By Bill Spinks

For a school as tiny as Milford High is, six college signings and commitments in a single year is quite impressive. Especially among a graduating class of only 23 seniors.

The Bulldogs enjoyed unprecedented athletic success over the last few years, with the football team finishing as 2018 state runner-up in Class 1A Division I and several individuals advancing to state athletic competitions. A number of those athletes are enjoying the fruits of their hard work.

"I knew this was a good group," Milford athletic director Ronny Crumpton said. "It shows to the athleticism that they have. I think they’ll have success because they’ll be able to go and just be athletes without pressure — just let loose. I think you’re going to see them soar to the top."

Milford is the smallest of Ellis County’s 12 public high schools, with 73 students reported to the University Interscholastic League for the 2020-2022 realignment last October.

Three of the recent MHS graduates moving on to college sports played football for the Bulldogs, but only one, Ricky Pendleton, will stick with that sport at the next level. Three are in track and field, one is in basketball, and another will try baseball at a Division I school.

Pendleton is headed to Illinois College, and teammates Damyan Woodward and Tyvon Gates will attend Southwestern Assemblies of God University to compete in track and field.

Also, graduate Markia Houston will play women’s basketball at Jarvis Christian College; and distance runner Joey Orndorff will participate in cross country and track at Lane Community College in Oregon. Joseph’s brother, Bobby Orndorff, will attend the University of Wyoming and will try out for its club baseball team.

All are following in the footsteps of Ta’Ron Smith, a 2019 Milford High graduate and Pendleton’s brother, who signed with Trinity Valley Community College. Crumpton said Smith, who was the 2019 Daily Light All-Ellis County Male Athlete of the Year and football small-school Player of the Year, was the catalyst for Milford’s success over his four years in high school.

Other Bulldogs who have recently moved on to college success are Teddy McIntyre, who competes for Hardin-Simmons’s men’s track and field team; and Derek Williamson, who played football at Mary Hardin-Baylor and helped lay the foundation for UMHB’s two NCAA Division III championships in 2016 and 2018.

Pendleton, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, was a four-year starter for the Bulldogs who could play any position. Crumpton said venturing to Illinois gives Pendleton a chance to concentrate on football and academics while seeing a different part of the country.

"He has intelligence and obviously has the physical attributes that’s needed," Crumpton said of Pendleton. "I’m assuming they’ll put 15 or 20 pounds on him his first year. I know his dream is to play tailback, but … he’s pretty versatile. I’d think it would be to their benefit to settle him in to one spot so he could learn the position. If he continues to get stronger and work hard, and focus on what they need him to do, then he should be pretty successful."

Woodward and Gates, meanwhile, will stay closer to home at SAGU. Track is Woodward’s favorite sport, Crumpton said, and he competes in the 200-meter dash, relays, and high jump. Crumpton said he felt sorry for Gates, who was starting to develop into a state-class athlete before COVID-19 shut down spring sports.

"I expected Tyvon to show out a little bit in the spring," Crumpton said. "I’m glad both of them are getting the opportunity to go and do that. I think they’ll have a part in putting SAGU on the map when it comes to track and field. They shouldn’t have any problem making the transition to college life."

Houston will play for Jarvis Christian, a Historically Black college located in the East Texas town of Hawkins that competes in the NAIA. A 5-foot-3 point guard, Houston gave the undersized Lady Bulldogs a competitive chance with her ball-handling skills.

"This year she really shined," Crumpton said. "Her mother is an assistant coach here, and I told her one of the things I enjoyed this year was watching her play, rolling up and down the court and handling the pressure."

Joey Orndorff will be headed to the track and field mecca of Eugene, Ore. to run cross country and distance events. As Milford’s only cross country competitor, Joey won the district gold medal in both 2018 and 2019 and qualified for state last fall, and is dedicated to hard work, typically running over 60 miles per week.

"His dream is the University of Oregon, and he’s placed himself just a couple of blocks from there," Crumpton said. "He’s set himself up to be successful and be right where he wants to be."

Bobby Orndorff, meanwhile, will go to Wyoming to pursue a degree in petroleum engineering. Bobby, who played basketball and baseball, was Milford’s Class of 2020 valedictorian. Wyoming, which offers a program in his line of study, also has baseball at the club level and he will have the opportunity to try out for the team.

Crumpton said he found it crazy that the door to college for these athletes came open right in the middle of these turbulent times.

"I’ve told them all that being a part of an athletic program gives them an ‘in’ in the school, so they should take advantage of that," he said. "They just need an opportunity, and when they get them they need to take those opportunities. So I’m glad they’re getting a chance to take them."