Tiffany Powers needed medical clearance to travel to Seattle and did so with her dialysis machine. Her schedule: basketball games in the day, treatment at night.
What to pack or which airline to fly are the typical traveling decisions. Tiffany Powers had more pressing concerns.
Her Michigan-based basketball team qualified to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games this week in Seattle. The news was shared with the athletes last spring, which was also when Powers, 28, was told she needs a kidney transplant.
Suddenly there was an internal debate about where Powers would put her name — on the basketball roster to compete for gold or on the list to vie for a transplant?
“It was a hard decision,” said Powers, a graduate of Pontiac Central High. But then she said she thought of her teammates and the joy gained from playing basketball and the choice was clear.
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Powers remained on Team Michigan’s traditional male’s basketball squad, helping the group advance to Thursday’s championship game at Alaska Airlines Arena. Team Michigan lost 39-23 to Team Washington.
“It was worth it,” said Powers while surrounded by her teammates. She and Alexus Fitch, 21 are the only women on the roster because there aren’t others in the state to form an all-women’s traditional team.
Powers actually prefers playing coed since she has six older brothers. But she’s the only athletic one in the family, wandering her way to the sport by close friend and current teammate Kadeem Clay, 27.
His parent’s Pontiac home with a backyard basketball hoop and space to play half-court was a hub for the neighborhood kids since first-grade. Clay, who also has six siblings, invited Powers one day after school and she was hooked.
“I’m better,” Clay teased. “But I was trying to get her to where I’m at. We both learned as the years went by.”
Clay has also supported Powers through her kidney failure. She needed medical clearance to travel to Seattle and did so with her dialysis machine. Powers’ schedule the past week was playing basketball games by day and self-administering her treatment at night.
While she’s played the sport on an organized team for 10 years, Team Michigan was formed in 2014. The squad won its first state championship its inaugural season and qualified to play in the USA Games by winning again this year.
“Knowing about Tiffany’s (kidney disease) inspired me to keep her with us on this journey,” coach Tony Pittman said. “It helps her and motivates her to stay strong and this is what she enjoys doing.
“But I can’t imagine going through this. That young lady is strong and she helps me to not give up on anything because she’s not and that’s great.”
Competing against Team Washington was a different type of challenge, however.
Powers didn’t enter the title game until there was 1:32 left with a 12-point deficit, primarily because of a size disadvantage. The Tri-Cities-based squad leaned on burly brothers John and Robert Crandall to grab rebounds and score in the paint.
Team Michigan, which is sponsored by Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, admitted it didn’t expect to advance to the medal rounds because of its smaller size. But Powers said she didn’t delay putting her name on the wait-list for a kidney transplant to only play a few games.
With the silver medal in hand, she’ll now wait for a match to undergo the surgery.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Powers said.
Former UW hoops star Tara Davis returns to her home floor
Tara Davis was back on the Alaska Airlines Arena sideline Thursday. This time as coach of Team Washington’s traditional women’s basketball squad competing in the Special Olympics USA Games.
Davis, a former University of Washington basketball and track athlete, volunteered to coach the team beginning in February. They advanced to the championship game, giving Davis a chance to show the athletes around her alma mater.
“She’s rocking her hairdo over there in her uniform,” said Melany Hernandez after spotting Davis in a team photo in the Husky Hall of Fame. Hernandez, who’s entering her junior year at Mariner, has a learning disability.
One motivator for Davis in coaching the athletes is her position as assistant director of athletics for Seattle Public Schools.
The district partnered with Special Olympics in 2011 to form Unified Sports, where students with and without intellectual disabilities participate on athletic teams together. Davis wanted to raise awareness with the USA Games in Seattle.
Dubbed the “Sno-Queens,” athletes on Davis’ team represented Mariner, Ballard, Roosevelt, Edmonds-Woodway and South Kitsap. Team Washington won silver, losing 24-7 to Texas.
“I wanted the experience, but also I believe in this, I believe in inclusion,” Davis said. “You can always learn from those around you.”