NORMAN, Okla. -- Every time the Sooner women take the court, the seats in the Lloyd Noble Center are full of rowdy basketball fans, eager to spur the girls to victory.
However, on Sunday at the game against Arkansas Pine Bluff, the biggest inspiration came in the form of three little girls. Jaden Martin, April Nowlin, and Hope Dollarhide were at the game thanks to the efforts of an organization called Special Spectators. The trio were representing all of the children at the Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.
The cancer in Jaden and April is in remission, while Hope is currently undergoing chemotherapy. The girls were very excited about being Special Spectators, however, they weren’t the only ones brimming with excitement. The players and coaches were eager to welcome these three incredible girls into the Sooner family.
Jaden Martin is a brown haired, wide eyed, talkative 11 year old who is full of energy. From the moment she entered the door she had a grin on her face and was full of questions about Coach Coale, the team, and everything in between. She was thrilled to sit in Coach Coale’s desk chair and pretend to answer the phone. Already a basketball fan, Jaden came in ready to meet her favorite players, the Paris twins. As she walked through the Legacy Court and the basketball offices, it didn’t take long for her to spot every picture of both Ashley and Courtney.
After seeing their lockers, pictures, and seeing the mailboxes where she could write to them, Jaden got to meet the twins in person. As they walked in her face was beaming. However, she was not the only one with a big smile on her face; the twins looked just as excited to meet one of their biggest fans. After a few minutes of the girls chatting, the twins learned that Jaden, who also plays post, will have her first game of the season Saturday. Jaden, and the twins, joined the rest of the team in the locker room as they were getting pumped up for the game by watching their pre-game highlight video. While Jaden was getting more and more excited throughout the video, the girls were watching her, and gaining encouragement from her enthusiasm. A ball of energy, Jaden kept up her enthusiasm throughout the entire game, yelling as loud as she could and holding up a sign that she had made to help cheer the girls to victory.
A second inspiration came from the smile of April Nowlin, a small 10 year old with shoulder length blonde hair. She was in awe of the flurry of activity was going on around her; the team, the coaches, the crowd, the pom girls and the cheerleaders. It was as though her eyes could not open wide enough to take in everything.
Although quiet at first, her facial expressions spoke volumes. While standing on the side of the court, during the pre-game warm-up, April was timid, and shied away from speaking to the girls. However, with a little persuading by Krista Sanchez and Kendra Moore, who quickly became her favorite players, it did not take long for her to open up. After shooting around with the two for a while, April was so full of excitement that, when asked about her new friends her face lit up, and she jumped at the chance to talk about them.
Hope Dollarhide, a very petite, shy, eight year old who will brighten your day by saying nothing at all, did exactly that for the Sooners on Sunday. She was dressed from head to toe in her pink Sooners gear, ready to take in the excitement. Hope said that she had never played basketball or even made a basket in her entire life.
Though Hope was quite content with simply watching the Sooners shoot around, Erin Higgins and Leah Rush just couldn’t allow Hope to leave without making a basket. Although it took some coaxing, the two convinced Hope to let them teach her to shoot. After only three tries, Hope made her first basket, immediately followed by a second. The baskets brought about tons of celebration full of smiles and high fives. Hope then ran to her dad, wrapping her arms around him in excitement, while Erin and Leah looked on smiling. From then on, Hope was a big fan of basketball and an even bigger fan of the ladies.
After cheering the Sooners to an 87-42 victory, it was time for the girls to say their goodbyes. They each began the day with a different story; Jaden was eager to meet her favorite players, April was overwhelmed with all of the activity, and Hope had never shot a basketball in her life. Yet as they left the Lloyd Noble Center on Sunday, all three shared the common bond of being accepted into the family that is Oklahoma Women’s Basketball.