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Fundamentally Sound

Tate’s Lady Tornado return feel good story of the season
The Alcoa girls’ basketball team listens to the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game. Lady Tornado senior Hannah Tate, second from right among players, was in an Alcoa uniform for the first time this season in the win over Fulton. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

The coolest thing wasn’t the two points; it was the rebound.

"And starting in the post ... " Tate takes the floor during player introductions.

“And starting in the post … ” Tate takes the floor during player introductions.

She followed her shot.

Her battle with cancer ongoing and every bit as serious as the day she was diagnosed, Hannah Tate remains fundamentally sound.

Untitled-2Most fundamental of all concerning the Alcoa High School senior and Barley’s/Blount Press Row Player of the Week is her faith.

Combining sports and religion is always to be approached with caution. God, however you perceive Him, doesn’t care one bit if you sink that jump shot – at least we sure hope so.

Didn’t hit many of them.

Then you meet someone like Hannah, and you’re reminded it’s not about the jump shot, the touchdown you scored or the home run at all.

Diagnosed in November with a Wilms tumor, a rare childhood cancer affecting the kidneys, Hannah was removed from the Alcoa roster only days before the start of the season. For the last few months, the Lady Tornado post player has been in residence at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, where she’s undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The treatments are administered in cycles to allow for recovery. After learning Hannah would be home for Saturday’s game with visiting Fulton, Lady Tornado coach Tonia Johnson contacted Lady Falcons coach John Fisher.

Tate goes in for the game-opening basket with teammate Abby Cupp backing her up.

Tate goes in for the game-opening basket with teammate Abby Cupp in support.

“I said, ‘Can we do this?’” Johnson said, “and he was in complete agreement.”

The pair agreed to let Hannah slip into her No. 24 Alcoa jersey for the first time this season, start the game and sink the first basket.

Fulton was allowed to equalize on the other end before the contest began in earnest.

Props to coach Fisher and the Lady Falcons.

Class move.

Johnson sent Hannah a text early Friday to ask if she was interested.

“She (Johnson) said, ‘So, do you want to start in tomorrow’s game?’” Hannah said. “I texted her back, ‘OMG! Yes!,’ with a bunch of exclamation points.”

“Anytime a family can get together, it’s a good feeling,” Johnson said. “We all needed that.”

Chemotherapy and radiation come with side effects. Hannah’s once shoulder-length braids are all gone. The treatments also affect her balance at times. Saturday, Hannah asked teammate Abby Cupp to stay close.

“I didn’t want to fall,” Hannah said, “but Abby had my back.”

The Lady Tornadoes delivered arguably their best game this season after Hannah went to the bench after the shot. Guard Hannah Troutt was the difference the last minute, 35 seconds as Alcoa held off the 2014 state runner up Lady Falcons, 50-46, in a close one.

Troutt, team-best 11 points, gave Alcoa a lead, 45-44, it would never relinquish with a strong drive up the baseline.

“We were playing for ‘Tater’ tonight,” Troutt said. “We wanted to win it for her.”

Tate receives a double high five from Alcoa coach Tonia Johnson.

Tate receives a double high five from Alcoa coach Tonia Johnson.

Tara Shields produced the eventual winning margin with a pair of free throws half a minute later.

“It felt like old times,” Shields said.

Point guard Reily Hicks iced it with two additional free throws with six seconds left.

Noteworthy was 10 Lady Tornadoes making the score sheet.

Katie Bean and Kendall Beaty are really coming on in the post, the place where most games are won come postseason.

When the District 4AA tournament opens at Catholic in two weeks, Alcoa, currently the frontrunner at 5-1 in league play, looks as if it’ll be ready.

Hannah is back in Memphis where she’ll begin radiation treatment this week. It’s chilling to think of a high school student – or anyone, for that matter – having to endure that. It’s nothing short of humbling to take in Hannah’s approach.

She’ll show you her scar – with no prompting.

The diagonal, foot-long incision across her abdomen stops you.

Hannah smiles, big, eyes bright as ever.

Finally, you just go ahead and ask: “Are you ever scared in all this?”

“Not when you have God,” she says.

Two points and a single rebound won’t win you player of the week honors most places, but that was enough for us.

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