ENGLEWOOD, Tenn. — Tonight, McMinn Central senior Kelsey Young will step on the school's basketball court in a Class AA sectional matchup against Cannon County. She more than likely will be assigned to guard the visitors' biggest perimeter threat as the Chargerettes fight for yet another trip to the state tournament.
In the stands, parents Jeff and Raeann will go through the highs and lows of a game along with the rest of the rabid Chargerettes fan base.
It's a moment that 27 months ago the family couldn't even think about enjoying together.
While at a Christmas tournament at Macon County in 2010, Kelsey became sick. After a day lying around, she was taken to Athens Regional Hospital. She was checked out, given a bunch of medicine and released upon assumption of a migraine headache.
A few hours later, she woke up vomiting, and the parents took her back to the hospital. Doctors ran numerous tests before a spinal tap revealed that she had meningitis. Kelsey went into a brief coma because of the swelling in the brain and was quarantined to a room.
At one point, the family wasn't sure she was going to survive. She had returned home and again complained of not feeling well, ultimately telling her mom that she needed an "ambulance and an IV." They decided to send her to Fort Sanders Children's Hospital in Knoxville.
Doctors there told the family that had they not called for help when they did, Kelsey would have died from the sickness that causes inflammation to the brain and spinal cord.
At Fort Sanders they were taken to room 22, which coincidentally is Kelsey's basketball number. Raeann didn't picked up on the fact initially, but Kelsey did.
"She told me, 'Mommy, God's going to heal me,'" Raeann recalled. "I told her, 'Yes, baby, God's going to heal you. She said, 'You know how I know? He put me in my basketball room number.'"
In addition to the meningitis, Young had developed encephalitis, meaning she had developed irritation and swelling on the brain. Doctors said she would never walk or talk right ever again, as the sickness reduced her to talking like a 3-year-old. She couldn't eat or drink, and she sat with her head held straight down. She was reduced to a wheelchair and vomited upon being touched -- a direct result of the meningitis.
"She had declined so fast," said McMinn Central senior Bradley Ward, Young's boyfriend at the time. "It started off with a headache; next thing you know, she's throwing up and having to go to the hospital two nights in a row. She just fell apart."
Ward and classmate Sidni Williams were around for large portions of both her sickness and her recovery. Young called Williams her "nurse," noting that "she was definitely my best friend for doing the things she did through it all."
Her revival process continued as teammates started to show up. And she started walking -- little steps at a time. A few days later, her health had improved to the point where she was released from the hospital.
Two weeks after their first trip to the hospital, the family went to a Jan. 14, 2011, Chargerettes game against Sweetwater, and Kelsey received a standing ovation. They traveled to Chattanooga Christian for a game on Jan. 25, with Kelsey still needing assistance to walk.
She went through an intense month of rehabilitation -- along with then McMinn Central player Ashley Knox, who was recovering from a knee injury -- and returned to the court for a game at East Hamilton on Jan. 31, playing the final few minutes. For the second time in 17 days, she received a standing ovation.
"The first time I went back into a game, everyone gave me a standing ovation and chills went down my spine. I wanted to cry, but I knew I couldn't," Kelsey said. "I knew I was blessed -- for one, to still be alive.
"Words can't describe how thankful I am to be here."
Her story remained inspirational for the Chargerettes, who wound up winning their first-ever Class AA state championship that year. She played about 13 minutes total in the three state-tournament games.
"Kelsey's sickness brought us all together," classmate Elizabeth Masengil said. "I honestly don't think we would have won state, because we were so united. Her sickness brought us together as a team, and we were just so happy having her back on the bench with us because we hadn't had her there in a while."
With her scoring ability and desire to play tough defense, Young was recruited by nine college programs, ultimately choosing Tennessee Wesleyan in Athens over Carson-Newman. She admitted the distance to the Jefferson City school played a part, as she didn't want to be away from the family in the event that something happened.
"I'm blessed knowing that I'm still alive and able to play basketball," Kelsey said. "The first thing I thought about when I signed was how at one point I never thought I'd play again, so looking back I was thinking it was a miracle for me to even being playing high school basketball with my friends, let alone playing college ball."
The third-ranked Chargerettes will have to hold home court against Cannon County tonight to return to Murfreesboro for the state tournament. A big key in that will be Young's ability to defend Class AA Miss Basketball finalist Abbey Sissom, a junior. It's a job she welcomes with open arms.
"I love the challenge," she said. "Right now, I think of it as if I'm playing anybody else, but she's really good. I love the challenge, because I know if I stop the other team from scoring, we can win."
In Ward's eyes, though, she's already won.
"It's outstanding to see where she is now from where she was at that time," he said. "It just makes me feel real proud of what she's been able to do."