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1999 Female Athlete of the Year: Menchville's Pam Brinker

College SportsField HockeyPenn Relays

Forget about looking on the Daily Press All-Star baseball team for the area's top utility player. The true utility mantle belongs to Menchville senior Pam Brinker.

In Brinker's four-year career at Menchville, the Daily Press Female High School Athlete of the Year was the Monarchs' ironwoman. Need an extra player for your team? Call Pam. Chances are she'll find the time.

Gymnastics has always been her first true love, as evidenced by her four consecutive all-around Peninsula District titles. However, Brinker also found time to earn a spot on the field hockey all- district first team last fall, after leading the district with 18 goals. She took up diving in April as a means to fulfill a 10-hour class project requirement and has continued to practice the sport ever since.

As a freshman, Brinker became one of the first female pole vaulters in Menchville's history. She even got to vault at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia.

Add the fact that she carries a grade-point average near 3.7, and you begin to see how time- management skills have played a major role in her being accepted to the honors program at James Madison University.

"I pretty much feel like I did it all at Menchville," she said. "I kind of wish I could have put a little more time into my academics. But I was just lucky I had a natural ability to learn, even though I didn't study much. I know my GPA could have been higher if I would have just put like 30 minutes a night into studying."

Most of Brinker's obstacles in gymnastics have come from sources beyond her control. Injuries are omnipresent in the sport, but the most daunting challenge came from being compared to one of her competitive role models after she won her first district all-around title as a freshman.

From 1991-94, Menchville's Katherine Creswell won four straight district all-around titles. She also added the Group AAA state all-around championship to her resume in her senior year.

Creswell's exploits were no mystery to Brinker. The two had trained together at Atlantic Academy, a gymnastics training facility in Newport News, for seven years.

"Since I knew her from Atlantic Academy, I admired Katherine," Brinker said. "She had such a great work ethic. So when people started comparing me to her, it was more of an honor than anything else. I couldn't believe that people actually thought of me as being that good. I never thought I'd be that good."

Brinker's junior year was nearly the breaking point. In December '97, she missed more than a month of gymnastics with a slipped disc in her lower back. The injury caused her to ponder whether it was all worth it.

"I threw myself into the sport too quickly after I came back from the injury," she said. "I was ready to quit after the first two meets. It hurt that bad.

"There were a lot of girls who were having a little bit too much fun with it, especially at regionals that year. A lot of girls who I was a few levels above before the injury were beating me. I think a lot of them thought I wouldn't come back and stick with it."

She did. Gritting her teeth through the pain of her still-healing back, and an ankle sprain she sustained during her balance-beam routine at the district meet, Brinker captured her third consecutive district all-around crown. Despite all of the subtle trash-talking, she went on to take eighth place at the region meet.

"I think any time you're on top, whether you're an individual or a team, there are people who don't want you to do well," said Menchville gymnastics coach Skip Mollenhauer, who said Brinker and Creswell are the only two girls she has ever had from a private club in her 28 years of coaching. "She proved them all wrong, and I think that's fun."

Last fall, Brinker's field hockey game started to blossom. Her outstanding season helped her earn a roster spot at the inaugural United States Scholar- Athlete Games June 26-July 2 at the University of Rhode Island.

"She has a toggle switch with just two speeds, on and off," Menchville field hockey coach Melanie Haas said. "There's no in-between for her. She always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

"There were several times I had to call her mom (Cindi) over to the sidelines and ask, 'Is this normal? Is it wise to leave her in there?' I was concerned she would really wind up getting hurt sometimes."

She also finished up with her best gymnastics season since her freshman year, winning the district all-around (37.68) again, finishing third at the regional (37.8) and ninth at state (37.225). Her scores were personal meet bests at each stop. Also, she helped lead her team to the state meet for the first time since 1989.

Brinker isn't sure where she's headed in Harrisonburg. She has considered trying to walk on to the gymnastics team, but her newfound passion for diving may lead her in that direction. Then again, field hockey is another option.

"I really want to play a sport at JMU, I just don't know which one yet," she said.

If anybody knows what it takes to make it, it's Brinker.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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