Brittany Gamby probably wouldn't have guessed the means to the end, but the 2009 Pickerington High School North graduate recently left the University of North Carolina at Wilmington confident she milked the most out of her college experience.
Gamby, who on the heels of earning 12 varsity letters at North played three seasons of basketball at UNC-Wilmington, was dealt a crushing blow after her redshirt junior season when she was released from her scholarship.
But stories of Gamby's athletic prowess in Pickerington followed her to college, and within days of her release, she was reunited with softball. Content with simply being a pinch-runner or cheerleader from the bench, Gamby ended up starting the final nine games of the 2013 season at catcher or second base and all 52 games in center field this past season.
"My heart had been so broken (because of basketball), and softball was rebuilding it," Gamby said. "You know how you never forget how to ride a bike? It was just like that."
Gamby was injured as a freshman, never averaged more than two points in a season and scored a career-high nine points in one game her junior year, but earned the team's Dean Ehlers Award for leadership as a sophomore and junior. The Seahawks were coached by Ann Hancock in 2009-10 and former WNBA great Cynthia Cooper-Dyke the next two seasons, but Adell Harris took over for the 2012-13 season and dismissed at least three players from the team, including Gamby.
Less than 24 hours later, UNC-Wilmington softball coach Kristy Norton contacted Gamby for a potential tryout.
"She hadn't put on a glove in maybe two years, but you can't have a player (with skills) that natural and not find her a home," Norton said. "She could have been a Division I catcher, but she has a fantastic arm and she was extremely valuable in the outfield. If a ball was hit anywhere in her vicinity, she'd get it, and by vicinity, I mean anywhere in the grass."
Once again on scholarship, Gamby batted .289 -- best among the Seahawks' everyday players -- this past season. She had 41 hits, including two doubles, two triples and three home runs, and committed only three errors for a .942 fielding percentage.
Gamby also had a short stint with the golf team, competing in its home Seahawk Invitational in spring 2013 and shooting a three-round total of 267, but quickly went back to softball.
"I am so grateful for that opportunity," Gamby said. "But once I got back into playing softball, being in that team atmosphere, that was it for me."
Gamby was the first athlete in North history to earn 12 varsity letters -- four each in basketball, golf and softball. She finished as the basketball team's all-time leader in 2-point and 3-point field goals (351 and 144, respectively), was on the 2006-07 team that advanced to a Division I state semifinal and helped the golf team to seventh place in the 2007 Division I state tournament.
Pat Elflein, a 2012 graduate who now plays football at Ohio State, later matched Gamby's mark by earning 12 varsity letters in football, track and field and wrestling.
North senior Emily Thomas, who has played basketball and soccer each of the past three years and plans to do both this school year if she is able to recover from a torn ACL in her right knee, said she has regarded Gamby as a role model since middle school. Thomas' mother, Sherri, who played softball at Ohio State, befriended Gamby during her time as an assistant softball coach at North. And on June 23, Thomas verbally committed to play basketball at UNC-Wilmington.
"Watching (Gamby) play basketball, I wanted to be her. I actually have her number (22)," said Thomas, who gave up softball in middle school as her focus on basketball increased. "She's always been a role model. She could shoot the ball. She could do everything. She was the reason I went to most of the basketball games."
Dave Butcher, who is entering his 12th season as North's girls basketball coach and 32nd overall dating to his tenure at the original Pickerington High School, credited at least some of Gamby's success to her analytical mind.
"She may not have been the strongest player, but her instincts, her skills and her mental savvy took care of that," Butcher said. "She's very, very good at understanding the game and understanding situations. Her instincts are really good and that gave her an edge."
Gamby smiled at those comments, partly because she said hasn't given much thought to her approach.
"I try my hardest and I ask questions because I want to be successful," she said. "The people I want to learn from are successful already and I want to be as much like them as I can."
Now, Gamby hopes to be the person from whom younger athletes learn. While she pursues a master's degree in education and liberal studies, Gamby also is coaching for the Stampede, a youth softball program run by DeSales coach Julie Barber, and has received a handful of overtures for assistant basketball and softball coaching positions throughout the area.
"She absolutely would make a fine coach," said Molly Feesler, who coached North's softball team Gamby's freshman and sophomore years and now is the school's assistant athletics supervisor. "She was always interested in what led up to the big hit or the big pitch that could change a game, not just the outcome."