Believe Volleyball’s 15-year-old team is ramping up their final weeks of practice before their first tournament in January. But this season, they hope to do a whole lot more than just win.
“It’s beyond volleyball. Volleyball at the end of the day is just a sport,” said Coach Corey Jenkins.
A few months back, Jenkins asked his girls to dedicate their season to their former team manager, 8-year-old Katie, who joined the year before in the midst of a battle with brain cancer.
“It allowed her to step outside the grueling treatments, and go be a kid,” said Katie’s dad Rick Higginbotham.
In other words, he says it gave her a purpose as she cheered on the team and earned the nickname “boss.”
But when treatment wasn’t working, a second biopsy showed Katie’s cancer had evolved. This time the diagnosis was diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma or DIPG which has a stark prognosis.
“With DIPG, they give you nine months to two years. It takes away your ability to walk and then to talk. She couldn’t feed herself,” said Katie’s mom Lori Higginbotham.
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Taking Katie away from the sidelines and the team who’d quickly fallen in love with her.
“It just brought everyone closer,” said Katie’s cousin and teammate Brianna Smallwood.
The team remained by her side through her final days. And when it came time for her funeral, Coach Jenkins was there to speak sharing what a difference she’d made to him and his girls.
“I didn’t want the story to end when Katie passed away, I felt like she still has a story to tell,” said Jenkins.
Not long after, Jenkins asked his girls to dedicate their season to Katie and spreading awareness about DIPG and it’s cruel reality.
He ordered special warm ups they hope will spark questions and conversations at each tournament they visit. But even before they’ve arrived, his girls have taken it upon themselves to sport the initials K.B.K. for Katie Bell’s Kourage.
“[I’m] proud. It’s tough. In today’s world you see a lot of kids focused on other things but to see this group focused on a little girl that meant the world to us, means a lot,” said Jenkins.
It’s just one of the ways the Higginbotham’s hope Katie’s memory will be kept alive.
“I want to hear the memories and the joy that people felt from knowing Katie, because she was a special one,” said Lori.
They hope it will also let more people know about a deadly disease they hope no other family is forced to face.
“This is out there. 300 kids in the United States each year get this terrible cancer,” said Rick.
Part of the team’s efforts have included raising money for Camp I-Hope, which hosts kids with cancer for a week in Collin County each summer.
They plan to do the same again with a 2nd Annual Katie Bell Classic Sand Volleyball and Cornhole Tournament already in the works.