ROCKTON - Lauren McNulty met Brooke Wintlend three years ago when the Hononegah High school athlete tried out for her elite fastitch softball team, the Silver Hawks in St. Charles, Ill.
"I asked Brooke then, 'What are your goals in softball?' McNulty said. "She replied, 'I want to prove everyone wrong.'"
She's too nice a girl to say it, but Friday was definitely her "in your face" moment for all those critics. The senior accepted a Division I scholarship from UW-Green Bay at a ceremony at the high school.
"I've had a lot of people doubt me, coaches and peers," Wintled said. "I used that as motivation."
Her father, Eric, said it's been a journey since she began playing fastpitch when she was 7.
"I tried to get her to try other sports, like golf, but that was Happy Gilmore," he said with a chuckle. "She got pretty upset."
Brooke's softball stock began to rise while in 14U travel ball.
"Brooke has always been pretty good, but her hitting took off when she turned 14," Eric said. "She didn't hit her first home run until the summer of her 14U season and in the past two she's hit around 35. Once it clicked, she really started hitting."
The catcher/first baseman played for the Extreme, the Beloit Screamers, the Freeport Thunder Stix and finally the Silverhawks.
"For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to play Division I softball," she said. "The past eight years of travel softball have been an emotional rollercoaster and without the support of my parents I wouldn't be where I am today. I want to thank them for all the hard work and sacrifices they made to make sure I could be the best player I could be."
Brooke said McMulty was the most influential coach she's had, pushing her to pursue her dream rather than doubt it.
McNulty said about 370,000 girls compete in high school softball and less than 2 percent go on to play Division 1 softball.
"Brooke outworked a lot of girls to get here," the coach said. "She's a phenomenal athlete and teammate and I've loved coaching her the past three years. Last summer we were down a couple of catchers and Brooke was are only catcher two weekends in a row. She caught over 30 innings or about 700 pitches in about 100 degree heat. She never complained once. She's such an unselfish player. That's going to be the key to her success."
Brooke helps out coaching the Stateline Fury 12U team with her dad. The Fury girls attended Friday's signing, wearing UWGB T-shirts with "Wintlend" on the back.
"We scored 277 runs and had 90 errors this fall," Eric said. "Coach Brooke takes credit for the runs and blames me for the errors."
Brooke was one of the major reasons Hononegah's 32-5 team broke home run records last spring. She batted .360 with 14 dingers, including a walkoff blast to beat Harlem.
Hononegah head coach Dan Bohn couldn't attend the signing, but AD Steve Cofoid read a statement he provided.
"Brooke is a terrific athlete and an even better person," Bohn stated. "On Senior Night, we saw what type of teammate she was off the field. She made a memory board for all of the seniors and wrote a great speech where she talked about each of the girls."
Her club and prep play caught the attention of Sara Kubuske, who started recruiting her while she was coaching at D-II University of Indianapolis. That didn't change when Kubuske was hired for the head job at UWGB.
Brooke visited the 200-acre campus overlooking Lake Michigan and that sealed the deal.
"I loved the atmosphere and the coaches," she said. "Everyone was so friendly. It felt like a great place to go. As for the weather, I've lived in it for nearly 18 years. I should be able to handle four more."
UWGB will receive a scholar as well as a slugger. She carries a 4.0 GPA and plans on majoring in Sports Medicine.
While Green Bay is known more for late springs and the Green Bay Packers, the Phoenix take softball seriously. The school has an indoor facility and will open a new turf outdoor field this spring.