Heartache brings Lathrup girls hoops team together

By: Mike Moore | Southfield Sun | Published January 17, 2011

 Despite suffering through some very trying moments this season, the Lathrup girls basketball team has rallied around one another and sat with a 5-2 record at press time.

Despite suffering through some very trying moments this season, the Lathrup girls basketball team has rallied around one another and sat with a 5-2 record at press time.

Photo by Andrew Potter

LATHRUP VILLAGE — The burden of loss still lingered, an unavoidable consequence of a brutal week.

Hearts were heavy, having been exhausted by loss and tested by faith.
But for now, the tears have stopped.

In this gym, on a cold, January afternoon, smiles had returned.

Basketballs bounced off the hardwood as the players’ emotions continued their long rebound back to normalcy, or something close to it.

The girls on the Lathrup Village Southfield-Lathrup hoops team had twice experienced the harsh reality that there’s more to life than basketball in the span of one week.
But as each passing day settles, they’re learning firsthand that basketball may offer more to their lives than they could have ever imagined.

A terrible week
Jennifer Moorehead was never an official part of the Chargers’ coaching staff. Truthfully, she was a fan with a seat on the bench, offering water as quickly as she would encouragement.

“The kids always fed off her energy and passion for this team,” Lathrup coach Michele Jackson said. “Anything we needed, she volunteered to help with or be a part of. She was such a great person for these kids every year.”

But when the 2010-11 season began, Moorehead’s seat was empty. Her health had deteriorated due to a stroke, and on Dec. 21, at the age of 55, she was gone.

“My heart was broken,” said junior guard Amber McCullough, Moorehead’s niece and goddaughter. “She was so close to me and to this entire team.”

McCullough found strength when her entire team attended her aunt’s funeral. Sadly, however, that wouldn’t be the only time that week the girls traded sneakers and shorts for heels and dresses.

Just three days later, on Christmas Eve, junior guard Kierstin McGehee lost her mother, Jean Brazelton-McGehee, 59, to cancer.

“It was tough,” McGehee said. “Each day was very tough.”
“Jean was a mom who never missed a game,” Jackson said. “To have two deaths and two funerals in one week, it was pretty hard on all of us.”

Support all around
While there is no good time tragedy can strike, as far as wins and losses were concerned, the Chargers’ heartaches couldn’t have come at a worse time. Prior to Dec. 21, Lathrup was 4-0 and playing at the top of its game.

After the deaths, though, reality reigned.

Life had to go on.

But how would the team react?

How long would it be until the girls would be able to regroup, if ever?

Most coaches would have been left wondering what was next.

Not Jackson.

“There was never a doubt in my mind as to how these kids would respond,” she said. “As a coach, you can’t help but worry, personally, for them, but along the way, I always knew basketball would take care of them and help them respond. I never doubted how they’d rally around their teammates. … Really, it’s put so much in perspective for them.” ”

“This is a family. What choice did we have?” senior Kyra Littlejohn said. “(Brazelton-McGehee and Moorehead) were two of our biggest supporters. That was a tough week for all of us, but we wanted to be at those funerals and have our teammates’ back. … We learned that nothing is guaranteed with life. You have to go out and live every day like it’s your last. That’s been our attitude ever since all this.”

A family through and through
Many teams talk about a family atmosphere, unity and cohesiveness, but the Chargers have no need for words.

“Most of this team has been playing together for three or four years,” Jackson said. “They just understand this is a family as much as it is a team.”

Nine of the 14 girls on the roster are back from last year. All five seniors are four-year varsity players, and in total, Lathrup takes the court every night with an astounding 37 years of varsity experience.

The team was 5-2 at press time and atop the Oakland Activities Association Red Division at 4-0. Given its overall experience, depth and talent, expectations are extremely high that 2011 could be a very special year, even if 2010 presented some very trying moments.
And the reason for that is simple.

“Being here, with this team, helped me more than anything,” McGehee said. “I’m having fun again.”

“Basketball got us through all this,” McCullough added. “We’ve had to depend on one another. We’ve become so much closer. It’s like, everything we do now, we’re doing for one another. We’re playing together. We’re focused on winning a state title, and above all else, we’re doing this for who we’ve lost.”

She paused, looked back at the court where the 13 other girls were practicing before finishing her thought.

“We lost two great people this year. Now we’re doing everything we can to make them proud.”