When Kate Walsworth was 4 years old, her father surprised her with a bicycle and displayed it in the driveway. Upon seeing it for the first time, she pointed at the two training wheels fastened to the back, then looked up at her dad.
“Take those off,” she demanded, her father, Don, recalled in a conversation earlier this week.
“What?” he responded.
“Take them off and go back inside,” she said.
Obeying the instructions of a 4-year-old, dad walked inside to his living room and peered out the window, watching as his daughter climbed atop the bike, fell off, got back up and tried again. After three hours, Kate was pedaling smoothly along the neighborhood sidewalk.
“She came back in with a few minor bumps and bruises, and she didn’t say a word,” Don Walsworth said. “She just had that look like, ‘See, I told you I could do it.’”
Fourteen years later, this is the story he shares to most accurately describe his daughter. And it’s pretty darn spot-on. This is the same Kate Walsworth that teachers, coaches, friends and peers have come to know.
A determined self-motivator who earlier this week graduated from Barstow as the top scorer in girls basketball program history. A quick, insistent learner who does not have a single B grade on her high school resume and will attend Vanderbilt in the fall.
“If all my students are like Kate Walsworth,” said Mark Luce, her English teacher at Barstow, “I know I’m in great shape.”
“When you think of how you want to build a (basketball) program,” said Josh House, the Barstow girls basketball coach, “you start with players and people like Kate.”
Kate Walsworth is The Star’s Girls Scholar-Athlete of the Year. And in the denotation of that term — scholar-athlete — she blurred the line between the two.
Take her pregame ritual. At Barstow, she had several teammates who would listen to music before tipoff. Others played games on their phones or read a novel.
Kate incorporated an unusual habit into her pregame routine.
Before every home game, Kate would sit down at a table in the school’s common area and check a few items off her to-do list. On bus trips, she brought textbooks.
“Everyone kind of laughed at me because I’m stressed about homework before a basketball game,” Kate said. “But I have to get some of it done so that when I get home after the game, I don’t have as much to do.”
That’s actually only partially true. Sure, Kate received a healthy amount of homework with a senior schedule that included four advanced-placement classes, two honors courses and a yearbook class in which she served as the co-executive editor. (And she says her junior year was more difficult.)
But really, she worked beyond the minimum requirements by choice. She enjoyed assignments. Always has. In grade school, by the end of every July, she would nag her parents that she was ready for the summer to be over.
“She loved being in school,” said her mom, Shea, later adding, “The beautiful thing about Barstow is that you can make your schedule as challenging as you want it to be. And she certainly challenged herself.”
Kate finished as the salutatorian in her graduating class at Barstow, the second-best grade-point average among seniors and just one item on a long list of accomplishments. She was the school's president of the National Honor Society, a recipient of an annual award dedicated to Barstow’s top student and a U.S. Congressional Gold Medalist.
And then there’s the athletic endeavors.
The first time Kate took the court for a competitive basketball game, it was at the local YMCA. Except her parents couldn’t find a girls team. But Kate didn’t mind playing with the boys. In a picture she has kept, Kate stands as the tallest in the group, clutching a pink basketball.
Basketball never was her best sport. She scored 10 goals in a soccer game. She lettered twice in volleyball at Barstow. She was always told she had the body to be a Division I swimmer, but the team aspect of basketball had a certain appeal.
As a senior, Kate led Barstow to its most accomplished girls basketball season in school history. She broke Barstow’s career scoring record, finishing with 1,490 points a four-year starter, nearly 100 more than the previous mark, and was selected to the Missouri Class 3 all-state team.
“Kate was the player that would take on any role that we needed her to,” House said. “She would be that person who would be our best scoring threat from anywhere inside the three-point line. Every now and then, she would even have to bring the ball up the court. She was willing to take on that role, even if it was uncomfortable.”
When she attends Vanderbilt, it was be the first time in a more than a decade that she hasn’t played competitive basketball. She had opportunities to play at lower levels but opted to focus solely on academics.
The past year-plus included visits to more than 15 college campuses before she ultimately settled on Vanderbilt, bypassing suggestions from those close to her. Her dad had hoped she might pick Stanford, where he played collegiate golf before embarking on a professional career.
But he and his wife knew better.
“I think we learned pretty early on not to tell her what to do, because she’s always been such a strong-willed child who wants to be independent,” Shea said. “I think as a parent you realize when you need to step back and let them do their own thing.”
There are rather lofty career ambitions waiting, derived from world travels and volunteer work. If there’s one thing that prompts Kate to boast, it’s the latter. The Congressional Gold Medal required 400 hours of community service. She most often frequented Rose Brooks, a local domestic violence center. On Saturday mornings, Kate and her mom helped run a clothing store in the center. Later, she convinced classmates to join.
“It’s just very humbling,” Kate said. “I think that’s taught me a lot about others, about compassion for others and even taught me about myself.”
Kate has visited nearly two dozen countries — with stops in Europe, Asia, Africa and others. They are learning adventures as much as vacations.
The final piece of the Congressional Gold Medal is an expedition or an exploration. Kate could have picked from any number of sites. But she turned it into an educational project.
For weeks, she researched her family history, tracing it back to find ancestors who fought in the American Revolution and some who lived before it. The tree sprouted in Lithuania, she discovered, and so she took her expedition there.
During her travels, Kate picked up on something — a career path. She wants to become a doctor, one who specializes in health epidemics in underdeveloped countries.
“I want to learn how we can solve these,” Kate said. “A lot of the time, our solution is just to throw money at the problem, but it doesn’t really solve it. I’d love to be there and do what I can to help.”
That was part of the motivation in selecting Vanderbilt. It has an abroad program that will allow her to study in South Africa.
This weekend, she is visiting Tanzania, an East African country. She has already researched a medical mission there.
“I think she’s comfortable being uncomfortable,” Shea said. “She’s always been someone who isn’t afraid to step out of her element a little bit.
“That’s who she is. She has that in her soul.”