Chance Elliott was “in the zone” Saturday as the Peabody-Burns player fired up shots in a 3-point contest at Marion’s Sports and Aquatics Center.
“I was watching the other guy warm up and I saw he wasn’t on very well, so I thought I had a chance to go win this,” Chance said.
Win it he did and the roar of the crowd as he accepted his medal signaled one thing loud and clear: Chance is back.
He couldn’t hear the hushed, anxious silence of the football homecoming crowd Oct. 7 when he collapsed on the field from a blow to the head; he was unconscious for 16 minutes.
Airlifted shortly afterward to Wesley Medical Center, his mother, Annette, didn’t see the helicopter take off.
“I just passed out,” she said. “I guess I got so worked up. It was the worst moment of my life.”
Chance suffered a serious brain injury, but responded to life-saving intervention and was released to go home after a few days.
Since then, it’s been the classic struggle of independent teen-ager vs. protective mom.
Chance didn’t come home with a clean bill of health; far from it. He had severe headaches, exacerbated by just 5-minute visits from friends, and was overly sensitive to stimuli.
“He couldn’t watch TV, he couldn’t listen to music, he couldn’t read,” Annette said. “He tried to sleep a lot. He’s not a stay still kid.”
As his mother held check on his activities, Chance itched to do anything.
“There was nothing I could do,” Chance said. “I sat there and wasted away. The only thing I could do was sit there and do nothing.”
Another thing Chance hated was his medication routine.
“I took 14 pills like three times a day,” he said. “I don’t even take medicine anymore. I just suck it up. I hate medicine.”
The prognosis, doctors said, was that it would take at least six months for Chance to heal, but two weeks after he got home, the headaches disappeared.
“The scenario they told us of what was going to happen and what did happen was totally different,” Annette said. “His healing was absolutely phenomenal. It’s blown away the doctors, it’s blown everyone away.”
Once the headaches were gone, it was time to start plotting a return to school, and for Chance, to basketball.
“When he was hurt all he cared about was getting back to basketball,” Annette said. “He’d be counting down the days in his head how many days it was to get back.”
School came first, and Chance’s recovery made that easier than expected. He returned about three weeks after the accident, starting with a couple of hours and building up to full time.
PBHS principal Ken Parry said staff were prepared to make any learning accommodations Chance needed, but that’s amounted to little more than occasional activity breaks and some extra time catching up with teachers during seminar and before and after school.
“Pretty much from the time he came back he’s done regular school work,” Parry said. Directing a glance and smile toward Chance, he added, “He gets up every day and says, ‘Thank God I get to school and spend eight hours there. That was sarcasm.”
Parry, who has battled a heart condition and cancer, knows the challenges of restrictions and has become a confidant for Chance.
Getting back to basketball was a harder bridge for Annette to cross.
“You worry about your kids, but I never thought my child might die,” she said. “Now I think about it’s not just with him, but with his sisters, too.”
But it was Annette who came around before Chance’s sisters, Ashley Hershberger, Shelby Unruh, and Christa Elliott.
“They were like, ‘You can’t let him play basketball,’” she said. None of them wanted him to play.”
Her response echoed counsel from her husband, Roger.
“We have to; he needs that,” she said. “You can’t not live your life. You have to be careful, but he wouldn’t be living life if he wasn’t playing basketball.”
Chance started practicing with the team, running at times when he couldn’t do a particular drill. Scrimmages were where Chance adapted to a new style of play.
“It’s hard to slow down in basketball and still be good,” he said, “but it’s easier to be smart and not take charges as much, not always driving like I did last year, but still play aggressive.”
Chance wasn’t cleared for the home season-opener against Herington until four days before the Dec. 2 game. He didn’t start, but his play down the stretch put an end to a 21-game PBHS losing streak.
“He’s the reason they won because he jumped up and blocked a shot at the end where they were shooting a three,” Annette said. “I had friends there with me. That was probably the hardest game ever. But after that game I realized he’s playing smart; he knows what he’s doing.”
That doesn’t mean Annette isn’t anxious anymore; she is. But she gives credit to her husband and to Parry for being steadying influences.
“My husband is the calmest person you’ve ever met in your life,” she said. “To my worry, he’s the calmness. He’s like, ‘You’ve got to let him go, you’ve got to let him do this.”
Since Annette works in the high school office, Parry is a ready source of comfort.
“I have moments when I come in his office and shut the door and I’ll be like, ‘I’m freaking out, talk me down, what am I going to do?’ I couldn’t have made it through without Mr. Parry.”
Indeed, recovery from Chance’s injury may take longer for Annette.
“I think Chance wants to basically forget all this stuff,” Parry said. “She remembers more.”
“I remember everything; I wish I didn’t,” Annette said. “He just wants to go and do, and that’s hard for me, but I realize I have to let him because it makes him happy.”