Draped over a chair at the end of the Frontier bench was a white jersey.
Sitting in Frontier High’s cheering section only a chest pass away from Vanessa Rocha’s unused jersey was Trenton Molina. His head was bald, his face swollen from the chemotherapy drugs that he’s taking, but there he was at State Fair Arena, cheering on his older sisters.
On the night Frontier opened the Class A state basketball tournament with a 79-71 victory over Arkoma, these girls were playing for more than a spot in the semifinals. They were playing for Vanessa. They were playing for Trenton. They were playing for a tiny community that has been through a lot.
“Our town’s really close,” Trenton’s older sister and Frontier freshman guard Kristan said.
When one much less two of the school’s own are hurting, it takes a toll on folks in Red Rock and the surrounding areas that feed into Frontier schools.
The troubles started in the fall. The Molinas were attending a Halloween party, and after eating some candy, Trenton started feeling sick. Everyone just figured the sixth grader had eaten too much. But when he started throwing up, then began having seizures, the family went to the emergency room.
Tests determined that Trenton had tumors on his brain, including one that was inoperable.
“It was really scary for our family,” older sister and junior forward Alivia said. “That was the last thing we wanted to hear.”
The tumors, though, were benign.
“Everybody sort of breathed a huge sigh of relief,” Frontier coach Bob Weckstein said, “but he’s still got a huge tumor on his brain. It creates all kinds of problems.”
Many trips to the doctor and nights in the hospital have followed. Alivia and Kristan would go to school and practice during the week, then travel to Oklahoma City to spend the weekend with Trenton in the hospital.
He is now taking chemo pills to try to eradicate what remains of the tumors. He returned to school on a more full-time basis recently and even got to play in the last two basketball games of the season. He excitedly reported before the game Thursday that he’ll play his first baseball game of the season Monday at Pawhuska.
But challenges remain.
The same goes for Vanessa.
A junior at Frontier, she worked hard all summer to get ready for basketball. She regularly wore herself out, coming home after practice and sleeping for hours. Her mom, Velda, thought it was normal.
“She never complained,” her mom said.
Then around the time that basketball practice began in the fall, Vanessa had a spell where she briefly passed out. That, added to her ongoing fatigue, prompted a round of testing.
In early November, less than a week after the spell that prompted the tests done on Trenton, doctors determined that Vanessa had a heart valve that had probably been leaking for nearly a year.
Tuesday, she had open-heart surgery.
Doctors weren’t sure if they’d be able to repair the valve or have to replace it, which would be less preferable. Once they saw the leak, they decided they could fix it. Even though the following night was up and down, Vanessa’s condition stabilized Wednesday.
“Her heart looks great and is responding well,” her mom said from the hospital Thursday.
Doctors think Vanessa will be able to return to school after spring break and return to the basketball court in May. After all, playing basketball is what kids who live in Red Rock do.
All day Thursday, Vanessa was thinking about her teammates.
“She may not remember whether she’s had surgery or where she is,” her mom said of the way Vanessa’s pain meds are affecting her, “but she asks every time if her team has won first round yet.”
Believe it or not, it wasn’t until recent weeks that many of her teammates learned how serious her condition was. For months, she low balled the severity. She didn’t want people to worry about her. But more than that, she told her mom and her coach, she didn’t want to take any attention away from Trenton.
The school and the community has been doing its best to rally around Trenton. They’ve offered support. They’ve done fundraisers. They even had a Trenton night at a game earlier this season. Everyone — both players and fans — wore blue “Team Trenton” shirts. Not Frontier red. Thunder blue for Trenton’s favorite team.
Frontier’s gym was packed.
“He didn’t know it was going to be that big,” Kristan said.
Neither did they.
“I didn’t know how many people loved our family until then,” Alivia said. “It was crazy how many people supported him and our family through that.”
And all the while, Vanessa Rocha hid the severity of her heart condition because she didn’t want to take any attention or support away from the Molinas.
But Thursday night, both Trenton and Vanessa were on the minds of the folks from Frontier. Alivia and Kristan wore orange and blue shoelaces, Thunder colors, for Trenton just like they have all season, and of course, Vanessa’s jersey was on the bench all night. It will remain there for as long as the girls from Frontier are playing.
Really, that is their biggest tribute.
“Win for her,” Kristan said.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.