Lady Rangers deal with Chattanooga aftermath

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Unaka's girls basketball team is trying to straighten things out following a Thursday night alcohol-related incident which led to one player being rushed to intensive care at a Chattanooga hospital and several others on the team suspended.
   A decision on the fate of those involved is expected today from school principal John Fine after meeting with Lady Ranger head basketball coach Kenneth Chambers to go over the details of the situation.
   Tabitha Tester was rushed to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga after attempts to revive her proved unsuccessful. Police and rescue were called in with the player temporarily placed on life support to keep her heart beating.
   Tester fully recovered from the incident and was released from the hospital on Saturday. As it became clear that she was out of the danger zone, the team decided to stay in Chattanooga and play games against Tennessee Temple and Boyd-Buchanan over the weekend.
   "If we had any thought that she wouldn't be OK, we would not have played," said Chambers. "We were skeptical of playing then, but we talked to all the parents and they said that we should play. I know Tabitha. It wouldn't have been right to punish all the girls for what a few did."
   Assistant coach Mike Hardin agreed with the decision.
   "After Friday morning, when we found out Tabitha was going to pull through and be OK, we decided to play ball," Hardin said. "We had several girls not involved and it wouldn't have been fair for them to not play."
   The scare, however, made basketball take a back seat to the welfare of the team.
   "All I cared about was that she was going to recover," said Chambers. "You want to win and do the best in a ballgame that you can, but when it came down to it, that she was OK was all that mattered."
   Other players were involved in the activity while others were mainly witnesses to what was going on, but the coaching staff decided to suspend all players who had any knowledge prior to Friday's game.
   "A few were involved a lot more than the others," said Chambers. "We talked about it and decided if you're associated with it, you're not going to play. Some of the girls that didn't play, did very little, but I thought they shouldn't play. I hope it opens their eyes."
   Although the situation was confusing at first, things have cleared up a lot since then.
   "We pretty much know who's involved," admitted Chambers. "Everybody came forth and told what they knew. Three or four wouldn't have been in trouble, but they told on themselves."
   The harsh reality of what alcohol abuse can do was witnessed by an entire basketball team.
   "This was a really bad thing," said Hardin. "What we're hoping is that lessons will be learned. The important thing is that Tabitha is OK. We got a lot of help from the parents when we were investigating things."
   Added Chambers: "In the long run, I believe it will be a good thing since Tabitha is OK. I see some positives that they can see what can happen. Hopefully, they will take it to heart. They saw her at her worst and it hurt a bunch of them. Tabitha is a good girl. She just got caught in something she shouldn't have."
   The team must regroup tonight again on the basketball court, their third game since the incident. Both coaches agreed that playing again tonight helps the team through this recovery period.
   Hardin has another situation to consider as coach of the junior varsity team. With the uncertainty surrounding the whole Lady Ranger program, there is a possibility that the JV team could be forced to forfeit the remainder of the season.
   Things should have started to clear up after this morning's meeting with Fine.
   "We just have to talk to the principal," said Chambers. "That will determine a lot of what we will do. We will just have to go from there. I can promise that the ones involved will be punished. We are handling this situation and are doing everything we can to keep anything like this from happening again."