By Al Mattei


The summer of 1996 should have been one of the best for Brooke Molnar. She was a rising senior at the time at Holmdel (N.J.), under the tutelage of a well-respected scholastic head coach. She was going to be in position for being at least a regional, if not a national, scholastic All-American. Too, she got a gig in the summertime as a ball girl at the field hockey venue at the Atlanta Olympics.

She attended field hockey camps, got a necessary sinus surgery to make her breathe better, and continued to cultivate the necessary contacts for attending college the following autumn.

But not everything was right in Molnar's life.

"I wasn't having any fun at Holmdel, and I had some personal problems," she said. "I had considered going to college a year early: I decided to make a change."

To understand Molnar the person, one must understand Molnar the athlete. She was a top-class horse show jumper, in the hunter class. The game of field hockey was simply her autumn distraction.

Many of her peers had graduated high school by 1996, making her feel somewhat isolated. She could could have chosen to go to one of the many college preparatory schools less than two hours away from her. But she made a radical departure, choosing to go to Colorado Springs Fountain Valley (Colo.).

"You know, if I had stayed, I would have taken gym and English, and I would have passed," Molnar said. "But I wouldn't have learned things like how to write a paper or read a book for enjoyment."

Two days after making the choice, she was winging her way out to Colorado.

"You know how you're one of those baffled teenagers who needs direction?" Molnar said. "I needed to figure out who I was, where I was going to go, what I was going to do, and what I wanted."

Oddly enough, her head field hockey coach at Holmdel, Dot Theobold, had also moved out to Colorado to work with the U.S. junior national team, and took a job with Fountain Valley.

"I really didn't know she was going to be out there until I actually got there: it was really weird," Molnar said. "I had been away during the summer (of 1996) at field hockey camps, and working at the Olympics."

However, that coach-player relationship was not re-fired.

"She wasn't my coach: she coached the JV out there, and they don't combine the practices," she said. "I almost never saw her: she taught biology to the freshmen out there, and I was a senior. Every once in a while I would see her in the dining hall, but she did her own thing and I did mine."

The field hockey in Colorado, with only about a dozen teams, is not that of New Jersey -- especially when you consider that there were just 42 students in Molnar's senior class. She gave up the exposure and quality of play in field hockey to concentrate on all of the other aspects of education.

"I did a lot of things that I knew I wouldn't be able to do had I stayed," Molnar said. "I climbed a 14,000-foot peak two days before graduation, which I think was one of the highlights of my life. It allowed me to have all of these experiences."

Including joining the school's equestrian team, which was done somewhat differently from what Molnar is used to.

"We, on the East Coast, are trained to be prim and proper riders," she said. "I'd ridden my whole life, pretty successfully, and there, I was chasing cows. It was the funniest thing ever, because I had to compete for my gym credit, but we got a respectable score in 'team penning.' I wouldn't have ever done that if I hadn't gone out there."

Molnar would enroll at American University in Washington, D.C. Her field hockey career there has been solid, if not spectacular.

But her rewards for persistence go far beyond the hockey field. Her senior internship has been with the D.C. Public Schools, teaching in a local elementary school.

She has found teaching has been one of the most incredible rewards of her young life, especially with the understanding of the mistakes made in her education -- how students are "tracked" into certain activities and certain grade levels.

"I've had a wide variety of experiences in education, even spending a summer internship at The Lab School for children with learning disabilties," she said. "I want to get my masters, and I want to make a difference. I think teaching kids is really special: if you really take a think about it, you really don't think about the person who taught you how to read. I have really valued books and reading, and I'd like to be that person who helps people to read."

Molnar hopes that others will learn from her example, and not find themselves tracked into a role in life out of which they cannot extricate themselves.

"I've taken a different path, and I became pretty successful," Molnar said. "With all of the adversity, I feel as though I have become a better person; something I don't think I could have done if I had stayed." 1