The players wore pink warm-up shirts and socks. Some even tied pink shoelaces. The cheerleaders had pink ribbons in their hair. To heighten cancer awareness, it was Pink Night at the old Lawrence High gymnasium, better known as “The Jungle,” for the Friday night city basketball showdowns.
The theme couldn’t have meant more to anybody than to the unquestioned star of the evening, little LHS sophomore Harley Phelps.
She hadn’t scored a single point for the “C” team all year. She scored two points in her varsity debut Friday night, making a pair of free throws late in the game. No matter what happens this afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse, where No. 3 Missouri visits No. 4 Kansas in the final Big 12 regular-season game between bitter rivals, Phelps already clinched the honor of hitting the two biggest shots in Lawrence this weekend. And they were made for the team that lost, 79-45. Not even Shane Willoughby’s big-time clutch drive at the buzzer, which won the boys game for the Lions, could top Phelps.
With 1:45 left in the girls game, the two coaches, Nick Wood of LHS and Free State’s Bryan Duncan, met at midcourt, where Wood reminded his friend Duncan that No. 21 was the player he wouldn’t mind seeing get to the free-throw line.
Phelps had only attempted one free throw for the C team. Now here she was at the line in front of 2,000 spectators. She made the first and players from both benches erupted. She made the second and now everybody went wild.
Harley had just stopped the spinning world of her father and pretty mom, Paul and Christina Phelps, and made them the happiest couple on earth. Fifteen years after they gave her the gift of life, Harley thanked them with extraordinary timing. Harley’s dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Stage 4 glioblastoma — a brain tumor — six weeks ago.
“I can’t tell you how proud of her I am tonight,” Paul Phelps said. “I am tremendously blessed to have the opportunity to see that happen. However good that made her feel, triple that effect for me. She made the box score!”
So she did. And so calmly.
“I thought I would be nervous, but there was just so much adrenaline, I didn’t even have time to be,” Harley said.
As for what she thought her free throws meant to her dad, all she could say was, “I can’t even explain it. I’m just happy our coach gave me the opportunity to play.”
Harley’s dad remains an upbeat example for all of us. His words paint a beautiful picture of him smelling roses.
“I’m not naive, but there are a lot of people who have it tougher,” he said. “There are people in the world who are starving. At least I can eat.”
And thanks to his daughter delivering for him twice in the clutch, every bite of life will taste that much better.