There’s nothing better than witnessing someone’s true happiness manifested in the flashing of their pearly whites. Smiles communicate the joy of the bearer and are one of my favorite forms of communication.
That being said, I was in hog heaven Saturday afternoon in Moody Coliseum. I had the role of being a security guard for most of the high school basketball playoff games that were played in Moody over the weekend, and I had the privilege of observing something truly remarkable.
The Lipan Lady Indians, under the direction of fourth-year Head Coach Amber Branson, entered the Region II-1A Division II tournament on a mission: hoping to punch their team’s ticket to a state tournament berth in Austin this weekend.
But bigger things were on the horizon than just basketball.
Branson, a 1999 ACU graduate and all-conference basketball player in 1998-99, led the Lady Indians (27-9) to a convincing victory over perennial powerhouse Roby on Friday in the regional semifinal game. She then focused on her team’s next game against Newcastle on Saturday at 2 p.m, one that would solidify a state tournament berth for the Lady Indians.
But that focus quickly shifted when she began experiencing contractions on Friday morning before the game.
At nine months pregnant, Branson entered the tournament with only a week before her March 5 due date.
Within a mere three hours of finishing the Roby game, the 34-year-old Branson was in labor at Abilene Regional Medical Center, where she gave birth to a healthy baby girl at 10:18 p.m.
Leslie Telese Branson entered the world weighing eight pounds, seven ounces to Amber and Les Branson. Leslie is the couple’s third child; her siblings include sister Taylor, six years old, and brother Tate, seven years old.
Despite the physical trauma of giving birth, Branson occupied her usual courtside chair – second from the end, the first occupied by her two oldest kids – in her team’s game on Saturday at 2 p.m.
That’s right, not 15 hours after giving birth, Branson was back on the court, poised and ready to lead her team to Austin.
Now, I’m no expert, but I can assure you, most would not even think about working that soon after giving birth.
“Amber is the only person I know that would do that. She’s a one-of-a-kind coach and one special person. I couldn’t imagine doing what she did. That’s a true testimony to the type of coach and person she is,” saidÂ Shawna Lavender, ACU women’s basketball head coach and Branson’s longtime friend.
Trailing 39-24 with 6:23 to play, the Lady Indians’ fate seemed grim. But in a matter of minutes, the roof of Moody ColiseumÂ collapsed on the Newcastle Lady Cats. Lipan went on an incredible 21-2 run to end the game, securing their ticket to Austin with a 45-41 comeback win.
Branson’s team was playing with a purpose, with a type of committment rarely displayed in today’s society, one that puts the good of others before your own.
As the team celebrated at Moody’s half court after the game, a teary-eyed Branson was swarmed with an outpouring of love and support from teammates and fans. The whole time, a mixture of joyous tears and hugs greeted the now mom of three, andÂ a smile, one in which I won’t soon forget,Â never left her face.
And rightfully so: commitment like that is definitely something to smile about.