Bridges chooses academics over athletics
Most high school athletes would kill for the chance to play a Division I sport in college. Buffalo Island Central's Nan Lee Bridges is no different, but when it came to making one of the most critical decisions of her young life, the former Lady Mustang star decided her commitment to be an attorney one day was more important than continuing her basketball or golf careers on the collegiate level.
Bridges had the option of either playing collegiate golf and basketball at Lyon College in Batesville or accepting a golf scholarship from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. But after looking at both the financial aspects and what her commitment would need to be to continue her athletic career, Bridges decided it would be in her best interest to turn down both offers and concentrate solely on her education.
"I would love to play at a Division I level in any sport," said Bridges. "But that is a major commitment. I think if you are going to make a commitment that big, you need to really love what you are doing. I enjoy golf and I love playing it, but not competing in it. I put too much pressure on myself in golf to really enjoy it. I get so frustrated playing it and when you play it at that level, it's more of a job than fun. I am afraid I wouldn't really enjoy it. Turning down the basketball scholarship at Lyon College was a lot tougher. I had an opportunity to go and practice with the girls at Lyon and I loved it. It's where I thought I would be next year. But after looking at what I would have to pay for tuition in both college and law school, and taking into consideration what I would receive both academically and athletically in scholarship money, I decided it just wouldn't be worth having to pay back student loans for the next 30 years."
Bridges will continue her education at Arkansas State University where she intends on majoring in history with an emphasis on pre-law.
Buffalo Island Central will miss Bridges' athletic ability as much as any player the Lady Mustangs have produced in the school's history.
"If I had to describe Nan Lee in one word it would be dependable," said former Buffalo Island Central Lady Mustang Basketball Coach Mike Kinard. "Nan Lee, as much as anyone else, helped turn our program around."
Bridges helped resurrect a program that at one point failed to field a senior high team. The former Lady Mustang star helped guide BIC to three consecutive conference championships, including the school's first ever state tournament appearance this past season. The Lady Mustangs compiled an 83-17 record in Bridges high school career, including a school record 33 victories this past season.
Bridges averaged 17 points, four rebounds and two steals per game, along with a 76 percent free throw shooting average during her senior season. Bridges was selected to the Class AA All-State Tournament team, as well as the All-Region Tournament team. The 5'4" guard was also named All-Conference in the 3AA North as well as being selected to the Northeast Arkansas Invitational All-Tournament team. Bridges started every game from her seventh grade season through this year.
Bridges provided more than one dramatic buzzer beater in her career, including the game winner against Rector to give the Lady Mustangs the junior high District Championship in 2003. Bridges also knocked down a key three pointer just before halftime of the District finals against Piggott that helped turn the momentum in the Lady Mustang's favor, propelling them to this season's District Championship at Marmaduke.
"Of all her individual accomplishments, the one that stands out the most for me was a key game against Maynard this season," said Kinard. "We were all but beat, trailing by 18 points in the second half. But we battled back and Nan Lee hits a three point shot at the buzzer to give us a one point victory in a crucial 3AA North Conference game."
As good as Bridges was in basketball, she may have been even better in golf, claiming the Class AA State Championship when she fired an 82 at the Mountain Ranch Golf Course in Fairfield Bay. The state title advanced her to the Overall State Championships, where she finished fifth, competing against players from all every classification in the state.
"She is a wonderful golfer, but even a better person," said Mari Hayden, Buffalo Island Central golf coach and Bridges's aunt. "Nan Lee started playing in the ninth grade and has gotten better every year. She is a gracious person, winning or losing. She knows the rules and plays by the rules. She has been critical in our success as a golf team. She is admired by her teammates, other coaches, and other players."
"I could talk about her for hours," continued Hayden. "She is a true sweetheart and a great competitor who gives her all. She never gives up. She is very coachable and is a very accomplished athlete. We are really going to miss her."
Bridges won the individual District Championship as a freshman and finished seventh in the state. She claimed the district title again as a sophomore and tied for Regional medalist honors while claiming a fifth place finish in the State Tournament. As a junior, Bridges was district runner-up and Regional medalist winner, finishing fifth in the state once again. During her senior season, Bridges swept the District and Regional Championships before capping off her brilliant career with a State Title. Bridges was named All-State four consecutive years.
Bridges was also a four year starter on the Lady Mustang's softball team.
When asked about her strengths in each sport, Bridges humility came to the forefront. "In golf, it is definitely my coaches, my Aunt Mari and my dad. Without them, I wouldn't have made it out of district. In softball, it's my teammates. This year, I had to play catcher. I was awful there-- I knew it and everyone else knew it. After every game, my teammates would tell me how good I was doing and every time I would mess up they would tell me I was doing great. It really helped me out. In basketball, it would be Coach Kinard and my teammates. People would tell me I am a good player and am talented, and I would just kind of laugh when they would say it because I think about the team I am on and the players surrounding me. If I scored 20 points, I knew I would have only scored two if the defense hadn't been concentrating on Jessica (Shepard). It's the same thing, I wouldn't get my points if Kasey Garrett didn't get eight or 10 assists a game or if Ashley Tate didn't get every offensive or defensive rebound a player could get."
When pressed to choose what Bridges thought was her biggest accomplishment, she said it was an award she received from the Randall Smith family. "I am really close with them, and I remember him. I loved him to death. He was a great man. I just felt so honored to get that."
Bridges credits her dad with being her biggest influence. "He was a basketball coach and he has been my coach as long as I can remember. I know what I know about sports because of him. As soon as I could bounce a basketball he was showing me how to do it," said Bridges.
Bridges also mentioned her grandfather, Russ Crowell, whom she never got to meet. "He died before I was born so I never got to meet him. Everybody talks about him. I know what kind of person he was. I just wish I could have had a chance to meet him."
"I have been very blessed in my athletic career," added Bridges. "I have had some wonderful coaches, including my dad, Coach Kinard in basketball, and my Aunt Mari (Hayden) in golf. I can't imagine anyone coaching me in golf other than her. I am really going to miss participating in sports, but I am looking forward to college life at ASU."