We often talk about “the power of sports,” and how the game can impact peoples’ lives well beyond how far the ball travels. There are stories of fans encouraging athletes, athletes encouraging fans, coaches and clubs going above the call of duty to make their cheerer-on’s days brighter, etc. Recently, I had my very own story that proves the power of sports, and it all has to do with the newest member to the York family, Mallori, and my beloved Wildcats.
One of the first things that struck Mallori as she walked into her new home- our home- was my son, Judah’s room.
Judah was “supposed” to be a girl. Three ultrasounds (one as late as 34 weeks along) said so. Before he was born, our awaited Kennedy Rhea’s room was decorated in pink and purple colors with an owl motif. After Judah Wayne was born, we knew we were going to have to redecorate. Those who know me were not surprised to find I decorated his room, top to bottom, in Kentucky blue.
“Kentucky?” She said in the sassiest tone you can imagine.
Mallori was born and raised here in Tennessee where we live. Her extended family is from Eastern Kentucky, but aren’t real big sports fans. The very little Tennessee fandom she had, had all been influenced by school friends and school teachers. Mal is also an argumentative little thing. For the first few days of living with us, she enjoyed poking the ol’ mama bear with playful jabs and taunts- with the deepest of all being something like “Vols rule, Wildcats drool.” I enjoyed the banter and playfully dished it right back.
Her sass wasn’t new to me. Mallori had been in the children’s ministry at our church long before my husband, Ed, and I became youth/children’s pastors there and that’s where we got to know her and love her so much. Her great-grandmother has brought her to that church since she was a tiny baby. With Mallori’s mother absent and her grandmother deceased, it was always Mal and her “Nanny” to take on the world. However, several years back, Mal’s great-grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Although the disease has progressed slowly, over the last year or so it has caught up with her and has rendered her pretty helpless. Mallori, at the tender age of eight years old, found herself taking care of her Nanny more than her Nanny was taking care of her.
Long story short, Ed and I began to pray about how could we help. We spoke with our pastor’s wife and let her know that we wanted to help in ANY way we could; even up to taking her in as our own. Three months later, we got the phone call we prayed for. It was her great-grandmother’s wishes that Ed and I have her. Aided by Children’s services, we welcomed her into our home almost immediately. We worked through the court system were able to gain custody of Mallori; a type of custody that only a very few people could ever challenge.
*Side note: Mal still visits with her Nanny often and has even spent a few nights with her over the summer break. Nanny’s health is stable, yet still in a slow decline.
So, this sassy little princess with a shallow Tennessee fandom waltzes into our heart, our home, and our family. It wasn’t long at all before she began to call Ed “daddy.” She was excited about having a father since she’d never had one before. Calling Judah “brother” came next, then calling me “mom” followed suit. She officially felt like she was part of our family and we couldn’t be happier. Ed and I had always planned to have two children, but after Judah was born, I was finished. But then Mallori came along and righted the plan. She was that “second child.” She completed our family.
However, one thing still kind of lingered for Mal; she wasn’t a Kentucky fan. Let me make this crystal clear: she could cheer for Duke while wearing Carolina blue and doing “L’s up” and I would love and accept her all the same. It doesn’t matter to me… but as an eight-year-old girl, it mattered to her. It silently weighed on her little mind.
Then one day, she came home from school and proudly handed me this-
“What’s this all about, Mal Gal?” I asked.
“Well, I’m kind of a York now, right? And Yorks are Kentucky fans, right?”
I explained that just because I was a Kentucky fan didn’t mean she had to be one. She fired back sharply with all the aforementioned sass she could muster, “Yes it does, Mom,” followed by a pause, then added, “I wanna be one anyway.”
For months before that moment, Ed and I had poured all the love we possibly could on her, making every effort to make her know she was a genuine part of this family. In that moment, she poured a little right back. She made a return effort to “join the family,” and pledging allegiance to the Wildcats was just her way of doing it.
The power of sports, right? It’s real, y’all. It’s really, really real.
It’ll be my joy to share all the passion I have for the Cats with my daughter, teaching her all I know about the lates, the greats, and everything in between. After all, the Good Book does say that if we train up a child in the way they should go, they will not depart from it.
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