BY JEFF FALK
The Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team recently enjoyed one of the most exciting and rewarding seasons in school history.
But for one member of the Beavers’ family, the historic campaign was met with mixed emotions. At the same time, Lebanon Catholic’s state championship both contributed to and brightened Mariah Sholly’s difficult junior year.
But the Beavers’ PIAA Class A title also served to put a certain perspective on Sholly’s situation. Sure sports and championships are great, but at the same time in the real world, life happens.
Sholly missed Lebanon Catholic’s entire golden run to an unplanned pregnancy. Sholly, a two-year point guard who was projected to be a key contributor this season, stayed as emotionally connected to the Beavers as possible, supporting them from the bench and living vicariously in their moments.
Sholly, 17, learned of her pregnancy in October, mere weeks before Lebanon Catholic opened preseason drills. Sholly’s due date is June 15, when she is expecting a boy.
“I’m happy for the girls,” said Sholly. “I’m upset I couldn’t be part of it. But I tried to support them from the bench. I tried to make every game I could. I only missed six games.
“It was hard not being able to play with them,” Sholly continued. “But it wasn’t about me. I wanted to support the team. It made me want to work hard so I can come back.”
Part of the Beavers’ success this season could be attributed to their ability to replace Sholly at the all-important point guard position. A natural off-guard, fellow junior Neesha Pierre stepped up and stepped into Sholly’s floor general role on the court.
“I was in the stands for the state championship game,” said Sholly of the Beavers’ 55-43 triumph over Juniata Valley at Hershey’s Giant Center on March 24. “Of course I was going to that game. I remember in the beginning they were down (the Beavers trailed 6-0) and I got so nervous for them. But I knew they’d pull it out in the end.
“Neesha stepped it up, and I’m proud of her for doing that,” Shollly added. “I’m sad I had to put her in that position. We all know she’s a better two-guard. You have to do a little bit of everything. You’ve got to be unselfish. But it helped that Jasmine (Turner) and (Alexis) Hill came too. They’re all great players and they all cooperated throughout the season.”
What also made the winter hard for Sholly was that she simply loves the game. She’s been playing sports and dribbling a basketball for as long as she can remember.
“When I was younger my mom put me in a lot of sports to see which one I liked the best, and basketball stuck with me,” said Sholly. “I think it’s because of how much I improved. I worked so hard. I finally got good. I love hugging my teammates and getting assists.”
The Catholic Church used to be much more judgmental, and frowned upon teenage pregnancies. But the Lebanon Catholic community has really gotten behind Sholly and rallied around her.
She continues to attend school at Lebanon Catholic.
“To be honest, I think everybody has handled it very well,” said Sholly. “I was upset I was pregnant because I wasn’t going to be able to play. But I know when I have this baby, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“I found out when I was five weeks, in the beginning of October,” added Sholly. “I didn’t believe it. I started crying. I was scared to tell my mom, but I think I was more scared to tell Mrs. (Patti) Hower. My mom cried and was scared because of me being as young as I am and being in Catholic school. Coach Hower didn’t know what to say.”
In many ways, the pregnancy has forced Sholly to grow up, to become more mature. Her priorities are different and she sees life in a whole new light. But she’s still a teenager.
“I know my life is definitely going to change,” said Sholly. “I’ll get tired. I’m still going to go to school and play basketball. When I found about it, it hit me. But it didn’t hit me fully right away. I think it’s going to make me more mature, a lot more mature.
“I was so uncomfortable at first,” continued Sholly. “I always thought everyone was looking at me. Now I embrace it.”
Bringing life into the world is one of the most sacred responsibilities a human being has. Sholly likes the name ‘Jordan’.
“At first I was scared and didn’t think I could do it,” said Sholly. “Now I’m excited. I have the baby’s room done and I have a great support system. It’s my family mostly, but my friends are supportive too. They don’t look at me any differently. I was so scared what people were going to think of me. But they’re going to think what they’re going to think, regardless.
“I feel good,” continued Sholly. “I’m tired and everything. I just want to get back in shape.”
Sholly has vowed to stay in school, finish her education and play basketball again as a senior. It will be a huge undertaking, one that will require prioritizing, time management and a committed support system.
Many of the same things it takes to be a good mother.
“I want to do it because I love the game and I want to prove everybody wrong, that I can come back,” said Sholly. “I know it’s going to be tiring, juggling all those things at once. But I have a great support system. In the summer, I’ve just got to hit the gym to get back on the floor again.
“When I come back next year,” she concluded, “I want to beat Lancaster Catholic and I want to get Mrs. Hower another state championship.”
Certainly what would be a unique twist on a true Cinderella story.
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