BEYOND THE BOOK BLOG

Pioneers: Pam Baughman-Cornell, an Outdoor Life Well Lived

Published: April 18, 2021
Written by: Paul Tukey

INTRODUCING: Pam Baughman-Cornell

COLLEGES: University of Central Florida, George Mason University

Pam Baughman-Cornell at Fairfax High School circa 1980 (courtesy of Pam Baughman-Cornell)

THE CAREER THAT ALMOST WASN’T: Soccer launched at Fairfax High School in Virginia the year Pam entered the school as a freshman and, having played for the Fairfax Police Youth Club for coach Ron Dietrich, she was considered a great area player — yet went unrecruited well past her graduation date in 1981. When the father of Michelle Jardin, a player from the nearby Braddock Road soccer club, recommended Pam to Jim Ruby, the coach at the University of Central Florida, she showed up in Orlando sight unseen and immediately became a college All-American and team MVP with 18 goals and 11 assists. Almost as quickly, she flunked out. “I just wanted to be outside; I really, really had a thing about being inside a building all day,” said Pam. “I just felt like that’s not where you learn; you learn outside. I needed to be out in the environment. Also, in college, there’s a lot of distractions and it was my first time away from home for any lengthy period. The truth is, I just didn’t go to class.”

PUT ME IN, COACH: After a year back in northern Virginia at a community college to get her grades in order, Pam walked into the office of Hank Leung, then the coach at George Mason University in her hometown of Fairfax. The school had just started its soccer program in 1982. “I’m going to come here and play soccer,” she said matter-of-factly. “His jaw dropped, because he knew what I had just done at Central Florida.” Hank had never seen Pam play previously. "I heard about her from all the northern Virginia girls on the team," he said. "She walks in and I think, 'Is this for real?' It was a bit of magic as far as I'm concerned."

The 1985 George Mason soccer team; Pam is on the far right in the second row (courtesy of George Mason University)

BRING ON GOLIATH: Joining future National Teamer Lisa Gmitter, among many others, Pam instantly helped elevate George Mason's status. In their first year together Lisa and Pam led their team to the national championship game against North Carolina, where they were soundly defeated 4-0. The following year they lost 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Colorado College and its four-time All-America goalie, Janine Szpara (who is prominently featured in our book, Raising Tomorrow’s Champions). Immediately after that game, Hank raised a lot of eyebrows in the locker room when he pronounced to his players that George Mason would win the national championship the following year. “In that moment, we were just devastated,” said Pam. “He sat us down and said, ‘Start preparing for this tournament next year. You guys are the winner.’ I was just furious. I'm like, ‘How can you say we’re going to win — after we just lost! The pressure!’ How could he safely say what’s going to happen a year from now? But he planted that little seed in our heads . . .”

A SIDE TRIP TO ITALY VIA BATON ROUGE: A few months after that loss, yet just weeks prior to her senior year, Pam was among about 70 women invited to Baton Rouge, La., to the Olympic Festival. Picked for the first-ever National Team after that tournament, and starting in its  fourth-ever game, on Aug. 25, 1985, against Denmark, Pam had already made George Mason history as its first USWNT member – but still had some unfinished business back in the states (Note: Pam scored a goal for the National Team in a 3-0 victory against Canada in 1986).

Pam, in the center, holds the national championship trophy with Sis Koskinen, left, and Meg Romaine (courtesy of George Mason University)

MANY PERSONALITIES, ONE TEAM: Nothing seemed to be going right when Pam got back to campus in the fall of 1985. Admittedly out of shape after her summer vacation, she spent more time in the training room than on the field. With their coach’s proclamation defining the season well in advance, teammates bickered, both on the field and off. They had all the talent in the world — the roster featured Pam and Lisa, standouts Sue Vodicka and Andrea Baines, as well as future National Teamers Chris Tomek, Kim Maslin-Kammerdeiner, Betsy Drambour and Kim Crabbe — but they often collectively rolled their eyes, especially when Hank would have the players practice meditation at halftime. “You don’t let college students lay down and close their eyes or they will fall asleep,” said Pam with a laugh. Pam and the other team captains, however, called a meeting and encouraged the players to listen to the coach, whether they agreed with him or not. The coach's offbeat approach would pay off on the morning of Nov. 25 when Pam hobbled into his office in tears with a leg injury so painful she didn't think she could play in the national championship game that afternoon. In that moment, Hank was going through the roster with Peggy Puig, a therapist who utilized the techniques of applied kinesiology in her approach to healing. "Two minutes later, Pam walked out of my office ready to play," said Hank. "Peggy had aligned Pam's 'chi,' her free energy." As described on Page 134 of Raising Tomorrow’s Champions, it was Pam’s goal, off a cornering pass from Lisa Gmitter — and a misplaced heading of the ball by North Carolina’s injured National Teamer Stacey Enos — that helped beat a Tar Heel team that some thought invincible after 56 consecutive games without a loss. “That (team) meeting made all the difference in the world; we didn’t have to agree on everything off the field, but we needed to accept what Hank was telling us. The life lesson was to have a clear vision of where you were going. It worked.”

Pam being interviewed by ESPN reporter Saemus Malin after scoring a goal in the first nationally televised NCAA women's championship game (courtesy of Pam Baughman-Cornell)

AN OUTDOOR LIFE: Having married her high school boyfriend, Glenn Cornell, in January of their senior year at GMU, Pam has never strayed far from soccer. She has coached either youth, high school and college teams since well before she retired from playing, which included three national 30-and-over women’s club championships. She has also remained true to her life’s mantra that the best environment for learning is outdoors. Pam and Glenn have been involved with vineyards, have taken numerous wilderness excursions — Pam has hiked the Appalachian Trail on multiple occasions — and raised a pair of soccer-playing outdoorsmen, Nick and Brian. The family exudes happiness in its vast collection of experiential photographs; Brian has even turned his passion into a vocation as an outdoor writer. “He is living out of the back of his pickup truck right now, somewhere in Nevada, I think,” she said. “And, yes, I sleep fine at night. We told our sons they were going to be independent, they were going to go away to college, and they were going to be able to take care of themselves. That’s how we raised them.”

Pam and Glenn with their sons Nick, left, and Brian (courtesy of Pam Baughman-Cornell)

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