Six minutes after his youngest child had announced his college decision by removing a garnet South Carolina Gamecock hat from a green and gold box, Ken Hemingway stood in the back of the Tigers Den at Conway High School and his eyes welled with tears.
Pride of not just the commitment, but also of what it meant long term, took hold.
Conway senior defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway declared his intention to play for the Gamecocks and coach Will Muschamp on Thursday during a brief ceremony. Flanked by his parents and three siblings – all of whom also received are are still receiving athletic scholarships — the moment was a family affair.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting on. He’s the last one,” Ken Hemingway said. “I can’t put it into words. I’m trying to be strong. But it’s taken a toll.
“The kids, they didn’t always understand the struggles we went through early in their lives so we could get them here, get them there, to prepare for this.”
Ken Hemingway has been on and off disability for much of the last two decades after suffering extensive damage to one of his knees in a work-related injury. He needed eight surgeries and eventually a replacement.
In lieu of a traditional job, he and Lena transitioned their efforts into the kids’ success. Lena took the academic lead, while Ken tackled the athletic side. It started with Shamae, who played basketball at Coker before becoming a teacher, coach and now an administrator inside the district.
Then it was Junior, who parlayed his own football talents into a scholarship at Michigan — where he graduated in 2012 — and three years in the NFL. After that, it was Janecia, who is about to start her sophomore season with the Francis Marion softball team.
All three shared the table with Tonka on Thursday, each adorned in their particular college’s gear.
Give or take, the four Hemingway children will end up having some $260,000 worth of education paid for, not to mention room and board and meals.
The last chunk of it will come from Tonka, the 6-foot-3, 264-pound football standout who essentially had his pick of any college in the Southeast and several more from much further away. In the end, he chose the Gamecocks over Duke and North Carolina. It took more time for people to file into the room on Thursday than it did for Hemingway to make a few remarks and pull that hat out of the box.
“It just felt like home. It can be my second home,” he said later. “When I called them, they’d talk to me. It wasn’t just about football.”
Hemingway will join a slew of other former Tigers who have made the Conway-Columbia jump — most recently, current Gamecock receiver Bryan Edwards. Edwards is entering his final year at USC in the school’s all-time Top 10 lists for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns and is considered a sure-fire future NFL player.
Hemingway said he and Edwards have not spoken, but that doesn’t mean that other locals with USC ties haven’t made their own pitches. Current Myrtle Beach senior quarterback Luke Doty, who verbally committed to the Gamecocks last year, has done so publicly and privately.
Those two players are currently the Nos. 2 and 4 top seniors in the state, according to recruiting network 247Sports.com. Hemingway’s rise up the rankings was steady.
Since becoming a full-time Conway starter midway through his freshman year, he’s piled up 118 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 11 sacks despite frequent double teams and/or plays being run away from him. Football is only part of the story, though.
In addition to the gridiron, he’s also played basketball and baseball, something he’ll continue as a senior before he graduates in May.
“We really don’t know Tonka’s ceiling at this point. He’s been playing three sports for four years,” Tigers coach Carlton Terry said. “Just imagine what he’s going to be able to do when he’s able to train just for football in the offsesaon.”
Before that happens, Hemingway will have one more year to impress fans who have become accustomed to seeing No. 91 and his siblings excel more often than not since the start of the century.
From Shamae to Junior to Janecia to Tonka, the Hemingways made their mark.
And as the last one has now made his college choice, he, too, was able to see much of the reason.
“My Mom and Dad went through a lot,” Tonka Hemingway said. “In the end, we always listened to them. They got us to that next level.”