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Referee reflects on her career

Former basketball standout Denise Brooks, the first woman inducted into the Saint Leo Hall of Fame, stood nervously at the podium at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club on Thursday and conquered her fear of public speaking.

"(Wednesday) night, I said to my husband, "I can't do it. I can't go,' " Brooks said, recalling a conversation with David Clauser about her acceptance speech as this year's Saint Leo Girls & Women In Sports honoree.

Brooks overcame the jitters, though she did say speaking in front of people is more daunting than her full-time gig as a women's basketball official.

"I'm fine with crowds as long as I'm in black and white and polyester," Brooks said of her working attire for NCAA and WNBA games that keep her away from her family's New Jersey home Wednesdays through Sundays.

Brooks is the 13th recipient of a Saint Leo award that began in 1993. That honor coincides with National Girls & Women In Sports Day. The national celebration, initially commemorated in 1987, is a tribute to Flo Hyman, an Olympic volleyball player and crusader for women's sports who died in 1986. As a 7-year-old growing up in New Jersey, Brooks brought home a trophy for winning a basketball shooting contest.

"This is nice," she said. "I like this basketball stuff."

So much so, in fact, the three-time All-Sunshine State Conference guard became Saint Leo's first 1,000-point scorer and was inducted into the Division II school's Hall of Fame in 1992. Brooks, who ranks second in school scoring with 1,355 points and is the career assist leader at 406, is the first Saint Leo graduate to earn the award. And her love for the game remains as strong and deep as when she played.

"You women athletes know (officials) really work hard and we love what we do," Brooks said, directing her comments to the school athletes in attendance. "What I do right now, I'm living my dream. Being on the court is not like work."

Brooks began officiating seventh- and eighth-grade girls basketball games in 1988 and worked her way up the ladder. She also has been a referee at the high school and junior college levels.

"I kind of feel like I'm giving back to the sport I love so much," Brooks said.

SAINT LEO GIRLS & WOMEN IN SPORTS AWARD WINNERS

2006, DENISE BROOKS: Former Saint Leo Hall of Fame basketball player, NCAA women's basketball and WNBA referee

2005, DR. B CECILE REYNAUD: Former Florida State volleyball coach

2004, DANIELLE FOTOPOLOUS: Olympic gold medalist soccer player, coached at Louisiana State and is an assistant at Florida

2003, DR. DOT RICHARDSON: Olympic gold medalist softball player, orthopedic surgeon

2002, DR. G. JEAN CERRA: Vice provost, Barry University

2001, CHRIS BELLOTTO: Florida Southern softball coach

2000, LINDA DERK: Former coach of Tampa Bay Firestix

1999, MERRILY DEAN BAKER: Former Michigan State athletic director

1998, SHIRLEY RYALS: Former senior vice-president, SunTrust Bank, Tampa Bay

1997, NO AWARD

1996, LYN ST. JAMES: Formula One race car driver

1995, DOTTIE PEPPER: LPGA Tour player

1994, GAYLE SIERENS: Tampa television news anchor

1993, GAY CULVERHOUSE: Former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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