By Jeff Odom
Steinbrenner girls basketball player Rachel Briere was just 6 years old when she found herself trying to get a better look at the YMCA’s basketball court.
The orange ball and the squeaks of sneakers on the wooden floor caught her attention almost immediately.
She was practicing gymnastics next door at the time. The trampolines and balance beams weren’t enough. She wanted to try basketball.
“They had this little window that leads straight out to the basketball courts, and I used to see all of these people playing,” Rachel said. “So, I was like, ‘Mom, I want to try this,’ and I started and didn’t stop.”
Rachel’s career began on a children’s co-ed team.
“I was horrible in the beginning, but I was having so much fun,” Rachel said. “The first season I played made me so aggravated because it was co-ed and I was the only girl, so I never got the ball. But I remember that it was really a lot of fun, and I kept going with it and eventually people were telling me I can keep going and get better.”
As the years went by, Rachel began to get the hang of the game and played well enough to enter the rigors of AAU with the Florida Angels.
Her mother Josée, father Stephan and younger brother Julien and older sister Melanie sat in the stands cheering her on.
“First row, always right there,” said Rachel, now a sophomore center at Steinbrenner. “Mom’s always got her camera and dad’s doing stats on his tablet.”
Rachel didn’t mind the attention, especially from her sister.
At birth, Melanie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and severe scoliosis. The condition made it impossible for her to live without extra care and the aid of a wheel chair.
Still, it didn’t stop her from being Rachel’s No. 1 fan.
Melanie wouldn’t just attend games, she would watch her sister practice while Josée took pictures.
“She’s definitely my No. 1 supporter,” Rachel said. “She’s so happy, and it just amazes me all of the time. I could have the worst game of my life and she’ll still be there saying, ‘Oh my gosh, Rachel, you did so great.’”
Two years ago, when Rachel was in eighth grade, things drastically changed for the family.
Melanie was admitted into the hospital, dealing with serious complications because of her condition.
Yet even in such a serious situation, Melanie’s focus wasn’t on what the doctors were saying. It was on Rachel’s basketball games and practices.
“Her biggest worry was that she couldn’t go to (my) practices anymore,” Rachel said. “She would say, ‘Rachel, what are you going to do? I can’t go to your practices.’ She really wanted to go.”
Melanie and Rachel made a deal that once she recovered, she could come to her games when she started at Steinbrenner.
She hasn’t missed one since.
“When we’re warming up and doing starting lineups, you’d look over and see Melanie with a big smile on her face,” Rachel said. “It’s amazing to have that kind of support.”
With Melanie watching again, Rachel had a season to remember last year. She started as a freshman and finished as the Warriors’ second leading scorer with 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds during the team’s run to the Class 7A-District 9 championship.
The team fell short in the playoffs, though, losing a first round game to St. Petersburg in overtime.
“(After the last game), Melanie looked at me and said, ‘What are we going to do now?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know, Melanie. We have a break now. There’s no more basketball,’” Rachel said. “She didn’t know what to do.”
This season, Rachel is averaging 10.7 points for the 14-1 Steinbrenner squad.
Win or lose, Rachel said there’s never a moment in the day that she’s not thankful for her sister.
“We have probably one of the best sister relationships because really the only thing she wants is to be with (me) at any moment,” Rachel said. “I’ll be sitting in my room listening to music and my dad will wheel her in, and she’ll watch me and we’ll talk about something. Sometimes when there’s song that she likes, she’ll sing with me. She’s just completely happy.”
Rachel and Warriors begin play in the Jaguar Invitational at Academy of the Holy Names Dec. 27. Their next nontournament game is at home against Riverview at 8 p.m.
Lisa F says
Great story about two great girls. This article is so deserving of these two beautiful girls. I don’t know how this family does it, but they are always on the go with school and sports but they are always together…it’s all about family. They are all amazing and strong. I feel very blessed to call them my friends. Melanie is an angel, it’s no wonder Rachel does so well with a cheerleader like Mel! 😉
Such a beautiful article. It brought tears to my eyes!
Debbie Kugler says
Great article- GREAT family!!!
Such a beautifully written article. Rachel and her sister and the entire family are such an inspiration. Thank you so much, Jeff, for shining a light on these two wonderful young women. Simply outstanding work.
Jennifer M says
Amazing story about 2 amazing girls. So glad this story was written.
Bravo Rachel, incredible story of resilience and determination! Great role model for all the youths and families to look up to.