By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Khadija Payne is a young lady on a mission. The Princeton High School senior basketball player has overcome a physical disability and the loss of her uncle to earn a scholarship to play basketball at Ferrum College.
“It’s a blessing. I thank God truly for giving me the opportunity and ability to play ball, just chasing some dreams and I think everybody standing here,” an emotional Payne said Friday afternoon in the PSHS library following her signing ceremony.
She was surrounded by family, friends, teammates and coaches who were on hand to show their support.
Payne’s mother, Pamela, talked of her daughter’s courage and determination.
“It’s amazing. She didn’t let her disability stop her,” Pamela Payne said. “She’s had Bell’s palsy since the age of 1 and she stayed in a shell. She was protecting herself. People used to tease her. Thanks be to God, Minister Gravely, my church family, Debbie Ball, they helped her once she got to high school to come out of her shell.”
Payne’s aunt, Tammy Scott is an assistant coach for the Tigerettes and her uncle James Dewitt was a star on Princeton’s 1979 and 1981 state championship basketball teams. But this season was dedicated to her late uncle, Timothy Dewitt.
“I mostly played this season for him (Timothy),” Payne said.
Payne said her family helped push her on the basketball court and shape her into the player she has become.
“They’ve pushed me pretty hard. To be honest, after practice and after games I hated to ride home with my aunt,” Payne said. “It’s like she chewed me out every time. If I did something wrong in practice I’d be scared to get in the car with her, or go talk to her. And my uncle (James), he pushed me the same way.”
In choosing Ferrum, Payne will be playing at a school where another former Tigerette laced up her sneakers the past four years, and it is no coincidence that Payne wanted to become a Panther.
“I have a role model that goes to Ferrum, Tesla Akers,” Payne said. “I was on my way to Ferrum for a visit and she sent me a text message that was very meaningful and she talked about how great the coach was, so I think that’s what made me choose where I’m going.”
Akers is the sister of Payne’s Princeton teammate McKenzie Akers.
Maurice Gravely is the director of Sparks Inc. Sparks is a youth education empowerment program in which Payne has participated. A former athlete on the professional level, Gravely knows what it takes to make it on the collegiate and the top level of sports.
“When she came to the program she was kind of quiet, an introvert, wouldn’t really say too much,” Gravely noted. “I kind of watched her, took her through some of the things just to see her potential as far as basketball and just what she could do. In the classroom she was a role model, she got it done, but she wasn’t bringing it out on the basketball court. I know she had so many things going against her, but I said no, forget that. Just work hard.
“I would have to say of all the kids that have been in Sparks, she has been more of an inspiration, what’s happened this day, right here. She’d come to me and I’d encourage her. As you can see the finished product is right here. The proof is in the pudding right here. This is what it is all about.”
Tigerettes head coach Debbie Ball talked about Payne, the third player from this year’s senior class that has signed to play college basketball.
“Khadija has been the ball player ever since she got in there,” Ball said.
“It’s like I said, if she could have gained her confidence in her earlier years, she probably would have had more playing time.
“She did a heck of a job for us this year. One of the reasons we were successful was she had to play a big role, a big post spot being a little girl and she really did a great job at that. There were a couple of games where she had 18, 19 rebounds and a girl her size isn’t supposed to do that.”
Beaming with joy and sharing the moment with family, teammates and friends, Payne remarked, “This is the greatest moment I’ve ever had. It feels great. It’s a blessing.”
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org