A special bond: Mother, daughter share state title experiences

by Sonja J. Keith

Hailey Estes and her mother, Kathy, have a special bond. Both love sports, especially basketball. Each earned a state high school championship when they were sophomores. They share a unique perspective on the game and don’t take the ability to dribble, run and shoot for granted.

Unlike her daughter, Kathy can no longer play the game she loved growing up. She has to use braces on her feet and a cane just to walk slowly, which adds a deeper appreciation for the game and to life.

Kathy, 44, was a member of the Flippin High School basketball team that won a state title in 1988.

Hailey, 17, began playing in the first grade with the Upward Basketball program with her mom and aunt as her coaches. She is a member of the Conway Lady Cats Basketball Team that claimed a 2014 state championship and was the state final runner-up in 2015.

The mother-daughter distinction of winning state titles as sophomores was pointed out to Kathy by her retired high school coach during halftime of the Lady Cats 2014 finals game. “He said, ‘How cool would it be to have mother and daughter win state championships as sophomores.’ I freaked out and told him I didn’t want him to jinx anything.”

Hailey knew her mother was on a state championship team but did not realize it was during her sophomore year. Hailey was a ninth-grader when the Flippin School District hosted a reunion for players on state championship teams from 1983, 1985 and 1988. During a ceremony in the school gym, each player was presented with a medal, and the team photos were displayed. “I don’t think it ever really gelled with her that hey, Mom actually did play basketball,” Kathy said.

Basketball was in Kathy’s DNA. “I played horse with my dad every day,” she said. “I lived in a gym.”

Kathy remained active after high school and in college, but in 2001, she began having some physical issues. Initially, doctors thought she might have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but a specialist in Kansas City diagnosed her in 2003 with a form of muscular dystrophy. The loss of muscle strength in the front of her legs has affected her balance.

“I know my kids (Hailey and son Hayden) have never seen me play ball except on VHS,” Kathy said. “The braces are all they’ve ever known.”

Hailey describes the state championship win as “probably one of the best days of my life” and has special memories of being with her team and the atmosphere surrounding the game. She said the team had prepared well for the game and were excited to experience it together.

“Every time I look back at those (videos and photos), it still gets me emotional,” Hailey said.

“I wish when we were in school we had that kind of media,” Kathy said. “I don’t know that I even have a picture of us getting the trophy.”

After the state championship game, Hailey was anxious to share the win with her family. “When I left the locker room, I didn’t want to talk to anyone but my family,” she said. “My grandpa had tears in his eyes. My dad (Mark) had tears in his eyes. Mom was bawling. That made me cry. It was a really emotional experience, but it was a good emotional experience.”

Kathy’s state tournament was played at Perryville High School. She remembers that many fans made the three or so hour drive to Perry County from Flippin for the game. “It is so different with a small school,” Kathy said. “The whole school lets out, but you can’t do that with a big school.

We packed the house as a small school just like a big school does, which is kind of cool.”

Later, the presentation of the state championship rings was a special moment for Hailey as well as Kathy. Coach Ashley Nance handed out the ring boxes, but the players had to open them at the same time. “That was such a cool moment to watch — to see their faces,” Kathy said. “That group was under so much pressure to win that year because of the talent they had on that team. For them to open those rings, it was such a relief.”

Kathy recalls that when her team won state they received T-shirts, so the medal presented at the reunion was extra-special.

With her mother’s disability and having seen teammates suffer major injuries that sidelined them, Hailey understands how quickly things can change. As a result, she has a different perspective on sports and her physical well-being. “I think she appreciates the fact that she can jump and she can run because she knows that can be taken away from her in a heartbeat,” Kathy said.

Hailey said there are times when a workout is particularly tough, her body is tired and she thinks about quitting, but she doesn’t. “I think about my mom and how she would give anything to be able to do this work out, be sore and hurt like this, but she can’t. It’s one of the things that keeps me going, knowing that in an instant something you’ve done your whole life can just be gone. It gives you a whole different perspective on your God-given talents.”

Kathy attends nearly every game and often attends practice. As her daughter shoots at a local gym, Kathy will stand under the goal. If Hailey makes the shot, Kathy will rebound the ball. If she misses, Hailey rebounds her own ball.

“I always tell her you have no idea how bad I’d love to get out there and play her one-on-one and push her around. If I could just for one hour.”

Hailey’s resolve has helped her tough it out when injuries occur. “She won (on the state championship team) as a sixth man. I think that state final game was the best I ever saw her play. You never would’ve known she had a broken rib. She wasn’t going to let that stop her.”

Kathy sees the value in team sports and applauds her daughter’s coaches for preparing her for life beyond high
school. “Basketball is great and all, but I want them to teach her to be a leader, to be a woman in the world, the values of being on a team. If she comes out of high school and doesn’t play another game after her senior year but she’s independent and knows the value of unity, respecting others and being a good role model, that’s what she learned through team sports.”

Hailey plans to attend college and would like to continue playing either basketball or soccer. “I want to be in sports medicine/physical therapy.”

“She wants to help people who have something like what I have,” Kathy said. “I think she’ll be very good at it.”

As the first game of the Lady Cat season approaches in November, Kathy looks forward to seeing her daughter play but knows it will be bittersweet to watch her play her senior year. “I want it to start, but I don’t want it to start because there’s going to be an end,” she said. “I hope she can continue playing in college, but Mom will be there for intramurals. It doesn’t matter.”

Hailey is thankful for her mom and her support. She also recognizes the uniqueness of their shared experiences and is going to hold to that connection.

“It means the world to me,” Hailey said. “She’s like our team mom. It’s hard to imagine going through the stuff I’ve been through, like injuries, without that. Part of it is she’s been through it — the line drills, the sprained ankles, the life lessons and everything. Just to have someone that important to have been through that and to know what you’re going through, and be there for everything, it just means so much to me.”