LUTZ — Thanks to numerous news stories of late, it isn’t unusual to hear someone snicker at the term “student-athlete.” It seems that there are some college athletes who offer very little to academia.
But Justice Thigpen, who was the starting point guard of every game in the four-year history of Steinbrenner High girls basketball, is the exception. Thigpen didn’t fly under the radar at the young school. Schools were interested.
In fact, one scholarship offer was intriguing, but they weren’t too excited about her time consuming major, pre-med, even with her 6.23 weighted GPA. The coaches there knew she had the game, they just didn’t necessarily want someone so immersed in her studies.
So Thigpen talked with Steinbrenner coach JR Allen.
If that school didn’t want her as a pre-med student, Thigpen and Allen looked for someone who did. Allen made some calls, and Thigpen decided to spend at least one season at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. Ellsworth doesn’t play under the same bright lights as the school that courted her, but it was the right fit. And if she wanted to study pre-med, that was fine.
So Thigpen is off to Iowa. Fortunately she has spent some time living in cold weather and, unlike most of her former Steinbrenner teammates, she has seen and lived in snow. She just doesn’t want to live in it for long.
“I can see myself in Iowa for a year playing ball and studying, but that was the school that understood me the best,” Thigpen said. “I wasn’t going to change majors just to play basketball.”
Allen and the rest of the Steinbrenner academic staff take report cards seriously. Most of the girls’ basketball team had at least a 4.0 grade point average, and Thigpen said there is competition between all of the winter sports teams over who ends up with the highest GPA by the end of the year.
“We beat the boys basketball team by a good margin, but that’s still not too big a deal because they did pretty well also,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen was disappointed that she couldn’t lift Steinbrenner to states during her four years, but she created a foundation for the future. Thigpen said she would be on the phone with the team throughout the season, looking on from afar, and plans to be a fixture at Steinbrenner during winter break. Her sister, Taylor Thigpen, is a starter for the Warriors.
After a year or two in Iowa, Thigpen hopes the offers start coming from Division I or Division II schools, but she said she knows she made the right decision and, if the offers don’t come, she will always have her education to fall back on.