Bridget – The Most Courageous Girl I’ve Ever Known

The girl had everything.

She was well-groomed, successful, personable, and fun. With her perpetual smile, the girl never even had a bad day.

But that is just how it seemed. There were different tales for those of us who knew her.   

My journey into the Bridget saga began on a Saturday in January, and I was visiting gyms with basketball games for girls. I was an overseer for the City girls program.   

All seemed in order at the gym, where Bridget played in the fourth-grade division. All was in order administratively, so I turned my attention to the court and immediately noticed Bridget. In my estimation, she had the most prototypical power forward frame that I had seen in her division. She beamed with an abundance of energy and joy, and she gathered rebounds like they were Gummy Bears.

However, on the offensive side of the court, she stayed in one place and bounced with energy. It became clear that her coach had no intention of including her in his offensive scheme.

I’ve found it common among novice coaches to permit only the “good” players to handle the ball, which retards the development of skills and, sadly, sends the message “you’re not good enough” to young players who are just getting started.

When it came to Bridget, I had a completely different opinion. I knew that I was absolutely looking at a potential future star and college player. 

I traced her attention to her parents in the stands, and I approached them at halftime and explained my assessment and how my Summer league had hand-picked coaches who would develop Bridget’s hand skills, and she had star potential.

John and Patti were warm and friendly people, but that didn’t stop John from responding, “Are you kidding me? They don’t even let her touch the ball.”

I told him I would personally oversee her Summer league experience, and she would indeed get the ball and the skill to know what to do with it. When sign-ups started a month later, they were among the first to respond.

Fans at our Summer games marveled at Bridget’s energy and enthusiasm. But, there was something that only a few fans knew.

Bridget had Type 1 diabetes.

That fact was disclosed when the county-wide newspaper featured her on the front page and praised her determination in the face of an affliction that had once nearly killed her.

Bridget had a great Summer, and her skills increased quickly.  At the end of Summer, John asked if my praise of her was high enough to give her a place in our fifth-grade travel team tryout. Her skills were good enough, but I was honest with John explaining that she sometimes lapsed into antics on the court that she couldn’t afford to have in competitive travel ball.

John lobbied for his daughter. He talked to her privately. He called me and said she had repeatedly promised that she would take things seriously, and she pleaded for a chance just to try out.

I wasn’t convinced she could do it given her free-spirited nature, but the one card I wasn’t showing was that earlier in the day, I had cut the father of our best rebounder and, as expected, he had taken his daughter with him. So, I had one more spot I didn’t expect, and that was an ideal place to take a chance on Bridget’s resolved focus.

I was glad I did because Bridget showed up wholly focused, and her tryout was stunning and astounding, enough to make me ask myself, “What was the name of that rebounder I just cut?”

However, I was not sure that Bridget could play year-round basketball at a high level with her diabetes issue.  I told John, “I believe in your daughter, and she’s done everything right, but I’m not a doctor. I don’t want to hurt her.”

John smiled while reaching in his pocket.  He pulled out the neatly folded paper and handed it to me. It was a medical release from her doctor.

“You see, Bobby, I believe in my daughter also.”  He paused.  “But there is an issue that you have to deal with, and it is not something that either you or I can control.”

My heart sank.

“You have other players. How will they react when they see us putting a needle in her vein? Will they shun her?  Will they be grossed out?  Who knows, some might even quit the team. And that’s not all. You’ll have to cover those same issues with the parents.”

I was in misery for nearly an hour before an idea came to me.  I met with two players who had been on Bridget’s Summer league team. I asked them what they thought of Bridget’s insulin issues.  

Both laughed and explained, “Are you kidding? We love Bridget. We never had a problem with that, and if anyone had, we would shun them, not Bridget!”

It was enough for me, and I told John I didn’t care what others thought. Bridget belonged on the team, and I would take the “hits” for anyone who disapproved.

Have you noticed that you often get a good thing in return when you do the right thing?  It might take a while and be in a different form, but it eventually comes.

The return for me was as immediate as it was pertinent.

Before that day ended, I received a call from a girl who had been in the Summer league. To look at her, you might have imagined Olivia as a budding blond cover model, but to her opponents, she was known as the deadliest three-point shooting forward in the northern half of our county.

With Olivia at one forward and Bridget at the other, opponents would have to choose poison.  

Indeed, our success grew each year, and by the end of the eighth grade, our girls had the pelts of some esteemed programs dangling from their travel bags.   

But for the coaches, the rewards that mattered were those that came when the high schools held their tryouts.  

We fully expected all of our girls to make their high school teams.  Sadly, two of them didn’t.

One was Sara, the fastest girl in the entire county. She was later contacted by the high school coach, who declared her cut as a “mistaken identity,” and he wanted her on the team. He invited her back.  She refused.  

The other cut was Bridget.

The coaches loved her. They had even given her a uniform.  It was the principal who cut her — sight unseen. He had reviewed her medical status and said she was unfit to play.

With two high school coaches, John and I, confronting the principal and John dropping the term “discrimination lawsuit” along with a full medical release, the principal reversed his decision.  I must admit, he did so with great grace and humility.

Bridget never lost hope through the ordeal, and she never lost her smile. She also never lost her bright spirit.

John said, “I’ve worked all these years to help Bridget with her basketball dreams. Her dream is mine, and I long to see her play high school basketball. There’s no way I would let that principal tear it all apart.”

A month later, Patti disclosed that John had been diagnosed with cancer and his future was uncertain. By September, he was a wheelchair user, and by November, he was bedridden most of the time.

I stayed in touch with Patti, and she told me that John sometimes had good days when he could be upright for hours, but those days were few.  I told her to call me if he could ever go to a game, and I would help get him and his medical paraphernalia there.

I got that call in late January, and I did as I promised; we wheeled John to the edge of the court, and I nearly cried watching this proud father, frozen with infirmity, experience his dream of watching his daughter play high school basketball. His smile was fixed, and he seemed to have already transitioned to heaven.

That was the first time he watched her.  It was also the last.  

A few weeks later, I had some activities with some of our former travel ball players, and early one day, we all got the news that John had died. Bridget seemed unfazed when we assembled for our project later that day.  At first, I thought it was an act, but I’ve since learned that what I was seeing was genuine.  

At one point, she looked up from her project and called out to me, “Hey coach, you’re coming Monday, aren’t you?”

Monday?  What was Monday?  Before I figured it out, she laughed, “My dad’s funeral!  HELLO!  It will be fun!”

The funeral was as upbeat as could be expected until I noticed Bridget alone in a small room. That was the only time I ever saw that girl cry.  I never told her I saw it.

It seems doubtful, but bad fate was not finished yet with Bridget.

As her sophomore season began, she suffered an ACL injury. It healed slowly before being re-injured. She didn’t practice or play from sophomore year through her senior season. Nevertheless, she gave her coaches the same commitment she had given to me years before.

She never missed a practice.

She never missed a game.

She never missed a team event.

Her coaches and teammates so loved her that they gave her a uniform, a place on the bench, a place on the bus, and her name on the roster.

Remember we talked about how doing good things brings good things?  

In the final game of her high school experience, the coaches from both teams gathered. Soon, her teammates went to Bridget on the bench. They took her crutches and carried her onto the court. The ball was put into play, and no one interfered with a pass to Bridget nor the only basket she ever made as a varsity player.  

After the game, she hugged me and thanked me, and she said, “I went through all of those years with you to play less than a minute and score one frickin’ basket.”  Then, that awesome Bridget smile broke forth, and she added, “But it was all worth it!”

I said, “Besides, you have the highest points per minute in the history of your state, so there’s that.”

She eventually healed enough to play college basketball but some distance away. Eventually, she transferred out of the state.

I always used to think that Bridget could do anything, but I’ve had to revise that because there are two things I know she can’t do.

She can never transfer out of my memories.

And, she can never relinquish the title of being the most courageous girl I’ve ever known.

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Bridget would have won the triple crown if courage, determination, and relationships were the premier derbies of life.  

About Bobby Albrant 107 Articles
Bobby Albrant is a former journalism major at the University of Oregon, creator of Savvygameline.com for college football predictions and rankings, former analyst for Southern Mississippi football games, and twenty years coaching girls basketball for all ages through CIF high school. He has three grown children with his youngest daughter playing on the Ventura (Ca) High School basketball team that defeated Dom Lugo High School and was the last high school game ever played by Diana Taurasi. He can be reached at bobbywildcat@gmail.com.