On the basketball court, Pepperdine forward Shannon Frowiss is a fighter.
She loves to get the ball inside and shoot against two or three defenders. She loves grabbing rebounds in a crowd.
But in the classroom, the 6-foot-2 junior from Santa Barbara faces her toughest battle. She has to work twice as hard--sometimes harder--on her studies as most college students.
Frowiss, a Street & Smith's magazine All-American in her senior year at Santa Barbara High, suffers from dyslexia. She said that she has great difficulty in reading, writing, learning mathematics and retaining material she has studied. "It takes a long time for me to read and to understand what I'm reading," she said. On a homework assignment that may take a classmate two hours, she said, she generally has to spend about four hours.
She said that she was enrolled in a learning disability program in elementary school but that there were no such programs for her in junior high or high school. Still, she took college preparatory courses in high school and graduated with her class. And according to Pepperdine Coach Ron Fortner, her high school teachers "weren't giving her grades."
But when it came to taking college entrance examinations, she failed to achieve passing scores, even after she took the tests over and over.
"I felt I needed more time," she said. "I had to re-read everything, and it took me so long that I didn't have time to answer (all) the questions."
Her failure on college entrance examinations deprived her of playing basketball in her first year at Pepperdine. Under the NCAA's Proposition 48, she could not practice or play with the team in her freshman year.
But in her sophomore year she made up for her year away from the sport. She was named to the All-West Coast Conference first team after she averaged 17.9 points and eight rebounds and shot 53.9% from the field and 74.6% from the free-throw line.
She is doing well again this season, having averaged 17.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in 18 games. Her 61% shooting from the field places her among the nation's leaders.
Fortner said that her numbers are also good in the classroom. As a physical education major, she has a 2.6 grade point average (on a scale of 4) in the fall term and has a 2.4 overall, he said.
"It hasn't been easy for her," he said, particularly since she has had to take courses such as mathematics and anatomy. "She used to get severe headaches because she studied so much the first year.
"Her teachers all know her problem, but they have not given her special favors, although they have spent the time to give her extra help."
As with all Pepperdine athletes, Fortner said Frowiss can avail herself of tutors.
Fortner and his assistant, Greg Dinneen, have also given her extra help. Last semester when they could, they went to class with her and took notes for her. After class the coaches compared their notes with hers so that she could better comprehend what her instructors had been saying.
Fortner thinks that it sometimes bothered Frowiss to have her coaches with her in class, but that he thinks she was also grateful.
She is grateful for all of the help she gets, she said, whether it is from coaches, tutors or teammates. Sometimes her teammates give her tips on ways to memorize, she said.
Before examinations, she said, "I make sure I have read all the chapters, and then I re-read my notes over and over again."
She said that she did not think her coaches would follow through on their promise to attend classes with her.
"I thought they would go for a couple of weeks and get bored," she said. "Coach Fortner went to my Western Heritage class for about a month, and it was weird. But it was a big class, and he wasn't noticed.
"Greg (Dinneen) went to my math class for a longer time, a small class (in which he stood out) He says he is 6-10, but I think he is taller. But it didn't bother me. I would tell everybody he was my bodyguard."
When she plays the low post she is so tough to defend that opponents could use bodyguards.
"My main game is inside," she said. "I love to play inside. I like being physical and feel I'm as strong as anybody else."
But she also plays outside, where Fortner has recently used her as the trailer on fast breaks. "She can shoot from 17 or 18 feet and hit it," he said.
Said Frowiss: "I feel comfortable shooting from the free-throw line, but I'm just getting to be that way. Last year I did not shoot that much outside, and they needed me on the inside anyway."
In truth, she has not felt comfortable playing basketball for much of her first two seasons. She was bothered sometimes by back pain last season, a problem that was later diagnosed as torn back ligaments.
Last summer she sought and received treatment from a physician for the problem and did not play any summer basketball. While her teammates were working out in Firestone Fieldhouse, she would sometimes swim--about the only conditioning she could do without feeling pain.