was there, I went on a run through the city and crossed a lot of bridges and took a long run along the river. I thought the coaching staff was really nice, and I'm looking forward to going there and training there the next four or five years."
Gappa, who had four top-10 finishes at the Class 2A State Cross Country Championships, including three straight fifth-place showings, will join a team that she said "has plenty of fast girls on it."
She also plans to run track on one of the fastest indoor tracks in the country and will major in computer science and mathematics and minor in visual events in hopes that she can become an animator.
"I'm really excited to go," Gappa said. "College is something new - it's going to be an adventure."
Like Gibson and Bradley, she believes the Whatcom Tesseract, which is coached by Peter Oviatt, and her high school coaches played a big role in helping her become a college-level runner.
"Peter was very supportive with the whole college thing," Gappa said. "He knows a lot of college coaches. With the club, everybody wants to be good, not just in high school or middle school cross country. It reflects the entire high school to college transition. Rather than just wanting to be good in high school, we wanted to become good college runners. I feel like I'm prepared, and I'm excited."
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.