ORIGINAL STORY — A feature by reporter Christopher Smith in the Southeast Missourian tells the story of high school senior Darren VanGennip, who has counted on his love of basketball to help him cope with “his mother’s death from lung and bone cancer, his father’s suicide, and the deployment of both his brother and sister to Iraq.”
On some days when he did not have school, he would play basketball from 10 a.m. until dark, pretending he was going against legends like Michael Jordan and “Pistol Pete” Maravich.
His mother died in 1999 when Darren was 8, and his father died two years later. Both were in their early 40s.
“After that, everything just felt different to me,” Darren said. “Everything just seemed kind of slower to me. For a while I’d wake up and I’d be so upset that I wouldn’t want to do anything. But I started playing basketball and that kind of took my mind off it. So that got me on track.”
“I was as sad as you could be,” [said Darren’s grandmother, Wilma VanGennip]. “I remember (Darren) saying, ‘Grandma, are you ever not going to be sad anymore?’ And I thought, ‘If that kid can live with it, then I can, too.’ And he brought me out of it.”
When his brother and sister were deployed to Iraq for a year’s tour of duty with the National Guard in 2004, “basketball took on even more importance for Darren.”
“It was a pretty tough time for me because I really look up to my brother and sister, and not being able to talk to them for months at a time kind of made things difficult,” he said. “I’d just play ball, and I guess that’s where I fell in love with the game.”
His acceptance of what happened began to develop with “the realization that his parents were not coming back.” In Darren’ own youthful and wise words:
“It’s been tough. It was real tough at first. … Life goes on. You’ve still got to live your life and that’s all you can say, really.”
“I wish that they could see me play [basketball]. They never got to see me play any sports, so … they had no idea. I … keep a good attitude. I’m just thankful for the memories I still have of them.”
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