SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — Graduation marks one of life’s chapters coming to an end. But it also signifies the beginning of the next one.
McKayla Jones went up onto the stage at Social Circle High School and accepted her high school diploma. The student athlete who is in a wheelchair once thought this could be the end of the road for her wheelchair basketball career.
It’s quite the contrary.
Jones is going to the University of Illinois to play wheelchair basketball at the collegiate level. She continues to play the sport that she said has kept her going since an accident that happened roughly a decade ago.
“I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing without basketball at this point. I don’t think I would be as much out of my comfort zone as I am now because I’m generally a pretty shy person,” Jones said.
When Jones was 3, she was in a car accident. She suffered a spinal cord contusion. She can move her legs, but she cannot feel below her knees.
A few years later, her father was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away when she was 9.
“I don’t remember him as much as most people might,” she said. “I was only 7 when he was diagnosed, so I don’t have a lot of memories of him other than when he was sick. What I miss most is the whole knowing you have a dad to walk you down the aisle.”
She found an escape. Her mother, Hope, was overjoyed that her daughter had found something that made her happy. But she never imagined college basketball would be in McKayla’s future.
“When we started, I just wanted her to be happy and be around other kids who were in her same situation. I never knew the door was going to be open for her like this,” Hope said.
Whatever your preconceived notions about the sport are, ditch them. Wheelchair basketball is tough, physical and competitive.
“I think there’s definitely a stigma around it,” Jones said.
She said the stigma is just like those put on other sports for athletes with disabilities.
“It’s not competitive, and we’re just there to have fun,” she said people have said about wheelchair basketball. “But it’s really like regular basketball.”
Jones starts school at Illinois in the fall. She may be going about 650 miles away from home, but she knows her support base will be just as strong.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot of people that I think are rooting for me, which is awesome to know. “