Over the past two seasons, before each Ellison Lady Eagles basketball practice began, Francesca Patrick, without a spoken word, would hand head coach Sherry McKinnon an inhaler and a full pack of gum.
McKinnon understood the inhaler. Patrick, called “Fancy” by her head coach and teammates, has asthma.
“Fancy only asked to use that inhaler once in the entire two seasons she was on varsity,” McKinnon said. “Her asthma is under control. But Fancy was just being cautious. The gum? She has never — not once — said a single word to me about that.”
After each practice, the inhaler would be returned.
“But she wouldn’t always get the gum back,” McKinnon said with a chuckle. “Sometimes she wouldn’t ask for it back and I’d forget I had it and, later, I’d just put
that gum in my desk. To this day, I have packs of gum she gave me in my desk.
“Also, I happen to chew a lot of gum, which Fancy must have picked up on when she was a freshman or sophomore. The gum Fancy gave me was always blue ‘5 Gum.’ It was our own special ritual each day — giving me that pack of gum — but she has never explained it to me. It was a gift to me, I think. But, every once in a while, she’d come up to me after practice and say, ‘Hey, Coach, do you have my gum?’ And then I’d give her the gum back. But sometimes I’d have to tell her I was all out of gum because I’d chewed up the pack, and she’d just smile.”
Just thinking about Patrick brings a smile to McKinnon’s face.
Yes, Patrick is a fabulous basketball player. She’s the Killeen Daily Herald’s All-Area Most Valuable Player and this is an area loaded with talent.
But McKinnon’s admiration for Patrick goes far deeper than just her considerable basketball skills.
“Fancy will have her associates degree in May from Temple Junior College before she even graduates in June from high school,” McKinnon said with a huge smile. “It’s pretty unique to have a starting point guard in high school — with all the time that basketball takes up — maintain a commitment to the International Baccalaureate program at college.”
This spring, Patrick earned Academic All-State honors from both the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches and Texas Girls Coaching Association.
“Fancy is No. 10 in her class right now, and grades are so important to her,” McKinnon said. “As a sophomore, she decided to get into that IB program. First, you must be a great student and great citizen to even get into that program. Secondly, Fancy had to give up her free time in the summers in order to take courses so she could be in basketball class during our school year.”
Patrick didn’t turn off her thinking cap once she hit the hardwood.
“Fancy made so many great steals and was our defensive player of the year her junior season,” McKinnon said. “So, one day, I asked her how she was able to make so many steals. Well, her reply was a text-book explanation that any coach would love. She said, ‘When a player goes this way with the ball and a player is looking that way and the angle in which their vision is focused is on, etc…’ Well, when Fancy had finished with her answer, she had given me the scientific, mathematical and physics reasons on how to make a steal in the game of basketball.
“I told all my assistants what Fancy had said and they were amazed. I told our head boys basketball coach, Alberto Jones Jr., what Fancy had said and he replied, ‘Wow! She’s smart!’ The truth is Fancy had taught me something, too.”
There are some Division II and III colleges looking at Patrick to join their basketball program this fall.
“All the junior colleges want her, but Fancy already has a JUCO degree, so she’s not interested in that,” McKinnon said. “She has been accepted academically at Texas Tech. She has options. She wants to find a school where she can pursue her academic passion—she wants to be a psychologist—and also play basketball. And let me say right now I’m 1,000 percent certain that she will become a top psychologist. I will always stay in contact with her. But I sure will miss her this fall when school starts again.”
And come September, McKinnon knows there will be days when she’ll be in her office, open up her desk, and allow herself a mile-wide smile.
She’ll see a pack of blue ‘5 Gum.’