‘Like nothing I’ve ever experienced:’ How being at LHS changed Ella Stewart’s life on and off the court
photo by: Carter Gaskins
For someone who’s looked at as “the mom” of the group, it especially hurt Lawrence High senior guard Ella Stewart to not be out on the floor for her final regular-season game last Friday.
“I missed this whole week of school, so I was really trying to be good for (Friday),” Stewart said. “If I would’ve been out there, I wouldn’t have been helping the team.”
Stewart had bronchitis, and even though she couldn’t suit up against Shawnee Mission West, she still made an effort to be there on the bench.
“She’s been very, very sick and of course we told her not to come (Friday),” LHS coach Jeff Dickson said. “It’s bad that we didn’t have a chance to get her in there (Friday), but she’ll be back (for sub-state) and she’ll have a chance to go out the right way.”
Dickson said there’s “no keeping her away from these girls,” which is important given the shape of the Lions’ banged up roster. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for a team that finished the regular season 5-15 and 1-11 in Sunflower League play.
Fellow senior guard Sophie DeWitt has been out with a knee injury since Jan. 21. Freshman guard Amaya Marshall recently tore her ACL. Granted, Stewart being sidelined is short term. Still, she was determined to show out Friday to motivate the team she’s “run with the whole season.”
“You’ve just got to keep going no matter what happens,” Stewart said. “I think everyone kind of understands that because (pretty much) anything that could happen to us happened this season.”
That desire and passion come from Stewart’s past three years as a Chesty Lion. Her journey to LHS began when she transferred from Shawnee Heights prior to her sophomore year — a place where she “wasn’t doing so well.”
But once she contacted the LHS basketball program over the summer to get involved right away, the culture shift began to make an immediate impact.
“I really think it was because of the basketball team and because of all the morals that (Dickson) teaches and just the good people that are on the team,” Stewart said. “It’s amazing people to surround yourself with.”
Stewart said LHS’ diverse community has welcomed her in and transformed her life — on and off the court.
“And that’s why I love Lawrence High so much,” Stewart said. “I feel like they’re so accepting here of everyone, and I just love the community that we have here and the pride to be an LHS Chesty Lion. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.”
Now as a senior, Stewart has transformed into a leader for this group. She makes intentional efforts to speak to her teammates every day about school, basketball, life in general — anything they need.
“It’s really important for me that they have a role model so they know not only (how) to run the program, but also how to be good people outside of basketball,” Stewart said. “I like to make sure that everyone knows that they’re loved.”
And Stewart puts in just as much effort on the court, too.
“She’s getting everybody fired up before games,” Dickson said. “Then she goes out and she’s just relentless. She plays hard on offense and defense — she never lets up.”
The motivation factor is crucial for Dickson, as he said he was a little nervous coming into this year about the senior class picking up the slack from past seasons.
“But this group, nothing dropped off at all,” Dickson said. “Our values, our program, what we stand for — those seniors kept it at a high level all year long.
“And when we’re struggling and we’re losing games, they weren’t negative. They stayed positive and they kept it moving forward in a positive way.”
For Stewart and the Lions, postseason is up next as LHS travels to Wichita Heights on Tuesday night. And Stewart’s basketball journey will end with the Lions this season, as she won’t play in college next year.
However, she’ll be just down the road at KU. So even when she’ll be sidelined once again, she won’t have to travel far to cheer on her Lions in The Jungle on Friday nights.
“There’s so much that I’ll miss, but the team and definitely seeing Dickson every day, seeing my girls every day,” Stewart said. “That’s going to be tough not being apart of that. So that’s going to hurt a lot, but I’m going to be at every game and I’m going to support them no matter what.”