The 2019 Taylor Emmons Memorial Classic will be held March 25-29
A scholarship can change a life.
Just ask The Out-of-Door Academy senior outfielder Austin Brinling.
Four years ago, Brinling received the Taylor Emmons Scholarship, which grants one prospective high school student the chance to attend ODA tuition-free for four years. The scholarship is supported by the Taylor Emmons Scholarship Fund and named after Emmons, a 2009 graduate who played on the ODA baseball team.
Emmons, 19, was hit by a car and killed Dec. 5, 2010, while a freshman at the University of Miami. The scholarship was created in 2011, and its first recipient was Desmond Lindsay, another ODA baseball player now in the New York Mets organization. While Brinling and Lindsay were baseball players, the scholarship is open to all prospective students.
The 2019 Taylor Emmons Memorial Classic baseball tournament, held annually at ODA to raise money for the scholarship fund, will be played March 25-29. The scholarship rewards applicants who demonstrate “gratitude, kindness, good humor, and appreciation for others,” according to the fund's website.
Brinling, a University of Florida commit, exemplifies those qualities and knows his scholarship is a big deal. Brinling, who lives with his grandparents, George and Sandy Brinling, was zoned to attend Braden River High. There was “not a chance” he could have attended ODA without the scholarship, he said.
If he had not received it, Brinling said, he would not be the person he is today.
“It has done a lot for me,” Brinling said. “It put me in a spot to succeed on and off the field. It made me a bigger person. I was never a bad kid, but I am more mature now.
“When I was younger, I was not that good of a student. I never really had to try before. When I got here, it was a big wake-up call. The teachers here helped me.”
Brinling said mathematics teacher Julianne Garcia and English teacher Stefanie Betz were two instructors who particularly helped inspire him. It turns out Brinling is inspiring, too.
"Working with students like Austin is the ultimate reward for teachers," said Betz, who also coaches ODA's volleyball team. "You're able to see the growth and positive changes that happen when a kid is eager to succeed and improve. I'm so proud of how far he has come since he was a freshman."
On the field, Brinling has blossomed into a complete player.
He said the ODA coaching staff, some who double as his coaches on the Florida Burn travel team, have taught him to play smart baseball. He hits leadoff for the Thunder and roams center field. He does not try to hit a ton of home runs or pad his own stats. ODA coach Tim Orlosky said Brinling always puts the team first, getting on base and putting the team in position to win. Brinling, who is 5-foot-8, said he has always been a “small guy,” but getting in the weight room has been immeasurably helpful. His Perfect Game profile lists him at 155 pounds. Last year, he hit for a .467 batting average. Orlosky also called Brinling the best center fielder he has seen at the high school level in his 10 years in the business.
"I have never seen a kid run down baseballs the way he does," Orlosky said.
Brinling is currently playing though a minor hand injury, Orlosky said, but there was no chance Brinling would miss a game. His teammates, and the game of baseball, are too important. He was hitting .312 as of March 18 despite the injury.
There are the memories, too. Brinling said his sophomore and junior seasons were filled with playing Mario Super Sluggers on the Nintendo Wii before games with his teammates. This year, the cool move is to head to Big Olaf Creamery on Lakewood Main Street, where Brinling always gets a scoop of cookies and cream. “I don’t like to mix it up too much,” he said.
Brinling said he thinks every prospective student should apply for the scholarship, if even mildly interested. Brinling didn’t think he would get it, he said, but he did.
“That changed my life,” Brinling said.