A Legend Comes Home: Brittney Lehrschall Returns to North Brunswick High School
J.B. Sholar pulled the bus into the North Brunswick High School parking lot. He drove around the back of the school, beside the softball fields, and that’s when he saw her: six feet tall, blonde hair, leading a handful of high-school softball players through some defensive drills.
Sholar parked and walked over to the field. He waved. She waved back and went back to the drills.
For 17 years, Sholar coached the North Brunswick High School varsity softball team. For 14 of those years, the team was solid, but nothing special. The three years they were special was because of this girl. Brittney Lehrschall. The one people call Legend.
He thought she’d be playing for the U.S. Olympic team by now. He didn’t know yet why she wasn’t, or how she’d ended up back here. He was sad things didn’t go that way, but he felt it was good that she was back. Really good.
Lehrschall grew up a tomboy. Her dad, Roland, played softball at Northwest District Park, a.k.a. 74/76. She grew up imitating him.
She played mostly third base until seventh grade. She was playing for The Pounders, a recreation-league team at 74/76. Her dad was coaching. He needed a pitcher. His daughter stepped up.
She had the right tools. She was 5 foot 9 and could sling the thing. But she was also skinny, still growing into her height, and didn’t have the strength to really control herself. Her first game, she pegged every batter she faced.
But she worked at it. By her freshman season at North Brunswick in 2001 — she was playing varsity from the beginning — she was figuring it out. She was still growing, still learning, still exploring her potential. She also had something else, something nobody else around her had: a relentless desire to get better. Yeah, her teammates worked, but not like her.
“You’ve got to put the time in,” Lehrschall says. “You get what you give. If you’re not going to stay and work and practice, it shows up on the field.”
Her former coach agrees.
“Through the years of my coaching, she’s the only one I’ve ever seen, before or since, who works like she does,” says Sholar.
Lehrschall took pitching lessons once a week. She pitched three or four times a week on her own, outside of practice. She threw too hard for her brother to catch her, and he’s in the Coast Guard now.
It’s rarely a matter of talent when it comes to girls like Brittney Lehrschall. There are lots of talented athletes. What separates them is this: Who cares enough to work?
Lehrschall’s work showed up.
All four years of high school she was named the Coastal Plains Conference Player of the Year. From 2002 to 2004 — from her sophomore year on — the Scorpions dominated the state’s 1-A competition, going 74-10 and winning three straight state championships. Those three years, Lehrschall made All-State and was named the state tournament MVP. Her junior year, Lehrschall was named the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 1-A Miss Softball. Her senior year, she went 25-1, held down a .02 earned-run•average (ERA), and threw six perfect games. For her career, she threw 21 no-hitters and 12 perfect games.
“She was a good leader, too,” Sholar recalls. “It was more or less like, ‘You all follow me, and we’ll be all right.’” Mark Ellenburg, who has a daughter playing softball at North Brunswick High School now, remembers Lehrschall. “Have you ever seen those pitchers who look just effortless?” he asks. “The ball leaves their hand, and it makes a different sound when it hits the mitt. They’re not even sweating. It’s not even fair. She was like that. Nobody around here had ever seen anybody pitch like that.” He pauses, then adds, “She’s a local legend.”
“There’s never been any other pitcher in this area like her,” Sholar says. “She could have played Olympic ball if she’d wanted to, if she’d had the real opportunity. She’s just one in a million.” But life doesn’t always work out the way we think it will.
Plenty of colleges courted Lehrschall, and she ended up at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). She worked even harder. At Christmas she needed a place to throw, so she’d call up her old coach, Coach Sholar, and he would open North’s indoor training facility for her.
“She wanted to get better all the time,” Sholar says. “She was a coach’s dream.”
As it had in high school, Lehrschall’s work showed up in college — at least for a couple years. In 61 appearances with ETSU, both as a starter and a closer, Lehrschall posted a 3.93 ERA, the sixth-best career ERA in school history. She played against some of college softball’s best teams, such as Tennessee, South Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Everything changed her sophomore year. Her coach left and she didn’t like the new one, so she transferred home to UNCW.
Things didn’t go well there, and her career ended in a fashion unfitting for how hard she’d worked. Her senior season, her body failed her. Specifically, her throwing shoulder. It developed bone spurs, and then the labrum tore, and it was all over. After surgery, she could never throw the same again.
It was a mighty coincidence that brought Lehrschall back to North Brunswick High School. She was having lunch in 2007 after a UNCW scrimmage when she ran into her high school social studies teacher, Jane Murray. Lehrschall had been majoring in history, planning to teach high school or middle school, and Murray invited Lehrschall to intern for her. Two years later Murray retired, and guess who got her job? Last year, the softball coach stepped down, and, well, you know who got that job, too.
That day her old coach pulled the bus into the parking lot and saw Lehrschall, he stayed and watched until the practice ended. Sholar had stopped coaching in 2007, and he was happy to see the program get into Lehrschall’s hands.
“The program had gone down compared to where we had it,” Sholar says. “I’ve been a little disappointed the last few years. I know Brittney can’t work miracles overnight, but I feel like she’s going to bring it back up. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Lehrschall tells her girls to give everything they’ve got, to appreciate that this might be their last chance to play, to take advantage of it.
“I had so much fun in high school,” Lehrschall says. “It was a great experience … To go to state and play with the girls that I did. I’m just trying to create that same experience for these girls.”
Before dismissing her girls, Lehrschall tells them how jealous she is of them. “You should feel privileged — feel grateful — to be doing what you’re doing,” she says. “Embrace it. Not everybody can do it.”
The girls nod, and then they leave. As for every coach with every team, there’s plenty of work to be done. Lehrschall is going to give it all she’s got, the same way she worked as a player and the same thing she preachers to her players now.
It’s not the Olympics, but it’s another great opportunity.