Female Athlete of the Year: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

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It was sort of an early career chat from mother to daughter -- Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was a cheerleader in elementary school when mom had a suggestion.

"Cheerleading was awkward for her. It just wasn't for her," Andrea Kimbrough said. "I said, 'Trust me, why don't we do something else? Why don't we try sports?' "

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough listened and eventually went from leading cheers to receiving them. Now it's cheers to one of the greatest three-sport female athletes in the history of Western Pennsylvania high school sports.

Walker-Kimbrough, who graduated from Hopewell High School this month, has been selected the Post-Gazette Female Athlete of the Year for the 2012-13 school year. It is the second year in a row Walker-Kimbrough has won the award. The last athlete to win the award two years in a row was McKeesport's Swin Cash in 1997-98.

Walker-Kimbrough was a rarity in high school sports these days -- a three-sport athlete. But it's not just competing in three sports that made her special. It's what she did in those sports that made people cheer.

• A 6-foot guard/forward, she finished her basketball career with 2,427 points, 12th-best in WPIAL history. She played on one WPIAL championship team and was a two-time Post-Gazette Player of the Year selection.

• She won three individual WPIAL track and field championships in the long jump (twice) and triple jump (once). Her long jump this year of 19 feet, 3 1/2 inches is the fourth-best in WPIAL history and her triple jump of 38-1 is 20th best.

• She played on one WPIAL volleyball championship team during her career and was a two-time all-state selection.

How many athletes in WPIAL history can say they won team championships in two different sports and also won individual titles in another sport? You could very well make an argument for her being maybe the most successful three-sport athlete in WPIAL history.

"I really enjoyed the WPIAL championships, but probably the most in basketball and volleyball," Walker-Kimbrough said. "Just because it took a team to win.

"You can win in track and field, but it wasn't a team. In basketball and volleyball, it was a special moment for all of us. I got to celebrate with people. In track, it was just me and the coach."

Walker-Kimbrough was so talented in basketball and volleyball that she was recruited by Division I colleges in both sports. But the ceiling for her was higher in basketball. She was ranked among the top 100 players in the country as a senior and she accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland.

Walker-Kimbrough already is at Maryland, taking a summer class and going through workouts. She believes her past athletic experiences already have helped her immensely.

"I can't even explain how much playing three sports has helped me now," Walker-Kimbrough said in a phone interview from Maryland. "The trainers put me through workouts, and they wanted to know if I've done this stuff before. They tell me my running posture is so good. That comes from me working on it with track coaches."

At Hopewell, Walker-Kimbrough had a sterling reputation as an athlete who worked hard -- in and out of sports. A teenager who says she is "obsessed" with LeBron James, Walker-Kimbrough graduated with a grade-point average better than 4.0.

But she believes she would never be the person -- or athlete -- she is without her mother's influence. Andrea Kimbrough raised her child by herself. The two live in an apartment, and mom would always encourage her daughter to go play basketball with the boys on the playground.

Mom also would drive her to summer workouts at 5 a.m. and stay in the car in a Hopewell parking lot, waiting sometimes an extra hour while her daughter stayed after basketball practice for more work.

"She was a most unathletic person," Walker-Kimbrough said of her mother, "but she would work eight hours and then spend 2 1/2 hours at the court, maybe just going and rebounding for me."

Mom and daughter seem to have a special bond.

"It was a struggle at times, financially, emotionally, all those things," Andrea Kimbrough said. "I'm a very spiritual person, and I always asked God to give us strength just for that day.

"I thank God for giving me a special child. Of course, she worked my nerves at times. But every morning when I would drive her to school, the first thing she would hear is that I love her.

"I'm blessed not so much for her athletic ability, but for the person she is. People don't know I never had to check her homework. She was never any discipline problem."

Shatori is Andrea Kimbrough's only child.

"She broke the mold," the mother said.

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Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh


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