Blount Press Row

Alcoa’s Finest

Community, APD, rallies to aid Lady Tornado Tate
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Alcoa police officer Mark Tate pump fakes as Alcoa Middle coach Keith Stephens defends at a “Basketball for ‘Tater'” fundraiser Monday night at Alcoa High. The event was organized to help the family of Hannah Tate with expenses as the Lady Tornado senior battles cancer. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Alcoa senior Hannah Tate brings the ball up court last season. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Alcoa senior Hannah Tate brings the ball up court last season. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

There were some major irregularities with the clock in the final minute.

Katheline Tate was all over it like a hawk.

“They changed it a few seconds ago,” she said, pointing to a flip of the scores on the overhead scoreboard that now had representatives of the Alcoa Police Department ahead by five points.

Alcoa’s thin blue line trailed a group of Alcoa High basketball alumni by more than 20 only seconds before.

Before the alumni noticed, the horn sounded. When they looked above for the final score in the “Basketball for ‘Tater’” fundraiser Monday night at Alcoa gymnasium, smiles, then laughter, swept both benches.

Tate’s quick pick up of the end-game shenanigans was no accident. She knows her basketball. She’s watched her granddaughter, Hannah Tate, the event’s namesake, play a lot of games in this gym.

Hannah Tate was due to start her senior season with the girls’ basketball team when the Lady Tornado forward was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, a rare childhood cancer effecting the kidneys, in early October.

Released from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on Sunday, Hannah currently resides at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis while she continues chemotherapy treatments.

All proceeds from Monday’s event, along with matching funds from area businesses, were deposited with the Alcoa Resource Center in Hannah’s name to help the family with expenses.

Former Tornado and Alcoa police officer George Parker eyes the rim at the line.

Former Tornado and Alcoa police officer George Parker eyes the rim at the line.

“Basketball for ‘Tater’” was the brainchild of the Lady Tornadoes, who visited with their teammate in Memphis on Sunday. They had a lot of catching up to do, Lady Tornado Abby Cupp said.

“It was awesome,” she said. “We wore her out. We took her to the mall. It’s the same old Hannah.”

Both listed at 5-foot-6, neither Tate nor Cupp has prototypical size for post play. Which is probably why both are so good at the job.

“It goes back to her character as a whole,” Cupp said. “She’s not going to let anybody push her around. She’s not going to let any post player push her around. We know she’s going to overcome this. It’s just her personality.”

Local singer/songwriter Jackie Lee sang the national anthem for Monday’s game, after which the police bolted to a quick, albeit brief, lead. The Alcoa Police Department made a strong showing in its support of Tate, fielding a full bench to go with a starting five that included officers George Parker and Mark Tate, who work security for Alcoa High games, and Lt. Paul Gilbert.

“I’ve known her family all of my life,” said Gilbert, Alcoa class of 1977. “We just wanted to support the family. I can’t think anything else that could get me to play basketball again.”

Parker hasn’t gone far since setting the school’s record for career rushing yardage in the early 1980s. A school resource officer at the high school, he interacts with Tate on a daily basis. There are few like her, he said.

“I see her everyday,” Parker said. “She always has that smile on her face.”

Chief of police Philip Potter came off the bench for Alcoa’s finest. When Mark Tate approached him about the department fielding a team for the fundraiser, Potter said he didn’t have to be asked twice.

Alcoa police chief Philip Potter, center, waits to be subbed in.

Alcoa police chief Philip Potter, center, waits to be subbed in.

“She’s in a battle for her life,” he said. “It was just the right thing to do.”

Few of the officers taking part are as close to Hannah as officer Mark Tate, no relation.

Hannah hates to warm up for a game without a fresh stick of gum. A bond sparked between her and Mark when he saved the day with a piece from his carry-along bag. After a time, she began telling teammates Mark and her were cousins.

“We just want her to know she’s cared about,” Mark said. “Look! I’ve even got on my pink socks. She’s just a good kid.”

Area official Terry Whitehead has worked countless Alcoa games through the years. It’s a great way to stay around the game and supplement the income. The 1981 Maryville High graduate and former Florida Lady Gator worked Monday’s game for free.

“You know she’s going to fight the fight,” Whitehead said, “and you want to be a part of it. The game’s been so good to me that when you get an opportunity to give back, you do it.”

Game official Terry Whitehead gets things started with the center jump.

Game official Terry Whitehead gets things started with the center jump.

The alumni, paced by Alcoa High boys’ coach Joel Kirk and Alcoa Middle coach Keith Stephens, built big leads through the first two quarters. During a halftime, half-court shooting contest, the police bench spotted and recruited a pair of ringers for the second half, namely, Kirk’s young son, Jay, and Stephens’ equally youthful prodigy, Garrison.

The junior dynamic duo got the boys in blue back in it, but the alumni lead was simply too big.

The show of support for her granddaughter was heartfelt, Katheline Tate said.

“She would think it’s awesome,” Katheline said. “She’s got that personality that just draws people to her, young and old. They just gravitate to her. She’s very caring and very smart. She seems to know what she wants to do with her life. We’ll just keep praying.”

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