ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — In the final box score, it simply read as two made field goals for four points.
For Chelsie Knopp, however, the journey to such a complementary accomplishment was a lot taller than the 10-foot rims that most basketball players aim for.
Knopp, a senior at Meigs High School, was able to fulfill a year-long pursuit of returning to the court on Saturday, Feb. 6, as part of the Lady Marauders’ 68-17 victory over Wahama.
Knopp — one of four upperclassmen honored during Senior Night festivities at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium — made her one and only appearance with the Maroon and Gold after an 11-month battle against Pilocytic Astrocytoma, a rare brain tumor that occurs more often in young adults between the areas of the neck and base of the skull.
Pilocytic Astrocytoma tumors are usually slow growing and benign, but the neoplasms associated with their formation can become very large over time. Even with chemotherapy treatments, these tumors are also very slow to shrink.
Pilocytic Astrocytoma adds pressure to the spinal cord and has some serious side effects, including headaches, vomiting, slurred speech, unawareness, and an occasional loss of limb coordination.
Originally believed to be migraine headaches, these symptoms started becoming more and more common for Chelsie after completing a split junior campaign between the varsity and junior varsity basketball squads at MHS.
Her diagnosis with Pilocytic Astrocytoma came in on March 18, 2015, and an ensuing neck surgery occurred at Children’s Hospital in Columbus five days later.
Chelsie’s recovery process — which included a once-a-month chemotherapy treatment — was supposed to last between 12 and 16 months, but things hit a snag as the tumor grew from seven millimeters in October to 12 millimeters in early December.
Given her new diagnosis and an increase of chemo treatments to once every two weeks, Chelsie began to realize that playing her favorite sport during her senior season was something that was not likely going to happen.
Ironically, Knopp seemed more heartbroken to tell Meigs girls coach Scott Cleland that she wouldn’t be able to play basketball this winter than having to go through another battle for her young life.
It was in that conversation between a coach and a player, however, that set up one powerful reminder of how special a game can be when keeping things in a proper perspective.
“When I talked to coach at the beginning of the season, I told him that I wasn’t going to be able to play because of my chemo,” Knopp said. “He promised me, at that moment, that I would still have a spot on the team and that I could start on Senior Night if I were released by my doctors.
“True to his word, he kept that promise when the doctors cleared me for the game … and it really meant a lot to me. His promise gave me a lot to look forward to during the tough times.”
The tough times included missing days of school for treatment, as well as not being around with her fellow classmates during practice time.
But, in seeing how much of an effort Knopp made to be part of the group, Cleland noted how much of an impact Chelsie made throughout the course of the season.
In his first season as head coach, the Lady Marauders went from 7-15 last winter to 10-12 overall — which included quadrupling their league win total from one in 2015 to four this past winter.
So, when Senior Night rolled around, Cleland never hesitated to keep his end of the bargain.
“Chelsie helped us keep things in perspective all year. She was able to suit up for Senior Night, so we started her because I made a promise … and you could just feel the energy in the gymnasium,” Cleland said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she started the game, then she scored that first basket and everybody had tears of joy rolling down their faces again.
“When we put her back in during the fourth quarter, Wahama helped us a little bit in making sure that she got another good shot attempt. When that last basket went in, I couldn’t help but think of what a class act Wahama was in helping make the night special for Chelsie. It was the kind of night that truly reminded all of us what this game is supposed to be about.”
Knopp wore number 30 in the contest, the same number that she wore a year ago at the varsity level. Freshman Kassidy Betzing had worn number 30 all year this winter, but surrendered the number to Chelsie as a form of appreciation for her making it back to the court.
Knopp scored the opening points of the game on a five-foot jumper from the left baseline, then left the game shortly afterwards as a safety measure. Knopp had been through chemotherapy just 24 hours before the contest.
Meigs gradually took leads of 15-4 and 36-7 over the first two periods of play, then the hosts made a 19-8 third quarter run to secure a 55-15 edge headed into the finale.
Knopp was re-inserted into the game midway through the fourth, which allowed her to play alongside classmates Haiden English, Halley Barnes and Sadie Fox one last time.
Before all four seniors were pulled for one last collective ovation, Knopp managed to score another basket with a minute left — making their sendoff as spirited a memory as any of them will ever remember.
“That was definitely a memorable night for me, especially being out there with my classmates and the team. I couldn’t have done it without them or without the support that I have received through this whole process,” Knopp said. “Just being around most days at practice was a big boost for me in being able to feel like I was part of the team. Being out there for our final home game with my teammates, that was something I’ll always be thankful for. There are a whole lot of thanks that I need to send out for that night.”
One of those thank-yous, as Chelsie noted during the interview, belonged to the Wahama girls basketball program and head coach John Arnott — mainly for allowing her to fulfill a dream of playing one last basketball game with her classmates.
The Lady Falcons were battling a 63-game losing skid when news of Chelsie’s story made its way to Arnott, but the first-year WHS coach was more open to rewarding a person’s faith and effort — rather than worrying about wins and losses.
And, in the end, he was very humble in the way things not only worked out for Chelsie — but also how his own troops handled the events of that evening.
“After I talked to Coach Cleland before the game, I made sure that my players were aware of the situation,” Arnott said. “We had a chance to be part of something special for a young lady, and making sure she had that opportunity to do what she did was far more important than the game.
“The most important thing, as far as we were concerned, was giving Chelsie a moment to remember. She deserved it and we were proud to be part of it.”
Knopp received some good news just this past Friday as doctors informed her that the new chemo treatments had reduced the tumor by two millimeters, another step in a positive direction.
In moving forward, Knopp — who carries a 3.4 grade-point average — has plans for her future. Upon graduation, she is planning to enroll in nursing at Hocking College and one day hopes to be able to finish those studies at Shawnee State University.
As for now, Chelsie is focused on only one thing besides her continued battle with Pilocytic Astrocytoma — and that is being with her classmates come one day in late May.
And when that moment comes, Chelsie admits that she may — for at least one brief hour or two — feel like a normal, everyday kid again.
“The next goal for me is walking across that stage and grabbing my diploma. That day will mean so much to me because I will know that I am just like every other student up there,” Knopp said. “We will all be celebrating our individual accomplishments in getting to that point. That’s the part I want to experience because I know I’ve done everything that I could to get there even though the path was a little bit different.”
Chelsie is the daughter of Chuck and Tiffany Knopp of Pomeroy, as well as Mary Roberts-Knopp of Tuppers Plains.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.
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