By Mac Trammell
Journal West 10 Media awarded its first ever athlete of the year awards to a young man and lady who were exceptional competitors within the company’s coverage areas.
Bethany Berger of Tipton-Rosemark Academy took the women’s award. The men’s award will be announced in next week’s paper.
Berger, also the recipient of the Commercial Appeal’s Best of the Preps Private School Female Athlete of the Year award, was All-Metro in volleyball, basketball, and softball her senior season at Tipton-Rosemark Academy. She will attend The University of Memphis in the fall to pursue a career in nursing.
Upon receiving a plaque for her accomplishment, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be recognized.
“I feel blessed, honestly, because there’s a lot of talented athletes in this area,” she said. “So to be even nominated for these awards is amazing, much less winning them.”
But her career trajectories, which surprised both her and her opponents year after year, in all three sports show that she is the right choice for the inaugural Journal West 10 Media Female Athlete of the Year award. She transferred to TRA between her freshman and sophomore years and said she had little problem fitting in because of hospitality of the school.
“Rosemark was really welcoming,” she said. “The whole atmosphere of Rosemark is family-like and welcoming.”
She came from a much larger school, Nixa High School, in Missouri where she said she worked diligently on the little things that later allowed her to blossom into a star at TRA.
“At a bigger school it’s a lot of waiting your turn, developing your skills until you get to junior and senior year when you actually play varsity,” she said. “So (being at a bigger school) actually allowed me time to work on fundamentals for every sport. And then when I came straight here, it was actually a really good thing that I had spent so much time on fundamentals because I had to jump right in here sophomore year on the varsity level.”
When she did step in, she had “pretty dang big” shoes to fill, as several talented seniors had graduated.
“Rosemark is trying to build its programs,” she explained. “And so, in order to do that, anyone who was coming in with talent, it was (TRA’s) job to put everybody next to them, lock arms and say, ‘Let’s do this.’”
She immediately stepped into a role as a setter and outside hitter for the volleyball team after Coach Wendy Porter had her try-out even though the prescribed try-out period had passed.
And during Berger’s tenure, the team’s talent grew so that it managed a winning record and some close games against top-caliber opponents.
“We shocked everybody,” she said. “We liked the fact that we were going in and people thought they were just going to run all over us. And with Briarcrest and the big private schools, we came in and we fought. Sometimes we won, and sometimes we didn’t.” But the fact that the Rebels competed with so many teams that would’ve ordinarily brushed them off enlivened the game for her.
On the basketball court, Berger, a point guard, believes she plays the best of her three sports. Like in volleyball, she loved being the underdog, especially when the Lady Rebels found a way to win against St. George’s Independent School. The Rebels led by two, 43-41, in a rematch of a game that the Gryphons had run away with earlier in the season. But this time, TRA was playing at home and had done enough to nab the lead going into the final possession. One of St. George’s players pulled up for three and the winas the buzzer expired, but the ball narrowly evaded the netting, hopping in and out for a dramatic two-point Lady Rebel victory.
Berger remembers feeling a sense of fulfillment after she watched the final shot clink out of the rim. She said she felt “the feeling of ‘we did something to better the program,’ … even if it’s a baby step, to progress with girl’s basketball at Rosemark.”
But without a doubt her favorite memory was the 2014 softball State championship the Lady Rebels won. And, once again, it was the unexpected nature of the Tipton-Rosemark Rebels that stuck out to her that season.
“If anybody told me the beginning of that season that we were going to win a state championship, I would have said, ‘funny,’” she said. “I really would’ve. We lost some major leaders, we had a new coach, … everyone thought it was going to be a rebuilding year. And then… we just… we didn’t talk about state, and it just happened,” she said, trying to find a way to describe something not totally able to be described.
“We took the approach of ‘whatever’s meant to be is meant to be.’”
And now, it seems, it is meant to be that her playing career should end in favor of academics. At The U of M she’ll study how to be a nurse, a profession that will take much too much time for her to be a Division I athlete on the side. She said she liked the fact that when she goes into nursing, it’ll be the same thing everyday, but different every time.
“I’m going to be taking care of people every single day, but it won’t be the same type of taking care of people everyday,” she explained.
So she’ll be happy with little surprises everyday after an athletic career full of them. But one thing’s for certain: it should come as no surprise that Bethany Berger is our inaugural Female Athlete of the Year.