BY JIM MISUNAS
ST. JOHN — Darby Smith didn’t want to miss seeing her older brother Quincy compete for the St. John Tigers in the Class 2A state basketball tournament.
The 10-year-old Darby attended the three-day state tournament at Manhattan after being hospitalized recently for nine days for a septic hip, an infection within the hip joint; and osteomyelitis, an infection and inflammation of the bone.
Darby was transported from the parking lot to Bramlage Coliseum and permitted to use the elevator to reach the floor level.
“It was definitely a celebration,” said Tessa Smith, her mother. “Darby was adamant that once she got out of hospital she insisted on seeing the boys play. We were so ready to not be staring at each other in a hospital room. It was great to be there for Quincy. Darby had a great time.”
Darby, a fifth-grader at St. John Elementary School, said the trip made her feel better and was worth the discomfort of moving a few steps at a time on crutches.
“I was determined. It was really exciting we got to go,” Darby said. “It was pretty awesome. Just being there was fun.”
Perhaps the St. John Tigers were motivated to battle a little harder when they saw one of their loyal fans rally from an illness.
Darby said she enjoyed seeing the Tigers win their third consecutive state basketball championship. She was humbled by the attention she received from fans and players.
“My brother was glad I made it,” she said. “It made me happy that everyone cared how I was doing.”
Danny Smith said his daughter’s recovery and presence was a blessing for Quincy. His oldest daughter, Tia, who attends Kansas State University, joined her grandparents and other relatives at the state tournament.
“It was a big relief for Quincy,” Danny said. “Having the whole family made it fun for everybody.”
Danny Smith said it was touch-and-go when Darby was first diagnosed with pain and discomfort. Danny coaches the St. John girls basketball team.
“Our team played in Cimarron when my wife and Darby were in Wichita getting tests run,” Danny said. “Right after that game, we found out they needed to do surgery and another surgery two days later.
“Any parent have prefer this happen to us rather than see their child go through this. It definitely put things in perspective and makes you appreciate everything. We were lucky to have her with us last week.”
Smith coached St. John’s girls to a Class 1A state basketball championship in 2009 and coached the St. John boys when they were younger.
“There’s always a feeling of accomplishment as a coach, but I’m happy for my son and the boys,” Danny said. “As a coach, I enjoy seeing things carry over from practice to the court. It was a team that was humble, but played with confidence. I’ve enjoyed seeing my son develop into a happy and confident player.”
Smith said it’s easier being a coach rather than the father of a player because he maintains some control over game situations.
“Once you’ve practiced every day, you know everything that’s put into a game plan,” he said.
Darby underwent testing and treatment in Great Bend and Wichita before being released from medical care on the eve of the substate championship in Inman. Darby was moving in a wheelchair when St. John qualified for the state tournament.
“The team was tremendous. The team definitely appreciated that Darby was there,” Tessa said. “What had been a depressing time turned into a celebration that she was back.”
Danny said he was appreciative that his wife was able to maintain a level of normalcy during a stressful time.
“The end of the regular season and substate qualifying was a chore,” Danny said. “There is always extra prep work at the end of the year. My wife took on a lot of responsibility.”
Tessa said the support from concerned friends and family made Darby’s journey less stressful.
“We knew we had support and prayers,” Tessa said. “When you live in a small town, you’re part of a family. The community has been tremendous with their supportive texts, emails and gifts. What was a stressful time turned into a state celebration.”