The Grind, Presented by Bank of Clarendon: Gatlin and Fendley Kimbro stand out for Thomas Sumter


For Thomas Sumter Academy sports fans, Kimbro has become a household name in the last two years.

Gatlin, a senior, is the football team's Swiss Army Knife and Fendley, a seventh-grader, is the setter for the Lady Generals' varsity volleyball team, as well as a standout javelin thrower.

For both siblings, sports have always been part of the equation.

"I've played football my whole life basically," Gatlin said. "I started kicking when I was 7 or 8. I started playing receiver in ninth grade, because I had a lot of people that I looked up to that play college football now. My dad was the one who wanted me to start kicking, we practiced it every day." (The Kimbros' mother, Stephanie, refutes this claim and credits herself as the one responsible for taking Gatlin to his first kicking lesson.)

"I've loved sports ever since I was little," Fendley says. "I used to play basketball. I played tennis. I've played volleyball since I was 3. I've just started doing track last year. As for javelin, I got bribed into it once I got here, but I love it."


The Kimbros are originally from Valdosta, Georgia, and moved to Sumter last year. The long-standing relationship the Kimbros have with Generals' head football coach Brannon Tidwell was a major part in the family's move to Sumter from Georgia. "I got to know Wright and Stephanie Kimbro when Wright was the tennis coach at Valwood School," Tidwell explained. "Gatlin and all the siblings were young. Gatlin was a football fan. We would recondition the helmets every year, and one year I had to add a few extra helmets, and Miss Kimbro asked me to go sign a helmet for Gatlin. And so I went down there, and I signed the helmet for Gatlin and that's kind of where my relationship with Gatlin started."

Gatlin was happy to see that relationship develop last year.

"When I was in 10th grade, he wanted me to come here and play for him," Gatlin said. "So after my 10th-grade season, I came up here and started working out with the guys. When I was younger, I didn't really know him; I would just see him around. But now, we're really close."

The move itself took some time for both Gatlin and Fendley to get used to.

"It was tough," Gatlin admitted. "I had to leave everyone I knew my whole life to come here and play with people, and I had no idea who they were. So it was tough. By the third game of the season, that's whenever I started hanging out with everyone a lot more. Summer was good because I was working out with the guys every day."

"When we first moved, I hated it," Fendley claimed. "I didn't like it at all. I wanted to go back to Georgia. I love Georgia, but it turned out for the better with what I'm doing right now. I'm a seventh-grader playing varsity. It all turned out for the best. I've made amazing friends.

"I fit in more here than I feel like I did where I lived in Georgia. It just feels more natural and real. About two months after we moved, like right when I first started school, I realized how welcoming people were and how nice they were to me. When I started playing volleyball, it felt easy to be here. It was easy to do everything, schoolwork was easy and volleyball was easy.


Once both of the Kimbros got settled in, they were able to make immediate impacts for their teams. "Last season, I was just like a receiver," Gatlin explained. "This year, I'm doing some of everything. I'm also a captain, so I've got to lead my team, everyone looks up to me all the time."

Tidwell appreciates Gatlin's willingness to do whatever it takes for the Generals to be successful. This season he's played quarterback, running back and wide receiver on offense. Defensively, he moved from safety to linebacker. On top of that, he serves as the kicker and punter.

"He loves the game," Tidwell said. "He kind of gives me a look about 25 times a game and says, 'Hey, I've got more energy. Whatever you need me to do and wherever you need to use me, do it.' There's been games this year where he's had 120 yards rushing and 120 yards receiving and 50 passing yards and made a field goal and four extra points and had 13 tackles. Whatever is asked of him he'll do it.

"He was one of the team captains voted on by the team. He's a quiet leader that lets his actions do the talking," the head coach continued. "Once you get to know Gatlin, he's really funny. He's got a good personality and is just a wonderful kid that everyone enjoys to be around. I'm excited to see who gets him for the next four years of his career once we're done with our season."

Gatlin has been recruited by some notable programs and enjoyed his various visits and the recruiting process as a whole.

"I'd say my favorite school right now is probably Louisville," Gatlin said. "I went to Alabama like three weeks ago. That was pretty fun, too. We went to a night game. I have some schools looking at me right now. I have one offer from McNeese State. I get letters in the mail every week from different colleges, and I'm talking with a lot of different coaches."

Fendley was able to make big plays for the Lady Generals' volleyball team as a sixth-grader and played a major part in the Lady Generals making the playoffs this season.

"I like that the game of volleyball is basically making mistakes," Fendley said. "You make a mistake and you make up for it, and then it's on to the next point. You make a mistake and have to just get over it. There is some pressure on me to perform because a lot of my closest friends are seniors, and I have to be the best that I can for them to get talked to by college coaches. I have to impress my mom and dad and my siblings, everybody. There's pressure, but I love the sport so much that it doesn't really scare me a lot."

One of Fendley's redeeming qualities is being able to deal with the pressures that come with being on varsity while just being in the seventh grade.

"I forget how young she is," Lady Generals' coach Gwen Herod said. "I usually don't even put somebody in the seventh grade on varsity, that's not something I would normally do. But her playing level was such that I would have been crazy not to. And her maturity level was so high. She's a leader. But when she plays, she definitely does not play like a seventh-grader.

"If you would have told me before I met her that I was going to be running an offense in a five-one with a seventh-grade setter, I would never do that. But she's an exception to the rule. She's able to be a leader and keep her calm during tough matches, and encourage the other girls. My older girls were looking to her for encouragement, it's unbelievable."

Fendley has some lofty goals, but she has a head start on most high school players. She's got her eyes set on catching the career marks of her sister, Kennedy, to start.

"My sister graduated high school with 2,000 sets," Fendley explained. "I want to have more than her, even though that will be really hard. I want to have like 3,000 or over. For track, I want to be first in the state every year. My senior year I expect to have at least 3 D1 volleyball offers, that's my goal. My family wants to go to the Olympics. So hopefully, hopefully I can make it to the Olympics. But I want to have scholarships for track too."


The Kimbro children are no strangers to competing with each other, especially when it comes to athletics. Gatlin and Fendley have three older siblings, Wright Jr., Kennedy and Worth. Being the youngest of five athletic siblings has helped to mold Fendley. In fact, Gatlin thinks she's already surpassed his athletic ability."Having older siblings is rough but I think being around my siblings, being around all their friends - like all their friends are basically my older siblings really made me more mature," Fendley said. "When you're the youngest of five, it is rough but my siblings are amazing examples of what I should be.

"They were all athletic, and I wanted to be them. I wanted to be all of them combined, and I wanted to be better. My goal is to be better than all of them and if Gatlin says I am, then hopefully I truly am one day."

The good-hearted envy that Gatlin has toward his younger sister's athletic prowess hasn't hindered him from giving her advice and trying to help steer her along as she embarks on her own athletic journey.

"I just tell her to keep going and never stop working," Gatlin said. "She has to keep working every day."