BELLWOOD - Ellen Crook opened the door for family, cut her cake, found some extra chairs and even looked for some forks to help a group of about 30 people at her college signing at Bellwood-Antis High School Friday enjoy their food.
It was a fitting scene for the do-it-all Crook, who signed a national letter of intent to attend Pittsburgh and run both cross country and track and field.
After all, it was Crook's ability to excel in every sport she's tried that attracted the Panthers to recruit her.
Mirror photo by Michael Boytim
Ellen Crook signs her national letter of intent surrounded by family and supporters.
"She's a really good athlete and was a star in high school," Pittsburgh assistant men's and women's track and field and cross country coach Adam Bray said. "I always look for kids who are athletes and have done other sports. Ellen playing soccer and basketball in the past will help her transition into a better track and field athlete, and she could eventually blossom into a top-
tier Division I athlete."
Crook received a partial scholarship to Pitt that could increase based on her times this spring in high school track and during events while in college.
The senior, who was named the Bellwood-Antis homecoming queen earlier this year, played soccer, basketball and track and field throughout high school until this season. Crook suffered five concussions that led to her decision to give up both soccer and basketball and instead run cross country this past fall.
"I never saw myself as a collegiate runner before this year," Crook said. "I always thought soccer, because I didn't think I was big enough to play basketball in a higher division."
Crook was already a District 6 champion in the 800-meter run before she made the choice to run cross country, but she helped improve her stock this past fall by qualifying for the PIAA Championships in her first year in the sport.
"She's young to the sport, and we're excited to work with her and see how good she can be," Bray said. "She has some things to improve on, but we recruited her because of her tremendous potential."
Crook said she originally expected to only receive Division II offers but then St. Francis and Duquesne contacted her along with Pitt.
Emily Crook, Ellen's sister, is a senior soccer player at Duquesne.
"I liked the campus at Pitt and really hit it off with the girls," Crook said. "I really just kind of knew that this is what I wanted to do. I liked Duquesne, because it is in Pittsburgh too. I knew I liked that area, and that's why St. Francis wasn't really an option.
"I was torn and had to decide if I wanted a smaller school where you know everybody or something big where you're going to football games at Heinz Field. My sister is graduating in May anyway, so I wouldn't have gotten the chance to go to school with her."
Bray said it's still up in the air what events Crook will run at Pittsburgh and how soon she will be able to contribute.
"The first step for her is the transition and adapting to more intense workouts," Bray said. "We have to see what she can handle. Long term, I think she can be a good 1,500-meter runner. She has a great combination of speed and endurance."
Running both cross country and track and field will mean Crook is competing the entire collegiate sports year.
"The benefits that come with going to Pitt are amazing," Crook said. "Playing in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] will provide so much for me. That along with Pitt being able to send tutors along on the trips with us and everything is just so nice.
"The other girls at Pitt have told me how much their times have dropped since they've worked with this coaching staff. I'm kind of just getting started, and these guys really know what they're doing to get me going in the right direction."