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Stewart: High school hoops player an inspiration

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Top high school sports
Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

Sometimes, you just get tired of reading about athletes getting arrested or pouting about the injustice of multimillion-dollar contracts.

Sometimes you want to read about an athlete who will inspire you and make you realize that there are some feel good stories out there.

Here's one:

While the rest of the W.F. West basketball team in Washington was having an early-morning shoot-around and enjoying a pregame meal, Julie Spencer was tending to other matters. Her story is one that would make for a good Hollywood script.

You see, the reason that Julie wasn't with her teammates was because she was laying her father to rest. James Spencer died Feb. 13 after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Julie sang at her father's funeral and then embarked on a journey that her teammates and coaches never thought she would be able to make.

The team was in Yakima, Wash., preparing for the Class 2A state championship game against a much taller Mark Morris High School team that had defeated W.F. West two of the last three times they met.

Mark Morris High had three starters who were 6-foot-2, and they were heavily favored to claim the state title.

Her teammates and coaches didn't expect Julie, who is their tallest player at 6-2, to be there as they tried to topple Goliath. Her father had just died. They figured they'd try to win this one for her.

Julie felt otherwise. She believed that her father would have wanted her to play.

She said she felt that her father would be looking over her and praying for her. She said that she was playing the game for her dad.

First things first, though. How could she ever make it to the game in time?

Not a problem. Kenmore Air flew Julie and three of her siblings to Yakima, and they arrived 90 minutes before game time.

Julie would not have much time to grieve.

In a Hollywood script, Julie would be the star who played a magnificent game and lead her team to a state championship. You remember the movie “Hoosiers,” right? And how about “Remember the Titans?”

Move over Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Here comes Julie Spencer. She scored 20 points, snared seven rebounds and earned tournament MVP honors as she willed her team to a 48-37 win in a rematch of last year's final. Her emotional day ended with her cutting down the net as she celebrated the school's first state championship. Julie acknowledged that it was one of the hardest days of her life, and she was going from one extreme situation to another.

Julie will be back on the court for her senior year, and then she'll be heading to Washington State.

I believe the rest of her basketball career will be a piece of cake. She has endured a most stressful situation and handled it with aplomb. She put the grieving on the back burner for a few hours so that she could lead her team to victory.

She believes her father was watching over her, and I do, too. I believe that W.F. West had six players on the court.

The sixth player was one James Spencer. He's the one who was directly behind his precious daughter all game long, keeping her focused on winning a state championship.

Marty Stewart is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-782-2123 or mstewart@tribweb.com.

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