By Maurice Patton
MURFREESBORO — Bill Jennings and Chad Hall always wanted their daughter and standout basketball player, respectively, to draw attention for the right reasons.
And neither of them thought a tattoo would accomplish that objective.
But soon after her 18th birthday last summer, Richland guard Jesse Jennings went against the wishes of both her dad and her coach and got inked – intending to honor her grandmother, Kay Jennings, who had been in failing health for an extended period of time and died less than a month later, without ever seeing her granddaughter’s visual tribute.
“My grandmother battled COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung ailment) for as long as I can remember,” Jesse said between contests at the BCAT All-Star Game, held Saturday at Blackman High School. “She was diagnosed with lung cancer this past May. She loved roses, she loved flowers, gardening. I just told myself I was going to get that for her.
“She passed away Aug. 21, a little less than a month after I got it. She didn’t get to see it. It just really means a lot to me because (we) were very close.”
The rose on Jennings’ left forearm hardly defines her – especially compared to the 2,345 points she scored over her five-year Lady Raider career or the person or teammate she proved herself to be over that timeframe and beyond.
Still, two of the most important adults in her life wanted to make sure that wouldn’t be the case.
“What I didn’t want it to do was put a negative light on what Jesse had to offer or do on the basketball court, or on our team,” Hall said. “She loves and would do everything in her power to make our team look better in every situation, instead of draw attention to herself. I think that was it, more than anything else.
“I didn’t want a school to come in and say ‘she’s got a tattoo; we’re out of here’. I didn’t want an 18-year-old young lady to be judged by a choice she’d made that others may not feel the same way about.”
“You can’t wash that off,” Bill Jennings echoed. “You go into a job interview, people see that – my age and older – even though it doesn’t make you a bad person, they tend to think it does. That’s just the perception of things. Those are the people that are going to be deciding if you get the job or not.”
It’s those type reactions, or the possibilities thereof, that prompted Jennings to wear a black neoprene sleeve over the tattoo this past season.
“It was to keep people from taking about it or me getting in trouble for it or somebody pointing it out, like a fan saying something or me getting in trouble with a ref,” she said.
At this weekend’s all-star event, though, her teammates encouraged her to let it show.
“I was showing some of the people I was playing with; they were like ‘don’t wear it’, ‘I think tattoos are cool’, so I didn’t wear (the sleeve),” she said.
Coming off the bench for both contests – “that’s probably the most I’ve sat since the beginning of middle school,” she said – Jennings scored three points in the Mid-South team’s 87-69 loss to the East stars and two in a 68-63 win over the West.
“Playing with all these people up here was really, really fun,” she said. “It was a lot of good basketball, a lot of good players. I think this weekend is just about having fun, getting to play, having the chance for colleges to see other people.
“I’m just glad I was invited.”
The next step for Jennings and her area-leading 23.6-point scoring average will be Alabama-Huntsville, as she recently committed to the NCAA Division II Lady Chargers.
“I love the coaches. It kinda felt like home,” she said. “Obviously me and Coach Hall are very close. That player/coach relationship I’m probably not going to find anywhere else, but it really felt like they cared about more than just basketball.”
“I think they got a steal, and after talking with Jesse, that’s probably exactly where she ought to be,” Hall said. “She doesn’t want to go a long way from home. We’re an hour away from UAH, her family can see her and she can be out of the house as well, rather than being in her back yard or being five hours away.”
And as for the tattoo? During games, it’ll probably go back under cover going forward.
“I think I’m going to go with the longsleeve undershirt,” Jennings said. “I still plan to cover it up.”