When he wasn’t throwing fastballs for Clayton High School, Sully Keele was making dinner for his younger siblings at home.
He was also taking them to their youth practices and games. He was helping with their homework.
Since doctors discovered his mom’s brain aneurysm and his dad moved out, Keele has balanced new roles around the house with his studies and baseball.
It often starts with looking after his younger brother and sister and making sure his mom, Lisa, is doing alright.
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She’s had four surgeries since being diagnosed in 2009. The operations have helped – as has medicine – but the treatment has left her needing to rest often and suffering from memory loss.
“They’ve tried a lot of things,” Keele said, adding that his mother has another surgery scheduled this summer. “It’s definitely helped, but it hasn’t gone away.”
Keele was born in Charlotte, and his family lived in Alabama for six years before moving to the Flowers area in Clayton when he was 9. Homeschooled until the ninth grade, Keele said he entered high school unsure of what public school would bring.
“I wasn’t the most social kid going in,” he said.
But his older brother, Tyler, was a senior at Clayton High at the time, which helped the transition. Keele ended up joining the junior varsity baseball team; his older brother played on varsity.
Going into his junior year, things got more challenging at home when his parents got a divorce, and his dad moved out.
With his older brother away at college, Keele said he knew he had to be the “man of the house.”
“I started having to handle a lot of things,” Keele said.
He’d often make his younger brother Connor, 14, and sister Kensie, 12, breakfast, lunch or dinner. He’d take them to their youth events, cheering them on from the stands.
He didn’t have to help with their homework as often, he said.
“Most of the time, they are pretty good and responsible about it,” Keele said. “They’ve come to kind of learn that they are going to have to be.”
‘CEO’ of the home
His mother said her son is like the “CEO of the home,” keeping her on track and also helping manage the household finances.
Lisa said she’s sensed her son’s burden in helping out more around the house. However, he never complains or says if something is bothering him.
He did say he was relieved, though, when the family found a more affordable home to move into recently, she said.
“He is a child that has always had a quiet confidence about him and has always been able to find the right words of advice,” Lisa said. “At the very moment you think you are going to ‘lose it’ or you are drifting off the path, he’ll tell you something that will put you right back on the path.”
In addition to his soothing words, Keele’s mom said his guitar playing also puts her at ease. She thinks it’s helped him decompress during stressful times.
Baseball, too, has proven a welcome release for Keele. He’s pitched and played outfield at Clayton High all four years, including the last two as part of the varsity team.
He was the starting pitcher in the Comets’ recent playoff game. When head coach Stacey Houser took the ball from him on the mound, he told Keele he’d had a great career.
“He’s a young man that has great maturity for his age,” Houser said.
“He’s a team player and leads by example.”
Keele said he tried to keep his family’s challenges away from the ball field. However, that didn’t keep his teammates from still lending a hand.
During his sophomore year, one of the team’s coaches organized a clean-up day at Keele’s home.
“That was a sign of our kids putting someone else first,” Houser said. “We do believe that when you start putting others first instead of yourself, things will start working out for you.”
Keele, who wants to be an attorney, applied and was accepted to the University of South Carolina and Texas Christian University. However, he’ll defer enrollment and go to Wake Technical Community College. He’ll get to play ball, save some money and be close to home.
“I know the family can use a little extra help sometimes,” he said.
“It hasn’t been a rough high school,” he added. “It’s just been some stuff we’ve had to battle through.”
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High school graduations
Here’s the schedule of high school graduation ceremonies in Johnston County:
▪ Cleveland High: 6 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ North Johnston High: 6 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ Smithfield-Selma High: 6 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ South Johnston High: 6 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ West Johnston High: 6 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ Clayton High: 6:30 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ Corinth-Holders High: 6:30 p.m. June 12, at school.
▪ Princeton High: 7 p.m. June 12, at school.