No Fear: Johns inspires team to championship run
Wed. February 15, 2012 at 8:28 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
Ashville’s Mollie Huff tries to box out Hokes Bluff’s Emily Johns in hopes of rebounding a free-throw during the Class 3A, Area 10 girls basketball tournament championship game in Hokes on Saturday. Johns is a role player who has inspired the Eagles en route to a 27-4 record. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times)
HOKES BLUFF — Emily Johns’ name likely won’t appear in a box score. She’s not a starter for the Hokes Bluff girls basketball team and sees just a few minutes of action in any given game.
But what she provides for the Eagles is much more important than any number on a stat sheet.
“She’s definitely the heart of this team,” Eagles coach Jason Shields said.
She’s the heart of a team that breaks huddles with the words “no fear.” A team that has lived by that mantra all season, and one that has served it well.
Johns knows what fear is, she knows pain, too — she just refuses to let either get in the way.
Johns was diagnosed and treated for a malignant anaplastic ependymoma, a brain tumor, when she was 12. Two major knee surgeries also kept her out of basketball for two seasons.
Now a senior, Johns is doing all she can for a team that is 27-4, ranked 10th in the state and on the cusp of a Northeast Regional tournament berth.
“It’s been awesome,” Johns said. “I love playing with this group of girls.”
She cherishes every moment. After all, Johns and her family didn’t know if she would have this opportunity just a little more than six years ago.
It was November of 2005 when she started getting sick and having migraines. It originally was diagnosed as a stomach virus, but after three weeks, Johns still was waking up with headaches and nausea.
Their family pediatrician had a suspicion that Johns had a brain tumor, and on Dec. 8, 2005, she went to Riverview Regional Medical Center in Gadsden for an MRI.
The results were horrifying, as a tumor was found near her brain stem. She was sent to Children’s of Birmingham that night and another MRI was taken the next day. Her brain was so swollen doctors originally couldn’t tell what type of tumor it was and started a steroid therapy to reduce the inflammation.
When the swelling went down enough for surgery, a pediatric neurosurgeon sat down with Johns’ parents, Eric and Terry, to discuss what to expect.
The doctor explained that Emily would have some sort of deficit after the surgery, like not being able to see, hear or walk, or even lose the ability to move her arms.
“It was like somebody balling up their fist and punching you in the stomach,” Eric said. “That was something that happens to other people. Never in your wildest imagination do you expect anything like that.”
Emily had the surgery Dec. 13, 2005.
“I don’t think 'scared' is the right word,” she said. “The day of the surgery I was a little wary because I’ve never been put to sleep before. And they were about to cut open my head, so I was a little worried. But, all my family is sitting there crying and I told them they didn’t have to cry, that I was coming out and I would see them when I was done with this.”
When her family was able to see her after the surgery, all Terry could think about was what the doctor had told them the night before.
“I was expecting to see a child with a deficit who can’t see or hear or move,” Terry said.
But when Terry walked in, Emily raised her arm and said “mama.” Emily then talked with her twin sister, Erica, and brother Michael, who she talked with about a game they had watched the night before.
“I knew then that Emily was going to be OK,” Terry said.
And just days after the surgery, Emily and Eric walked to Children’s Harbor, an activities center adjacent to Children’s hospital. Still hooked up to an IV, Emily shot basketball.
No fear, indeed.
Emily had to endure 33 radiation treatments after the surgery, and she remembers riding home from those sessions and immediately going to basketball practice.
She has had no complications, and the only thing that has slowed her down is knee problems. She had two surgeries that forced her to miss all of her sophomore and junior seasons.
All the surgeries she’s had have not dampened her attitude or outlook, and maybe that’s what causes her to be an inspiration to her teammates, coaches and anyone else who knows her story.
“I never think of it as, ‘Boy, she’s really an inspiration to others,’” Eric said. “I just don’t look at like that. She’s never looked at herself as a victim. It’s always, ‘Well, let’s get this thing going. The sooner we get this taken care of, the sooner I can get back to doing what I want to do.’
“Emily’s made it easier on Terry and myself just with her attitude.”
She’s also made it easier on her team.
“Emily’s the person that does not let anybody on the bench have a bad attitude,” Shields said. “I think a lot of times players like that get passed by because they don’t make their name in the paper. To me, it’s a blessing to have a kid that’s gone through what she’s gone through and wants to play so bad.”