Former Mt. Abe standout owes a lot to high school sports
LINCOLN — In the fall of 2001, her Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey teammates called Carolyn Griggs “Frosh.” Naturally enough: She was the team’s only freshman.
By late fall of 2004, people could call Griggs a three-time champion.
That distinction was earned in part because she flicked in the Eagles’ only goal in the 2002 state final, assisted the overtime winner in another 1-0 win in the 2003 title game, and found the cage again in a 2-0 2004 final.
Now Castleton University calls her a new member of its Athletic Hall of Fame. Her 63-goal field hockey career at Castleton included two scores as the Spartans defeated St. Joseph of Maine for the 2005 North Atlantic Conference championship, 4-3.
She is now Carolyn Griggs Brown, 33, a once and probably future educator who lives in Lincoln with husband and Mount Abe teacher Matt Brown. Hailey, age 7; Nora, 4; and Lucas, 1 and a half, call her Mom.
And the full-time parent wouldn’t have it any other way: Talking with Carolyn Brown and her Eagle field hockey coach, Mary Stetson, the word “family” keeps popping up.
Stetson’s teams have won 10 Division II titles, the first in 2000, the most recent this fall. Stetson said Brown helped the Eagles win three championships not only with her talent and grit, but also with inclusive leadership.
“She was compassionate. She just saw everybody as her equal. She was constantly trying to improve herself, but (her leadership) was subtle — If I work hard to improve, everybody will work hard to improve,” Stetson said. “I think she’s a real family-oriented person. Her family was real important to her, and I think she saw the team as an extension of her family.”
Brown spoke on what she remembered most fondly about her years as an athlete at Mount Abe, which also included a trip to a basketball final.
“I would just have to say the closeness within the teammates in general,” Brown said. “We did everything as a team. Any simple things, from team spirits to team dinners … In a sense it’s a second family. Everyone cared about each other. And it wasn’t just trying to win a game. There was a lot more to it than just trying to come to the field and winning a game.”
When Brown played at Castleton the program had losing records her first two years, but gelled when she was a junior and senior. Brown said a building program developed both the skill and the chemistry that go hand in hand.
“There were a good six or seven of us as freshmen who stuck with it together through our senior years,” she said. “That’s the family that builds and the talent that builds together, the trusting and all of that that you need on the field.”
AT THE BEGINNING
Brown credits her parents, Laura and Carroll Griggs, for their support over the years. Their response to a flyer advertising Stetson’s summer field hockey camp, when Brown had just finished 5th grade, set a chain of events in motion.
“I don’t think they had any idea signing me up would open so many doors and opportunities,” Brown said.
Something about field hockey clicked that summer.
“There’s a lot to field hockey to figure out. And I just liked whacking that ball at the goalie, I guess. It was just a lot of fun,” Griggs said.
Three years later, Griggs said her teammates accepted her as a freshman. Then came the championship in her second season and the dramatic final win over Otter Valley, in which the Eagles’ dominant second half was capped by her late goal.
Stetson pointed to that play as a perfect example of Brown’s talent and commitment blending. It came on a free hit from outside the circle. Brown, facing the cage, flicked the ball into the lower left corner from maybe 17 feet away.
Stetson noted Brown had just broken a habit of turning her back to the goal to receive a hit — and did so by putting in extra time.
“I can remember three players stayed after practice with her hitting balls into the circle and saying, ‘Frosh, get your feet facing towards the goal,’” Stetson recalled. “You think of athletes having that ‘aha’ moment, and hers happened to be in the state championship game.”
More than the success, Stetson remembers having Brown as both an athlete and as an assistant after her Castleton career:
“She had a natural knack of being a teacher and coach for the game. And was always very gracious. Always a thank you, always appreciative. And she’s just one of those wonderful people.”
Stetson also identified Brown as one of those who helped establish the program’s positive culture.
“I say to girls all the time, if there’s one thing we’re going to do is always give 100% of our energy,” Stetson said. “For her it wasn’t about winning or anything else. It was about, OK, I’m going to be my best and I’m going to always give it my best because it will pay big dividends. And I know that’s the way she’s always lived her life.”
As well as working hard at field hockey, Brown was also blessed with natural ability — Stetson praised her quickness, stamina and “knack for the goal.”
But Brown said she was not a gifted student. In high school, sports were a dangling carrot to keep her motivated, and in college they became an outlet for her stressful course load.
“I liked going to school, not for the academics. I didn’t like school in that sense. I liked going to school and seeing friends and playing sports. If I didn’t play sports my whole high school career would have been so much different. And college career. Sports is what got me through my whole education,” Brown said.
At Castleton, she had to maintain a certain GPA to advance in the teachers’ education program, and it didn’t come easily.
“I had to work for every grade,” Brown said. “I would be the one putting in the hours in the evening to get my work done. I gave 100% on the field, but I had to give 100% in the classroom as well.”
Yet, she chose elementary education as a field, and was well-liked for a combined four years at Addison Central and Bristol Elementary schools before opting for full-time motherhood. Why that career choice?
“I understood kids who weren’t at the top of the class. And I understood that having skills in other areas is very beneficial,” Brown said. “And I think that helps me with my kids, and I think that helped me with past students.”
Brown also credits sports for helping her build confidence and learn that persistence pays off. She recalled her response when her Castleton GPA left her 0.01 short of a requirement that would allow her to student teach.
“I put this whole portfolio together on why I was ready to student teach, and why my GPA didn’t reflect that, and why I was ready to become a student teacher. Not everyone is going to be a great academic student, but it doesn’t mean they can’t succeed and do what they want to do,” Brown said. “They accepted my portfolio.”
Brown has kept up her teaching certification and could well seek a return to an education position when her youngest is old enough for preschool. With her daughters also picking up field hockey sticks and basketballs, she can see coaching on the horizon.
Also out there is her induction into the Castleton Hall of Fame, a ceremony postponed this fall but that could happen at halftime of a CU football game next fall.
Brown said the call surprised her, and she was “really honored,” in part because of what sports have meant to her.
“Sports have been a huge part of my life since such a young age, and it’s what helped me get through school,” she said. “If things weren’t going well academically, I knew I could push myself to do better because I had sports.”
Now Brown said she continues to believe that effort is what matters.
“Even with my kids now in my own home, you can only do the best you can do. You give 100%. You work hard, you give 100%, and sometimes you don’t get the result you want, and that’s OK,” she said.
“And I’m teaching this to my oldest daughter now, who’s a perfectionist. No one person is going to succeed at everything. It’s just not possible. You are going to find things you’re great at, and you are going to find things you struggle at. But working on the things you struggle at is going to help you become a better, wiser person.”