By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Avis Van Kampen’s road to a scholarship at Freed-Hardeman University started off slow.
The Brighton senior is known around the area for academic success and blazing up and down the soccer field for the Lady Cardinals. So those who have seen Van Kampen the past two seasons for the Lady Cardinals might be surprised she didn’t come out of her mother Carrie’s womb running.
“She started playing soccer at the age of 4 in Brighton for the park’s district and then some for the park’s district in Munford,” Avis’ father Ken recalled. “It was clear in the first couple of years. But she was the girl who walked late. She was 15, 16 months old. She was kind of cloudy. I joked around that she never was going to be an athlete. She very much proved me wrong.”
Once Avis mastered the whole walking thing, she became an avid runner. The Tipton County product has blossomed into a champion on the soccer field, No. 9 in her class with a 3.9 grade point average and FHU signee.
Van Kampen held a signing ceremony on St. Patrick’s Day in the Brighton Gymnasium joined by her parents, brother Jonah, Brighton Head Coach Shari Garrett and FHU Head Coach Jason Elliott.
“We’re real excited because we feel like we have a player who can impact the game at the college level,” Elliott said. “She has good speed and good awareness. She knows how to play the game and she’s a player who will develop even more in college.”
Elliott also noted the 2014 District 13-3A championship Van Kampen helped her team win was a bonus in the recruiting process.
“That’s one of the things we look for in a player — if they have been successful already,” he said. “That championship experience will help on the college level or whenever you step up a level of play.”
Garrett said Van Kampen will adjust well to the college level.
“She is an all-around great person,” she said, “not just on the field. Freed-Hardeman is very lucky to be getting her as a player and as a leader. It hard to break it down for her. She has the most goals, most assists and was MVP. It’s a big lost for us next year. My juniors will have to step it up to fill her shoes.”
Garrett noted Van Kampen left a great example for her younger Lady Cardinal teammates to follow. Ken noted Garrett’s overall guidance of the Brighton program helped his daughter develop her leadership skills.
“She came here under Shari and Shari Garrett has done a great job her at Brighton,” he said. “She’s a wonderful high school coach. And Bubba Chambers has helped (Avis) here at Brighton.”
Before entering Garrett’s program, Avis played four season at Munford United under Bobby Chapman and Brian Holland.
“All of her coaches throughout her years have been very good people who have pushed her,” Ken said. “Shari particular pushed her. I don’t think the girls at this school realize what a good coach they have in Shari Garrett. She understands what it takes to get out there on the field and compete. She pushed them physically in the offseason to get ready. They’ve all had a significant effect on Avis.”
Ken said it is clear who had the biggest impact on Avis’ academic maturity.
“I have to give the credit on the academics to my wife,” he said. “My wife home-schooled her until she was in the 10th grade. She looked around at a number of schools before starting the 11th grade. Ultimately she wanted to come Brighton.”
Avis’ said coming to Brighton gave her two great years building memories with her classmates, teammates and coaches.
“My Mom home-schooled me for 12 years of my life,” she noted. “She definitely helped me academically. Coach Garrett definitely improved my soccer game. And all my teammates pushed me to do the best I could.
“It was a great senior year,” Avis added. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I like winning the district championship and seeing the faces of my teammates just made me happy. Knowing all the blood, sweat and hard work we have put in paid off.”
Years of running, hard work on the soccer field and building her faith led Avis to FHU.
“Freed-Hardeman is a Christian college,” she noted. “I definitely believe in God. I want to pursue my faith and make it better along with my academics and soccer. All three of those things can improve at Freed-Hardeman. So I think it was a good choice for me. I felt like God was leading me there.”
Carrie said her daughter has built a strong relationship with God and taken advantage of his blessings.
“We’ve always encouraged our children to do the best they can with the abilities God has given them,” she said. “And I think she has. She’s worked hard and done her best.”
Garrett said Avis’ best will benefit her program for years to come.
“Dedication,” she said. “They (younger teammates) know they need to be there before practice and ready to go. After practice, she was there running the loop to be a little faster than her opponent.
“She did try harder,” Garrett concluded. “She went above and beyond everybody else. I share she even put her shoes on differently. No matter what she did, she did it at 110 percent.”
Ken said once his daughter discovered running, she build her body and mind for the game of soccer. And going to a proven program will reward her years of work.
“She has a natural love of the game,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know Coach Elliott for the years to come. And seeing him push her even more.”
Avis is ready to be pushed again because like the slogan, she has proven, ‘Avis tries harder.’
“It just means in everything you do, you have to give 110 percent all the time,” she concluded.