BRISTOL, Tenn. – In the spring of 2013, the King University women's basketball had the fortune of meeting Jess McMurray, a basketball player at Sullivan Central High School. McMurray, who had a brain tumor, was put in contact through Team IMPACT, an organization that connects children that have life-threatening and chronic illnesses with an athletic team.
Head coach Josh Thompson found out about the opportunity through the Conference Carolinas office as McMurray had contacted them after returning to her home of Kingsport after a stay in Knoxville where she bonded with the University of Tennessee women's basketball team. Now that she was back in the Tri-Cities area, she wanted her to connect with a team that was closer than Knoxville, and that's when the King women's basketball team became involved.
"It's been great having Jess as a part of our team," head coach Josh Thompson said. "We're really happy that we've had the opportunity to get to know Jess and her family. She has been an inspiration to all of us of incredible character, perseverance, and hope through a very hard time in her life."
Thompson established a "leadership council" that included Tia Keitt, Kelly Jackson and Brittany Stringer. This trio, threw a party last spring to introduce McMurray to the team which allowed everyone to get to know one another in 2013. This allowed the Tornado to make her feel part of the team.
"I love being able to impact a child's life that has gone through so much that we can never understand," Jackson said. "Her impact on us has been very influential as well."
The relationship has grown from the first meeting as McMurray has attended get-togethers with the team at Thompson's house. She is present at most of King's home games, and invited into the Tornado locker room before and after games.
Outside of full team activities, members of the team try to spend as much time with McMurray as they can. The team went bowling one night with McMurray and attended her birthday party as well as her one year anniversary of cancer free party.
"This experience has raised awareness for different kinds of cancer, not just breast cancer," commented Keitt. "It also made us aware to the fact that kids get cancer too. You see the commercials, and it doesn't affect you as much as meeting someone that has been through chemo and has a real story."
Both Keitt and Jackson said that the team is really close with McMurray and their chemistry was good from the beginning. Both want to continue a relationship with McMurray once they graduate. McMurray was recently released to play basketball again, the both Keitt and Jackson hope to attend her Senior Day on February 6.
Click here for more information on Team IMPACT.