BEMIDJI -- In the first game of her final run with the Bemidji High School girls basketball team, Jenna Jones suffered a season-ending injury.
Well, not quite.
On Thursday, the senior guard laced up her shoes, heard her name called in the starting lineup and returned to the court for one last moment as a Lumberjack.
Even if it was just for the tipoff, it was the most important play of the night.
“It meant so much,” said Jones. “Just being there with my teammates and the people I’ve played with since third grade, it meant a lot.”
Jones has missed nearly all of her senior season with concussion-like symptoms. Instead of spearheading the defensive efforts or hunting for the game-winning shot, Jones has been relegated to the bench. Yet the regular-season finale on her home court was too important to miss.
“For her to not step onto this court in her last home basketball game would have been a travesty,” BHS head coach Steve Schreiber said. “I got to give her a big hug one last time, and the crowd could acknowledge all the work she’s put in. It’s not just a matter of this year. She’s been playing since she was in third grade.”
The student section even sported a sunglasses theme in Jones’ honor, as she has worn shades all year to help with a light sensitivity that causes bad headaches.
“I think it was really emotional,” fellow senior Lindsey Hildenbrand said of the night. “A lot of us started tearing up on the court. She’s our best friend.”
Everything was normal to begin. First came the national anthem, then the announcement of the visiting team’s starting lineup, and then the transition to Bemidji’s starters. But after the first four household names rang out, the BHS Gymnasium echoed in a new song.
“And No. 11, senior, Jenna Jones!”
Jenna Jones, who has missed all but the regular season opener, is starting for the Lumberjacks tonight. What a cool moment for the senior. pic.twitter.com/BmKFNSUCEF— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) February 21, 2020
Jones ran through the tunnel -- shades and all -- before taking them off prior to the opening tip. Ashley Hofstad won the jump as Jones stood by, and the whistle blew to allow Jones to exit with hugs and applause showered her way.
“I don’t care if we’ve got to play 5-on-4 for 20 seconds and they score a basket,” Schreiber said. “That basket, well, it could have been big tonight at the end of it all. But for her to be able to walk onto that court was bigger, even if we would have lost the game. It was way bigger for me as a coach, and probably for her in terms of the memories she’s going to have as an athlete.”
Bemidji wins the opening tipoff for Jenna Jones, who checks out to a nice ovation from the crowd. Though she’d rather have a season of memories on the court, I’m sure this is a moment she won’t soon forget. pic.twitter.com/MPrD6BNmt1— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) February 21, 2020
Even so, her teammates didn’t let her down. The Lumberjacks were stellar in a 65-60 overtime win over Moorhead, capping off a special night for Jones with the perfect finish. And to add to the storybook ending, Jones was first on the court after the final buzzer to celebrate with those who made it happen.
“It’s not easy (sitting out), but then my teammates go out and play a game like this -- like they have been all season,” she said. “They’ve always been there for me, trying to include me in everything, even if I’m not feeling the best. They’ve been there for me this whole time.”
Though Jones would rather have a season of memories on the court, Thursday night provided a moment she won’t soon forget.
“That was super sweet of (my team). It meant a lot,” she said. “Being on the floor with my teammates again, it felt different. … (But) it was absolutely amazing.”