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Lady Tornadoes, APD, organize benefit game for “Tater”

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Alcoa High senior Hannah Tate works the ball up court last season. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

Alcoa High senior Hannah Tate works the ball up court last season. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

The news was good but guarded on Thanksgiving.

Doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis informed Alcoa High School basketball player Hannah Tate chemotherapy to treat a rare kidney cancer was having a hoped for effect.

At one point last week Tate, diagnosed with a Wilms tumor only days before the start of the 2014-15 season, was scheduled to be discharged to the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis to continue treatment. A slight fever persuaded doctors to err on the side of caution and wait until this afternoon, LaVetta Spann, Tate’s mother, said.

“She’s been out of her room and going down to the cafeteria,” Spann said. “She’s eating now, so she’s getting better.

“They could see from her CAT Scan the tumors were shrinking. She’s still got a long way to go, but she’s getting better.”

News of Tate’s diagnosis last month left the Lady Tornadoes and the Alcoa community as a whole stunned. Rallying just as quickly, the Lady Tornadoes organized the “Basketball for ‘Tater’” benefit game scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium.

Members of the Alcoa girls’ and boys’ teams will scrimmage representatives from the Alcoa Police Department, including chief of police Phillip Potter and officer Mark Tate, no relation to Hannah. Performances by singer/songwriter Jackie Lee as well as “Tater’s Tornaders” are scheduled. Other activities include a cakewalk, halfcourt shots, t-shirt and bake sales.

Admission is $5. All proceeds will be directed to the Alcoa Resource Center in Hannah Tate’s name.

Losing their teammate in this Tate’s senior season hit hard, the Lady Tornadoes said. Not being there is just as tough, Tate said.

Tate, listed at 5-foot-6 in the Alcoa program, guards 6-6 Christian Academy of Knoxville center Chyenne Hooper.

Tate, listed at 5-foot-6 in the Alcoa program, guards 6-6 Christian Academy of Knoxville center Cheyenne Hooper.

“I really miss you guys,” she asked Blount Press Row to relay to her teammates.

Alcoa coach Tonia Johnson was scouting a future opponent in early October when Tate phoned with news of the diagnosis.

“She called me crying,” Johnson said. “I knew it wasn’t good.”

Johnson said she made being up front with the team about Tate’s condition a priority right from the start.

“I have to speak highly of the girls because they’ve been upbeat and very supportive,” Johnson said. “We’re going to experience this together, and it’s going to be OK.”

Tate not only started at center, she got the team ready to play by leading the “Showtime!” chant in the locker room beforehand, Lady Tornado Tara Shields said.

“Our team got a lot closer so we could support her,” she said. “We still FaceTime her before games.”

“All of her positive energy really helps,” Hannah Troutt said.

“You definitely see her strength in it,” senior Cassidy Anderson said. “She’s always been a strong Christian. She’s going to be fine. God’s got a plan for her. We know it’s going to be a long haul.”

Plus, they know she’s watching, Lady Tornado Lauren Dunn said.

“We know when Hannah was here, she always played as hard as she could,” she said. “We just have to keep playing like she was here.”

Sadness over Tate’s diagnosis swung to what could they do to help pretty quickly, Johnson said.

“They immediately started brainstorming: ‘What can we do for Hannah?’” she said.

Mark Tate said he was only too willing to do what he could to enlist the police department’s help when he learned of the fundraiser through his wife, Sarah, a board certified athletic trainer who often works with the team. Mark works security at Alcoa games. He and Tate go way back.

Tate likes to chew gum during warm-ups. It helps her get loose. She ran out one night and Mark saved the day, retrieving a piece from his carry-along bag.

Soon, it was a pre-game ritual with the two. Soon, Hannah would relieve Mark’s bag of the whole pack, just to see if he’d come looking. He would.

“She started telling people I was her cousin,” Mark said. “She’s just a good kid. Everybody at the department that’s had any interaction with her just loves her. She’s just got that spark.”


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