The first day of sixth-grade basketball tryouts was the last day Bri Lilly ever played that sport.
“I tried to shoot a free throw,” she recalls. “I threw it as hard as I could, it bounced off the rim and hit my nose. I went home, and that was the end of my basketball career. I thought maybe I should try something different. My dad was devastated for three months until I tried out for volleyball. Then he was fine.”
Six years later, she was at the Mideast Qualifier volleyball tournament in Indianapolis, playing for suburban Chicago’s Thornton Fractional South High School. In the stands, her mother shared some jellybeans with the woman sitting next to her. That woman turned out to be Sharon Clark, Butler’s longtime volleyball coach.
Clark invited Lilly for a campus visit. A week later, she was signed, earning the Dean Herbert F. Schwomeyer Scholarship, given annually to a deserving student selected by the Athletics Department, and a Lake Trust Book Fund award.
It’s worked out well on all fronts. On the volleyball court, as a junior, the 6-foot-2 Lilly was a First Team All-BIG EAST Selection and broke the Butler Volleyball record for highest attack percentage recorded in a season (.378).
She also keeps the team loose. Clark describes her as “quick-witted” and someone who “loves being center stage.”
“Bri is quite a BIG personality and a character,” the coach says. “During her first visit to Butler, we asked what major she was considering. She told us that she could be a comedian and she and her sister would do a stand-up comedy show. Too bad we don’t have a major in comedy. She would have done it!”
As a student in the College of Education, where she’s a Secondary Education major with a focus on English, she has impressed her professors with her energy and devotion to students.
Lilly brings to her role a love of literature. Her mother was a bookworm, and “it wasn’t a choice for me to love books,” she said, listing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Great Gatsby, Native Son, and anything by Alice Walker among her favorites. “They’ve guided my life.”
Education Professor Shelly Furuness, Lilly’s academic advisor and professor for several classes, said she’s certain Lilly will be a successful teacher.
“I don’t think there is a single thing she wouldn’t be successful at doing,” Furuness says. “What I see in Bri is someone who really does see every challenge as an opportunity. She is an outstanding example of our best and brightest seeing teaching as an opportunity to do good in the world, and she’s prepared to do it well.”
Lilly graduates in May, and she already has a job lined up. In summer 2018, she interned at the Success Academy, a New York-based charter school group. She spent six weeks there, working with students and getting a feel for what it would be like to teach in New York.
When she finished, they asked her to come back. She’ll teach either language arts/creative writing in the middle school or English literature and AP English in high school. She doesn’t know which school she’ll be in since Success Academy has 50 schools in the city’s five boroughs, but she’s excited.
In the meantime, she’s enjoying her last year at Butler. She loves the travel with the volleyball team—she collects magnets at every stop—and enjoys that her parents, David and Denise, travel to most of her games.
Butler, Lilly said, has turned out to be a great choice.
“I’m close enough to home that my parents can see all my games, but far enough away that we have space,” she said. “Overall, Butler has provided me with a lot of friends, opportunities, and a lot of memories that I can stick with for a long time. So I’m happy I came.”