Andrew Dys

February 5, 2014

Rock Hill teen cancer survivor to be honorary coach at Winthrop games

Emily Elkins, 15, has fought cancer for two years while giving away thousands of donated dollars to charity. She will be the honorary coach at Winthrop's basketball game Thursday.

This coach who will handle a team for the first time ever knows more than a little bit about not quitting. At the Winthrop University women’s basketball game Thursday night, the honorary coach will not even be old enough to go to college. She’s never met the head coach.

But Emily Elkins, 15, with her smile and her guts, can inspire anybody to victory.

She has already inspired Winthrop women’s Coach Kevin Cook, who asked Emily to sit with his players and lead them to greatness.

When a donation jar to help Emily’s family pay her medical expenses was stolen by a career criminal in 2012, she turned that sordid event into raising thousands of dollars so poor kids she had never met could have Christmas gifts, and homeless people could have blankets and coats. She gave thousands to charities and strangers.

Her inspirational story of beating cancer – and helping others – ran in The Herald on Dec. 25.

“I read the paper Christmas morning, and I am not a teary guy, but that terrific little girl got me,” Cook said. “With this game dedicated to cancer awareness, this was the perfect time to ask her to come and be a part of the team. I can’t wait to meet her.”

So Cook recruited Emily for this game that is all about cancer awareness and raising money to someday demolish it. Emily, cancer-free after two years of grueling surgeries and therapy, will be on the sideline as Winthrop plays a game that has been set up to increase breast cancer awareness and raise money for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Yow, the longtime women’s basketball coach at N.C. State University, was a breast cancer survivor for two decades who died from the disease in 2009. “Play4Kay” games are being held across the country.

Winthrop’s men’s and women’s teams will wear the color used for breast cancer awareness in a pink doubleheader Thursday. When the Eagles play Barber-Scotia at 4 p.m., they will wear pink sneakers. The Lady Eagles will wear pink uniforms when they play Gardner-Webb at 7 p.m.

Fans who wear pink can get in free.

The Lady Eagles are thrilled to wear pink uniforms for such a good cause. Many of them spent time in Haiti last year, learning first-hand how a little bit of help can make a huge difference.

Tiffany Charles, Taylor Calvert, Dequesha McClanahan, and Samiya Wright – each just a few years older than Emily – modeled the pink jerseys in a preview before the pink ball game. It will be, even for a women’s team with a history of good causes, the first time these players have wore pink uniforms

Each player said she will treat Emily as one of the Winthrop family.

“We haven’t met her yet,” Calvert said, “but we know she is a little girl who had cancer, and we want to help.”

The team wants to give Emily a win in her first coaching game.

Emily’s not nervous. She’s used to crowds. After The Herald first reported her reaction to the theft of her donation jar – “I would have given the guy the money if he needed it” – donations poured in from around the country. She became an ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and held public events the last two years so needy children could have Christmas presents.

This former cheerleader and track athlete has become a national face for toughness and grace, courage and resolve. She plans to do those things again.

Asked what she will tell her team before they take the court, Emily replied, “Play to win.”

She also will be wearing the color of the day.

“Everybody’s wearing pink,” Emily said. “Me, too.”

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