Friday, July 22, 2011

SPORTS>>Ex-Lady Devil off to Grambling St.

Leader sports editor

Vanessa Brown didn’t start playing volleyball competitively until 2007, when she was a junior at Jacksonville High School. She was very athletic back then and packed with potential, but she knew very little about the game, was somewhat unfocused and was even a little chubby, she said.

Today, she’s the picture of health, focused on the right things and a 3.0 GPA carrying graduate of Kansas City Kansas junior college who is heading to Division I Grambling State University on a full-ride athletic scholarship.

The transformation took place in Kansas City, where Brown’s eyes were opened to a lot of different things. Among the most important were two things. First, that success means sacrifice. Second, that setbacks are temporary and can be overcome.

At the time, KCK was not Brown’s goal, but it was what was available. Now she believes it was the best thing for her.

“It just turned out to be so good for me going to that school,” Brown said. “I learned so much about hard work, and mostly the importance of education. And that’s what I want to pass along to kids when I graduate. I really want to stress to kids how important an education is.”

Brown, who will major in secondary education with a focus on special ed, for the most part, did what she wanted, ate what she wanted and took the classes she wanted in high school.

She, for the most part, didn’t expect much of that to change in college.

Then came the eye-openers.

Most junior colleges have minimal academic demands for athletes. KCK is not most junior colleges. The school demanded a 3.0 GPA for athletes to maintain scholarships. Brown soon realized that it was going to take a real dedication to books, something she’d not had in the past, to achieve that goal.

All students have that same epiphany, Brown was one of few who chose to face the life lesson and press forward.

But even in pressing forward, she tried to do it her own way, and turned away her coach’s advice on classes, and took the ones she wanted.

When her freshman year was over, she had maintained the required GPA, but did not have the right classes to progress towards her degree, which is a requirement at KCK.

That meant she would not be able to play volleyball her second year.

Again, a tough choice had to be made when she was completely discouraged. Again, Brown made the choice to do battle and persevere.

Without the reward of playing in games, she stuck with the regiment that a student-athlete endures, and redshirted for a year.

She came back as a third-year sophomore fitter, stronger and more mature, and became a standout.

She will report to Grambling St. in Ruston, La. in August and hopes to become an instant leader on the squad.

“I plan on taking on a leadership role because most of the girls we have coming in will be freshman,” Brown said. “I feel with my experience and having gone through some of the things I did, gives me that ability to be a leader on the team.”

Her physical attributes will also help her status. Playing right side, she has great court awareness, quickness, strength and leaping ability.

Being left handed also presents something different for her opponents to adjust to.

The discipline she learned at KCK, including self discipline, will help her lead by example.

For example, at KCK, she could not drink sodas or eat junk food. Even meat was limited.

“I hated it at first, but like most other things about being there, I see now that it was really best for me. That’s the kind of thing I think I bring to such a young team, someone to lead by example and do things the right way.”