St. Charles West Warriors Learn Valuable Lessons In “Special” Season

The St. Charles West Girls Basketball season came to an end Saturday with a loss to Incarnate Word in the state quarterfinals. It kept the squad from making a trip to Mizzou Arena for the Final Four later this week. But as Assistant Coach Bri Baldwin explains, this team has already been on a journey that will leave lasting impressions.

This team is special.  We knew that from the beginning.  The seniors have been playing together since they were eight years old and we knew that this was “the year” for St. Charles West girls basketball.  What we didn’t know was how special this season would turn out to be for reasons having very little to do with a basketball.  When our #1 fan, three-year-old Braelynn French, was diagnosed with brain cancer, there was no way to shield our players from it. They became directly involved in the situation.  When they came to the coaches with the idea of a #braelynnstrong game with Winfield High School, we were completely on board.  The idea was simple: sell shirts, pass around some donation buckets, and wear purple for Brae. It turned into so much more that that. That night, the girls raised $5,000 for the French family and they started a chain reaction. 
The local news picked up the story and the coach at Lindenwood-Belleville saw it. When their team played Braelynn’s aunt’s team, they had a #braelynnstrong game of their own and donated the profits to the French family.  Then HUDL decided to showcase our team on their blog.  They posted a link to the family’s private donation site and the donations to Braelynn started coming from people all over who had never met her.  
A few weeks ago, Braelynn went to the hospital.  We were all told that she wasn’t doing well.  She was taken off of her machines and the doctors told the family that this was “it.”  They told Braelynn’s mom that she would pass in a few hours.  We had a basketball game that night against St. Charles High School.  Our players were having a hard time coping with the news of Braelynn’s condition. It was at this times that they laced their shoes with purple laces and started wearing a purple band around their ankles.  After the game, the Pirates presented a $1,000 check to us of money that they raised for Braelynn. It was a surprise welcomed with open arms. Over the next couple of days, Braelynn started breathing on her own.  Her oxygen levels started to rise.  Our players made a few different trips to the hospital to check in on how she was doing and to give their family hugs. 
Two weeks later, after losing to St. Charles High in our previous match ups, we beat them to win the Class 4 District 5 title!  After we shook hands with the other team, we turned to go back to our bench and who was sitting in a stroller right in front of us? Braelynn.  The players and coaches had tears running down our faces when Natalie Otten said, “THAT’S WHY WE WON!” 
In the sectional game, we faced Warrenton High School.  They are no stranger to us because they are in our conference.  Both teams played for Brae that night.

The girls on the Warrenton team wore purple ribbons on tied to their shoes and after our victory, they met us at half court for a picture of both teams together with Braelynn.  This win was an important one for us because the St. Charles West girls have never made it to the State Quarterfinals before. Frank Cusumano did a story on our journey to quarterfinals with Braelynn as our secret weapon. 

In the quarterfinal game, we played Incarnate Word.  When Braelynn and her family came in the door, the referees recognized her and immediately came up and asked both coaches if we could involve her in the game somehow.  Braelynn became the “honorary team captain” for the day and presented the referees with the game ball before the game began. 

Afterwards, the Incarnate Word players and coaches brought out a Build-A-Bear and balloons that they brought to the game for Braelynn.  

As a coach, I could not be more proud of the impact my girls made on the community this season.  Not only did they make Braelynn feel special time and time again, but they made other area teams want to do the same thing.  This is the kind of character that playing sports reveals.
Anyone who has watched us play knows that Emma Poindexter can shoot three-pointers consistently.  They know that Megan Graves is an assist queen.  They know that Natalie Otten gets rebounds and that Jessie Schmidt has sick carries.  People know that if you want to beat St. Charles West, you have to control Kacy Eschweiler. They know that Ashley Haupert can beat almost any defensive player you want to throw at her.  They know that Hannah Andrzejewski is a spark plug on defense. They know that Amanda Fitter comes in to guard the fastest player on the other team.  And now, thanks to our team’s efforts with Braelynn, people know that St. Charles West’s players are good people who care about the community and about making a difference.  We are thrilled that these are the kind of young adults that our players choose to be.  
This season was a season where we saw a lot of growth from our players as people.  They learned that life is so much bigger than high school.  They learned that they were capable of doing a lot to help a little girl and her family.  And they learned to never take life for granted.  A three-year-old girl taught them those things.  These girls were transcendent this season and that can only be summed up as special. 


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