Gambrell’s turnaround leads to college scholarship

Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference shot put champ Briyonna Gambrell of North Forsyth recently signed with Barton College.

Gambrell’s turnaround leads to college scholarship
May 12
08:30 2016

Photo by Craig T. Greenlee



Briyonna Gambrell’s decision to try track and field was transformative and life-changing. In the not too distant past, Gambrell was clearly treading down the wrong path at North Forsyth.

Academically, she was below par. The combination of low self-expectations, sour attitude and anger issues led to her getting in trouble with teachers and school administrators on a regular basis.

All of that has changed – dramatically. Gambrell, now a senior, made the proverbial u-turn and the change of direction has worked out quite nicely. Not only is she considered a role model among her peers, but she’ll end her high school career as a championship-caliber athlete in the shot put.

A week ago, she won the Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference title and a few days earlier, she signed a track scholarship offer from Barton College. Gambrell, a two-time City-County champ, was runner-up in the Class 3-A state indoor championship. She lost by 1 ½ inches to eventual state champ Katelyn Prakash of Matthews Weddington.

As a fourth-place medal winner at last year’s state outdoor meet, Gambrell is viewed as a legitimate contender for regional and state honors this spring.

“Right now, I feel excited, happy and joyful,” said Gambrell, who has a 2.8 grade-point average. “As I continued to do better, more blessings came. So, that helped me to stay on the right track.”

Coach Michael Smith invited Gambrell to come out for track during her ninth grade year. At that time, her older brother Brandon (now at Coker College in South Carolina) was a standout hurdler for the Vikings. Smith figured that the sister had some of the same athletic genes as the brother.

“I had to look beyond Briyonna’s physical stature,” said Smith. “With most people her size, you wonder what would they might be able to do in track and field. But when given the chance to show what she could do, she rose to the occasion. Briyonna has become one of the best shot putters in this area, if not the best.”

Gambrell readily gives credit to Smith for helping her to realize the extent of her potential. Smith’s patience, she explained, was especially helpful.

“I was a problem child and coach took me in and helped me,” said Gambrell, who joined the team in her 10th-grade year. “He changed my life. Back then, nobody would have thought that I would sign a scholarship offer for college track. But coach believed in me and that made me believe in myself.

“I got in trouble a lot and I was fighting a lot. Coach sat me down and told me that it was now or never. He made it clear how important it was for me to better my life.”

Gambrell has taken quantum leaps in the shot put in spite of not having a throwing events coach to work with. Smith, whose specialty is coaching runners and hurdlers, has forged a partnership of sorts with Gambrell to aid in her development.

“Bri is capable of throwing 40 (feet) or better,” said Smith. “But I can only teach her so much. Give her a year in college with a good throwing coach and the right weight training program, and you’ll hear more about Bri. She’s not burned out, and she’s still learning.”

Success did not happen right away for Gambrell. There were some frustrating times in her first year on the team. Nevertheless, the newbie shot putter persevered and eventually, better performances came.

“I think I won one time that whole season,” she recalled. “But coach kept telling me that things would get better. My throws did get better and in my 11th grade year I went undefeated until regionals. So far, I have yet to lose (this spring). My goal is to win the state championship. This is my last year and my last chance to make it happen”

As an athlete, Gambrell discovered that she could excel in whatever she chose to simply by applying herself and putting in the necessary work. She learned that the same dedication and passion that helped her do well athletically, works equally as well on the academic side.

“Athletics has a lot to do with the changes in me,” she said. “I used to have a bad temper, but now, everything is different. I guess I was in a lot of rage at that time. Now that I’m happy a lot, I have better days and I get along with people that I never thought I would get along with.

“I’m not getting written up any more and my teachers love me. When I started to realize what I was capable of, I just wanted keep working to see where this goes – and it has taken me far.”

During her three track seasons at North Forsyth, Gambrell has evolved as a mainstay and team leader. Her presence and personality, Smith explained, has a positive impact on her teammates.

“The other girls know that when Briyonna came out for the team, there weren’t many people who thought she had much talent. So they look at how she has progressed, and that gives them a little more confidence about what they’re capable of doing.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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