Marion County Coach Fran McPherson says there’s no challenge that senior center Janiya Crowell faces that she doesn’t meet head on.
Crowell proved this point in Marion County’s semifinals showdown against Terrell County. With the team needing a boost, Crowell came off the bench and was dominant, scoring 12 points and picking up 12 rebounds. She was just as strong defensively, coming through with three steals and four deflections in Marion County’s 45-40 victory.
“I was so excited I was able to help us out and get us the ‘W’ so we could play (in the championship game),” Crowell said. “I know my team is strong, and they can make things happen. They needed me and I was there, and it made me feel very good.”
The challenge of leading her team to Wednesday’s state title game against Greenville was a considerable one for Crowell, but it was far from the biggest she’s faced in the past few months. Crowell’s mother, Javenica Crumbele, suffered a stroke in December, leading to uncertainty regarding her life as well as how she would care for her seven children.
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As the oldest of the seven, the 17-year-old Crowell strongly considered stepping away from the game. In the end, she felt driven to stay with her team and instead balance basketball with her newfound responsibilities.
“I felt like I needed to be home more than anything because family comes first,” Crowell said. “What kept me playing is I knew my team needed me. Even though I knew things were going downhill in my life, I just knew this would bring me up.”
McPherson is in her third season at Marion County, and by her recollection, Crowell couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time when they first met. Crowell’s commitment quickly caught her coach’s eye, and through their time together McPherson has watched her constantly improve.
Basketball took a backseat right before Christmas 2017 when Crumbele suffered the stroke. After staying overnight at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, she was transferred to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
At that point, there were too many questions and not enough answers for Crowell and her relatives.
“We didn’t know if she was able to get through it. It happened, and when it happened it wasn’t good at all,” Crowell said. “It was very, very, very hard to get through that. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We thought we were going to lose our mom.”
As uncertainty surrounded Crowell’s mother, McPherson told Crowell to take her time returning to the team. Crowell was there for her siblings as they learned more about their mother, but true to form, she attended as many practices as she could.
When it came down to playing or not playing, Crowell leaned on the advice her family members offered.
“When I wanted to stop, my family told me I shouldn’t because they knew my mom wouldn’t want it. She wanted me to stay,” Crowell said. “That’s why I stayed – because I knew it would make her proud.”
Crowell dealt with the new normal of being in charge of her family while her mother recovered, but she didn’t do it alone.
“People donate things to our family. People come and make sure I’m OK. The team, they make sure if there’s something I need that I get it,” Crowell said. “Everyone is so concerned, and everyone is so much help. I’m very blessed there’s so many people concerned about my family. It was very much needed.”
As helpful as those around her were at home, having an outlet from her personal life meant nearly as much. Crowell remained committed to her team, giving her a regular distraction from the uphill battle her mother was facing.
Crumbele was eventually transferred from Grady to Warm Springs. She initially lost the ability to move one side of her body but has now regained her ability to walk. Her speech is still impaired, but she returned home about three weeks ago.
McPherson lauded the work of Crowell, who saved her best game for the one that sent her team to the state championship. Crowell handled all the responsibilities unexpectedly thrown her way, showing herself well prepared for adulthood.
As enjoyable as the victory was, Crowell found as much pleasure in what followed. A news story ran on television about the team’s win, and she watched the clip with her mother. Crowell emphasized the joy the two shared in her moment of stardom.
Marion County has a chance to finish the job at the Macon Centreplex, but win or lose, Crowell still has plenty to do. Her primary goal is motivating her mother, and like anything she’s done on the basketball court, she’ll pursue it with all she’s got.
“I’m pushing her so she can get better,” Crowell said. “She wants to be there for my graduation and stuff like that. I’m inspiring her to want to do better. It’s a great feeling, and I’m so happy she’s proud of us.”