Basketball is life for fire victims

Kathy Koehn
Lianna Washington, whose family's home was lost to fire on February 24, 2020, is a top guard for the Reno County Sabres homeschool athletic program. She will play basketball at Pratt Community College next year.

Despite losing their home to fire last Monday the William and Carla Washington family of Sawyer, Kansas has done their best to keep a sense of normality in their life. Even though the family of 13 lost everything they owned in the fire February 24, 2020, they are thankful to be alive and no one hurt.

"We are operating under a new normal now," said Carla Washington, the mother of 11 children, most of whom love to play basketball on area homeschool teams.

Mark Nisly, athletic director with the Reno County Sabres homeschool athletic program, where some of the Washington children play basketball,  said the family is very involved in the organization.

"I have been with the program for over 20 years, and even played against one of the older Washington boys in 2011, " he said. "These kids are currently among the top homeschool players in the state. They currently have five children involved in our program right now.“

Nisly is a basketball coach for Lex and Koby Washington.

"The junior high team is the most improved team,” he said.

Lianna Washington is a senior, her sister Janaya is a junior, brother Tadan is a sophomore, brother Lex is an 8th grader and brother Koby is a 7th grader. They are all very committed to their sport of choice, according to Nisly.

Although Nisly did not say how much money was raised in recent fundraisers to support the family after the fire,  it was enough to replace all of their practice equipment and new uniforms.

The Washington kids only missed Monday's practice the week of the fire that took their home. They were at Thursday's practice and played in the games in Concordia on Saturday. This week they will all be playing at the National Division II Christian Homeschool Association basketball tournament in McPherson, March 5-7. There will be 19 teams from five states, included Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

Nisly said he is amazed at the resilience and sense of humor family members have been able to keep throughout the ordeal of losing almost everything they owned to the house fire.

Brian Deetz,  Lianna and Janaya's coach, said the girls were amazing players.

“These kind of players don't come around often and we were fortunate to get two of them,”Deetz said. “Lianna is our point guard, and our defensive specialist. She was recently named district defensive player of the year, as well as the district defensive player of the year, as well as first team all district. She will be playing basketball next year at Pratt Community College.

“Janaya is a shooting guard and already has over 1,200 career high school points as a junior. Janaya was recently named co-player of the Year, offensive player of the year, as well as all district first team. Janaya hurt her ankle on senior night on February 15 and missed the following three games. She returned to limited playing on Saturday and looked to be at about 80 percent of her normal self.”

Deetz said he expects Janaya to be ready to play at full strength by the National Division II tournament this weekend.

On February 24, the morning of the Washington house fire, Deetz said Janaya texted him  a little before 6 a.m. to let him know what was happening. She was concerned about their basketball uniforms and all of their practice equipment that was left in the house. It was all destroyed.

Deetz asked Janaya a couple days after the fire how her ankle was doing.

“She said, ‘I ran out of a burning house without my brace, so it must not be too bad.’"

Deetz said the girls appear to be doing well after the fire. They are definitely a positive influence on others.

Kevin Wilson, Taden's coach said the fire actually seemed to help him focus better. Tadan, a starter on his team, is one of his younger players.

Wilson said the homeschool organization is like a family and they have offered their wholehearted support to the Washington family. The coaches took all five of the ball players shopping for basketball gear.

Members of other Sabres players and families have messaged and called to check on the Washington family daily. One mom gave three of the youngest girls backpacks with toys and gifts inside. Other teams in the league have also reached out to the Washington family.

The family is currently living with Carla's parents which also helps with the normalcy. They are all together and that helps a lot. Basketball participation is extremely important to the family.

"My kids need to play basketball like they need oxygen," Carla said."The new normal is bearable for them because they still get to play basketball."

The basketball season is drawing to a close, however, and they have only a major end of the season tournament to play yet.

After that they are hoping to rebuild their home. They are trying to figure everything out. Those interested in helping may send donations to First Southern Baptist Church in Pratt.

Washington said the most important thing they need is prayer.

"We will take all the prayer we can get.  Our God is faithful to us, and He is using His people to pour out that faithfulness on us," she said. "I am overwhelmed with gratefulness to everyone who has messaged, called, prayed and given to us in this time of need."