Cheering for the comback kid

BY JAMES JUETT
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT

 

RUSSELL Standing at halfcourt in Rupp Arena is a dream for many athletes across Kentucky.

Russell High School cheerleader Baylee Booth is usually the one leading the cheers, but on this March Saturday in Lexington, the tables were turned, as she was the recipient of the adulation.

For Booth it was a long strange journey there to pick up her plaque as the UK HealthCare Comeback Athlete of the Year. Booth wasn’t rebounding from a bad season on the court or field. The senior had battled back from something much more challenging.

Learning how to walk and how to talk and pretty much learning how to do almost everything over again, is what the 15-yearold, that was already accomplished enough to be a varsity cheerleader in her freshman year, had to do. Booth had enjoyed being in Henry R. Evans Stadium and Marvin Meredith Gymnasium cheering on her beloved Red Devils.

Then on June 19, 2014, Booth was involved in a serious wreck in Flatwoods. After responding to the accident scene on Ky. 207, a paramedic with the Greenup County EMS realized the severity of the situation and called a helicopter to fly her to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington where she was in a coma for a week. Consequently, Booth was seen hundreds of times last year in a commercial for St. Mary’s’ showing gratitude to her medical team.

“It was pretty cool.  I didn't want to, like, fall," Booth said, of what she thought when her name was announced in front of the large crowd at Rupp Arena. “I was really honored.” It was edition 100 of the Kentucky Sweet 16 State Basketball Tournament, but the inaugural year for Booth’s award.

“I thought it was really sweet and incredible,” is what Booth said she thought when she found out that her cheerleading coach, Regina Rice, had nominated her for the award. “She really has helped me out so much.” Cheerleading was a vital rehabilitation tool for Booth, now 18, and a four-year varsity cheerleader. Amazingly she never missed a game.

“We talked about the importance that team sports played in her recovery, and how ironic it was that she won that award. It was the cheerleading that was a crucial part of her recovery because she couldn’t remember what day it was,” Booth’s mother, Leslie Hicks, said.

“She had no short-term memory. She could remember her cheers. She could remember the motions and that’s when her doctors, and coach (Christa Campbell then) and therapists all decided cheerleading was going to be a part of her rehabilitation. For her to get that award, it kind of ties it all together in a nice little package,” Hicks said. “It was nice for everyone that put forth the effort to get her where she is.

“There were 64 finalists, I think,” Hicks said, adding “She dedicated the award to everyone that had supported her in the community, because without their efforts she wouldn’t be where she is today for sure.”

Just a few months after her brush with the reminder of mortality, Booth was named sophomore princess for Russell High School’s 2014 Homecoming. Her friend, Bayden Suman, accompanied Booth as sophomore prince. Suman has also had his share of medical problems and suffered numerous seizures. Recently Booth was there showing support for Suman before his successful surgery.

Booth was also just featured April 1 on “Scholastic Ball Report” on Lexington’s CW affiliate. She appeared with Kentucky Mr. Basketball 2017 Taveion Hollingsworth, a senior from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Booth was even given a tour of Cal’s Cats locker room at Rupp Arena.

Booth uses her tragedy to help others and the Facebook page has evolved into support for other traumatic brain injury survivors. Booth and others are corresponding with victims and family members of those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries to offer them support.

“I want to thank everybody, the coaches, everybody that prayed, got involved. It really means a lot,” Booth said.

After graduation, she will attend Morehead State University where she’ll major in broadcasting and theater.

 

Baylee Booth in UK Wildcats locker room
ABOVE: Baylee Booth stands in the Kentucky Wildcats locker room at Rupp Arena. She was named the UK HealthCare Comeback Athlete of the Year. Booth, a cheerleader at Russell High School, recovered from a horrendous accident. BELOW: Baylee Booth is pictured with Bayden Summan, a classmate who had a recent surgery.

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