The Bradley Braves Women’s basketball team has signed a new player – eight-year-old Jalene Woolford from Pontiac.
“She’s bringing a lot of toughness, energy and physical play to our team,” said Coach Andrea Gorski as her players huddled around Jalene before practice Thursday.
The players clapped and then placed their hands together in the middle of the circle.
“On the count of three, one, two, three, Jalene!” they yelled in unison.
Jalene last spring received a very serious diagnosis. She was playing basketball when she realized she could not lift her arm.
An MRI revealed Jalene had Anaplastic Astrocuctoma Grade 3 spinal cord cancer. Since being diagnosed, she’s undergone multiple surgeries to open up the walls of her spinal cord after the cancer was deemed inoperabe.
“They did a biopsy on her spinal chord and removed a section of her invertebra,” said Jim Woolford, Jalene’s dad.
Through Team Impact, a program that connects young kids with terminal diseases to college teams, the Woolfords cemented a connection with the Braves.
Jim Woolford, his wife Jaime, their son Justin and Jalene all watched as the Braves prepared for Friday’s game against Southern Illinois.
“For us it’s cementing a relationship that Team Impact brought about and just being part of a basketball family and allowing my daughter to have something new to talk about other than doctor visits,” Jim Woolford said.
He described the experience as a break from “the whirlwind of emotions” the past year has brought.
After practice, the Woolfords joined the players in the Braves Club Room at Renaissance Coliseum. Seated in front of the team, Jalene signed her name to a “letter of intent,” officially joining the team for the rest of the season.
“We get more out of it than she will,” said Head Coach Andrea Gorski. “What we love about Jalene is that she is cocky and she is going to bring that to your team.”
Then senior Danielle Brewer and junior Kellee Clay helped her put on her jersey, wearing number 13.
“I think it was the perfect time for us and we were all brought together for a reason,” Gorski said.
After the ceremony, the players surprised Jalene with her own locker. They snapped pictures with their new teammate, showing her around the facility.
Brewer was impressed by Jalene’s toughness, gaining a new perspective.
“I think it’s just the little things about cancer and treatment that I maybe wasn’t aware of really makes me grateful for the things I have,” Brewer said. “And it gives me new perspective on for her strength and mentality.”