MOUNT PLEASANT - One look down the Central Michigan women's basketball bench and it is clear that there are sometimes bigger things than the game of basketball.
The Chippewas' newest team member has brought new perspective to the team's motto, "Embrace the Change, Embrace the Challenge, Embrace the Championship" this season.
Despite being off to their best start in MAC play in 25 years, most questions surrounding the Chippewas have been about its newest member on the bench at games inside McGuirk Arena.
Whether it's cheering on the team during the game, helping hand out water or dribbling on the court during timeouts, five-year old brain cancer patient Katie Johns is bringing inspiration to the Chippewas.
Johns, a Midland, Mich., native, was diagnosed with Pilacytic Astrocytoma last July after doctors found a golf-ball sized tumor on her brain stem. For the last six months, she has become an honorary member of the Maroon and Gold thanks to the "Friends of Jaclyn" program and the second newest member of the Chippewas, senior Jessica Schroll.
Schroll brought the idea to head coach Sue Guevara last summer and it was a flyer for a spaghetti dinner in her hometown of Midland that helped find the perfect fit.
"I searched all summer pretty diligently and no one could help me out," Schroll said. "I was eating lunch and I saw the poster for Katie's spaghetti dinner and I couldn't help but think this was a way of showing me this is the little girl that we needed to have on our team."
After a one-on-one meeting with Katie and her family, Schroll brought the rest of the team to the spaghetti dinner in September and Johns has been a staple of the program ever since. Despite weekly trips to Ann Arbor for chemotherapy treatments the last seven weeks, nothing has stopped Katie from taking her spot on the bench prior to tipoff.
"Katie has so many downsides to the cancer that the one thing she can look forward to is going to games," Katie's mother Andrea Johns said. "All it takes is letting her know we have a game that night and she is in a different mood and a different spirit. When her spirits are up, she is pretending she is a basketball player or drawing on her marker board pretending to be Coach G."
The team has literally welcomed Katie with open arms, as she can be found sitting on a player's lap or being carried around McGuirk Arena at any time during a contest. It is the support that Katie gives in her own right however that is driving the Chippewas to take advantage of every opportunity they have.
"If you have a bad game, it's so easy to lose perspective and think badly about yourself," Schroll said. "But then you look down the bench and you see this little girl whose hair is falling out because of her treatments and it makes you realize that things aren't so bad. We use it as a springboard to see her enthusiasm despite what she is going through and it brings all our energy up."
As the Chippewas continue to build on their 6-0 start to MAC play and battle for their first MAC title since 1985, they will be sure to embrace the challenges that lie in front of them, just as Katie has.