Reiley Whitson a full-court faith

Published 7:36 pm Monday, April 8, 2024

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By Ron Marvel

Star Correspondent

Last week Reiley Whitson signed with Milligan University declaring her intent to play basketball for the Lady Buffs and to pursue a degree in nursing. For Milligan, this represents a high-reward low-risk type of signing. She represents what Milligan University desires in its student-athletes’ high character and intelligence. She sports a 4.3 GPA, is hard-working, and is dedicated. “We’re excited to add Reiley to Buff Nation. She has persevered through many challenges in her high school career. We think that her toughness will pay off at the next level,” Milligan University Head Basketball Coach Kylie Greer shared.

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But her story goes beyond the typical college signing. It is one of overcoming, hope, and faith.

Whitson has been an All-Region and All-Conference recipient for the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones. She has helped the Lady Cyclones to both state and sub-state appearances. She is tough on the court and very smart. Her game is to make everyone around her better. Lady Cyclones Head Coach Lucas Andrews knows better than anyone the type of athlete and player Whitson is. “She represents what it means to be a Cyclone. She has a team-first mentality. She made everyone around her better. She represents the standard for what this Lady Cyclone program means and stands for,” Coach Andrews contributed.

If a person just focuses on basketball, you miss what is truly the better part of this story. Reiley has torn her ACL not once but twice in the last four years. Torn ACLs have claimed many student-athletes. The recovery is long, hard, and painful; to come back from it not once but twice is remarkable. She tore it a second time at a basketball camp this summer. “I knew it was torn immediately, but I looked at it as an opportunity even when the doctors and physical therapists told me there was no way I would be able to come back and play this year,” Whitson said. “It was tough and hard but I know what my God can do. I had a great support system in my family and coaches but my God got me through – he was the sole thing. He was my strength,” Whitson shared.

So Whitson endured most of her senior season watching from the bench. “That was so hard, a lot of rough patches, but I have learned more this year. I have seen things from the floor while I was on the bench I would have never seen. That first game was hard. I drove home crying, I was three months out from surgery, But, I decided then to embrace this role to be the best friend, teammate, leader, and Christian I could be,” Whitson shared. Reiley also remembered when she tore her ACL the first time and she was determined this time around she would not let anything pull her away from her God. “I learned the further I got away from God the more difficult things got. I also saw the things that happen on this side of eternity don’t really matter. So if I never pick up a basketball again or ever step on the floor, I am a daughter of Christ and I’m going to heaven and no one can take that away from me. How do you not see that as less than a blessing!” Reiley exclaimed. She also went back to work more determined than ever and by January 26, she was back on the court, cutting the time her doctors and physical therapists had given her by more than half. Although she could still see the scars she bore witness to the healing God had brought in her life.

This sums up Reiley’s story. Oh, she will talk to you about basketball but if you want to hear her get passionate and excited, start talking about the Lord. Even her choice to go to Milligan was a reflection of her trusting God. “For a long time I did not want to go to Milligan. It just was so close it didn’t feel like going to college, but it was really a thing of me not including God in my decision-making. To be honest, I really thought for a while I didn’t want to play basketball again but God spoke to me again and softened my heart and I could hear him just say ‘you don’t hate basketball, you hate not being able to play basketball,’” Reiley shared. Reiley’s parents encouraged her to pray through the process and during this time, two of the colleges she was looking at had their head coaches quit; during this time Reiley shared that God started to replace her anxiety about college with joy, hope, and peace. “I just stopped and said to God, ‘show me what you want. I want to be in your will whatever it is.’ I knew if I could do that, whatever I chose, it would be good,” Whitson added. When she prayed a flip switch and she found peace about going to Milligan and all the opportunities it represented; including being able to stay close to her family whom she deeply loves, continue working in her youth group at Zion Baptist Church, and getting to play with two of her best friends, Lina Lyon and Renna Lane, former Cyclones who are both on the Lady Buffs roster.

Reiley also wanted to share what a blessing it was to be a Lady Cyclone. “I blame Coach Andrews for my love of this game. When I was tired and wanting to quit, Coach Andrews and Coach Macy just gave me the strength to keep going. They kept pouring into me. With the love they showed I would run head-first into a brick wall without asking. It’s family, that’s what being a Cyclone means,“ Reiley shared. Finally, Reiley shared how through all of her trials and during her recovery, God has taught her to treat every day as a blessing, not just another day of doing something on a to-do list, but to do things right and do them for the Lord,” Whitson shared.

Reiley’s love of God just pours out of her and her desire to give Him glory. The more she shares, the more one realizes her story is His story, and that’s just the way Reiley wants it!