Archdeacon: Finding solace in basketball after Oregon District terror

Kasey Hughes finds comfort from game, teammates

Credit: Steven Schuster Baldwin Wallace

Credit: Steven Schuster Baldwin Wallace

Sometimes the best medicine knocks you right on your rear end.

There was just 2:05 left in Wednesday night’s back-and-forth contest between Baldwin Wallace, the No. 12 ranked NCAA Division III women’s basketball team, and crosstown rival John Carroll, which had won their first match-up three weeks earlier by six points.

This time Baldwin Wallace led by two, but JCU seemed about to tie it up when the ball came deep inside to mostly-unstoppable Olivia Nagy, the Blue Streaks’ 6-foot-2 center, who only had BW’s 5-foot-4 point guard Kasey Hughes defending her.

Six rows up in the Ursprung Gymnasium stands, Kevin Hughes, a Springboro attorney and Kasey’s gold-shirted, gold-shoed dad, was certain what was about to happen.

“I knew when their 6-2 girl was up against my 5-foot-4 kid, that big girl was gonna lose – every time,” he later said with a grin.

And yep, father knows best.

As Nagy turned, Kasey pressed tight and unmovable and was bowled over, drawing the offensive foul.

She was beaming as her teammates pulled her up from the floor and patted her on the back. It was one of several big plays she made on the night and then, with just 21 second left and the game again hanging on a two-point balance, she hit two pressurized free throws.

That helped set up the 80-77 Baldwin Wallace victory.

“She’s just a grind it out player who lifts everyone else,” JCU coach Kelly Morrone said of Hughes. “She’s the heartbeat of their team. And you can tell from the reaction of the crowd, she gets the most cheers when she scores.”

The Yellow Jacket fans know what she has done for their team for four straight years.

And now they are learning what the team is doing for the 22-year-old Springboro High School grad since that horrific night in the Oregon District just over six months ago.

“This is good medicine for her,” said teammate Riley Schill, who led BW with 14 points, while Kasey added 12. “Just being around this team and especially these girls, we have something special this year. All the love we have for each other shows in our record.”

After Saturday’s win at Capital, the Yellow Jackets are 21-2 and lead the Ohio Athletic Conference standings.

“I need to be somewhere that makes me happy now and this school and this team do that,” Kasey said after the game. “This is my last season. I want to win the OAC. I want a ring.”

She was talking about one for her finger, not the kind that ended up a viral video showing her and her friend Camm trapped in a Fifth Street doorway next to Ned Peppers Bar as the carnage unfolded right in front of them last Aug. 4.

When the gunman – clad in black body armor and rapid firing a modified AR-15 semi-automatic weapon began his assault in the popular downtown Dayton entertainment district just past 1 a.m. – Kasey said two people standing right in front of her outside Ned’s were shot dead.

She froze and said Camm – also an area athlete, but someone Kasey chose not to further identify because she said that’s what her best friend wants – grabbed her and pulled into a nearby doorway.

“I’d be dead if Camm wasn’t there,” she said quietly.

Nine people were killed and 27 more were injured in the gunman’s rampage.

The toll would have been higher, but he was killed – after running in front of Camm and Kasey’s hiding spot – by police bullets just as he was about to burst through the front door of Ned’s a few feet from the young women.

A Ring doorbell camera captured Camm with her arms wrapped around the terror-stricken Kasey, who also was holding the hand of a young woman sitting at their feet. The 90-second black and white footage has no sound, but still spoke volumes and, once posted by the Dayton Daily News, was shared worldwide.

At one point you can see Camm on the phone with Kasey’s mom, Jennifer Hisel.

When she couldn’t reach her dad, who was already asleep, Kasey had phoned her mom and tried to talk. But she was hyperventilating and sobbing and could utter just a few clear phrases.

She remembers saying: “Tell Khloe and Kris I love them.” It was a reference to her 11-year-old sister and 19-year-old brother, both of whom she thought she might never see again.

And then she blurted: “He’s trying to kill us!”

That’s when Camm took the phone and she and Jennifer set up a meeting place if the two could escape.

“Finally, we saw a policeman in front of us wrapping up people and he said ‘You guys are good,’” Kasey said. “I stepped out and turned to my left and he (the gunman) was there. He was on the ground and there were three cops on him.”

Turning the other way and still in her platform heels, she and Camm headed west out of the Oregon District:

“There was blood everywhere and bodies and people crying. Camm kept saying, ‘Keep your head up!’ But I’m like a super-aware person normally and I started looking at everything.”

On the way to meet Jennifer – who Kasey said had pulled into a gas station on Main Street – the young, disoriented women briefly lost their way, stopped to comfort other terrified people and once hid behind a car because they feared there might be another shooter.

Now, six months later, Kasey is still trying to distance herself from the shooter and the deadly scene that unfolded before her

It’s been a long and arduous journey. She’s been seeing a trauma counselor since the day after the shooting occurred, sees a psychiatrist once a month, takes special medication and has found real strength in the embrace of her family.

Some of her very best “medicine” has been being back at Baldwin Wallace, the private liberal arts school of nearly 3,000 students in Berea, where she is a top student majoring in public relations and is planning to go to law school, the editor of the school newspaper, is involved in BW’s Center for Innovation and Growth, and is a four-year starter on the Yellow Jackets basketball team.

After the shooting occurred, her parents called veteran head coach Cheri Harrer and one of her assistants to inform them what had happened. Immediately, the BW players and coaches began texting and contacting Kasey via social media.

“We wanted to make sure she knew we were here for her and that we loved her,” Harrer said.

And once Kasey returned, the team lived up to that assurance.

“This season has just been an incredible experience,” Kasey said. “I’ve been on winning teams before, but this time, being around my teammates, I really cleared my mind and it was hard to think about negative things.”

Her eyes began to glisten and, after a pause, she added in little more than a whisper:

“I‘ve only thought about them at night…when I’m alone.”

‘I would have died’

The morning after the victory over John Carroll – after a significant overnight snowfall – Kasey made her way to the Lou Higgins Center, BW’s athletic complex, to talk about the past six months. She’d done so publicly just once before with BW assistant sports information director Louie Abounader.

Although nicely dressed, she excused her appearance:

“I didn’t really try hard on my outfit today, but I’m actually a big fashion person. I always dress up and my teammates make fun of me. I show up for film in my outfit and boots and they’re all in sweatpants.

“But I’m like, ‘You better dress up because you never know who you’re going to meet.”

She was looking her photo best that fateful night when she met the gunman, too.

“We had taken family pictures that night, so I’d done my hair and my makeup and everything,” she said. “Camm texted me and said, ‘Hey, you want to go out?’ And I asked my dad and he said he didn’t care.”

They went to the Hole in the Wall bar on Fifth Street, had a good time and then decided to visit Ned Peppers next door, but found a line of 20 people or so waiting to get in. As they were about to head to the back of it, the shooting began.

Although she said she comes from a family where some people are “huge gun people” and she knows the sound of gunfire, she said she didn’t make the association at first and then froze.

And the latter response has since bothered her.

After all, her entire life she’d never been one to hold back or stand still:

•As a little kid she said she was kicked out of ballet class because “I just didn’t take it seriously. I was running around the stage during competitions, disrupting other kids. Finally, one of the instructors told my parents I wasn’t welcome back.”

•At Springboro High, her reputation was that of “a tough girl. My coaches joked I’d run through a brick wall to win if I had to.”

•Once at Baldwin Wallace, she became known, Schill noted, for her “constant energy” and “pesky, in-your-face defense. As soon as I met her I was glad she was on my team and I didn’t have to play against her.”

Then came her inability to move when the shooting began.

“When I started seeing a counselor, what bothered me was that my brain wasn’t aware that I was looking at someone who could have killed me,” Kasey said. “I froze and I felt so pathetic. If I’d been on my own, I would have died.

“But there’s a lot of what-ifs and we talked through them. If I hadn’t froze, Camm couldn’t have grabbed me. And what if she pulled me one way and I’d pulled the other?”

Once she got to her mom’s car that night, they drove to Kasey’s dad’s house, where the family congregated.

“You just want to hold her, but it was awful,” Kevin said as his eyes brimmed with tears. “She was sobbing and couldn’t breathe. She was dry heaving and throwing up. She did that for the entire night.

“There a lot about that night I didn’t know. And I’m not sure I should have, but I went down there (the Oregon District) just to see what she had experienced.

“I found the door frame where they were standing and there were bullet holes on the right side of it, head high. On the left side there were bullet holes knee high.That’s when it hit me how intimately she was involved in this.”

And visiting Fifth Street made him think of the Dayton police officers who stopped the carnage:

“I’d like to meet each one of them and hug them,” he said. “It’s amazing what they did. If they hadn’t …my kid wouldn’t be here. I’m convinced of that. Those guys are just heroes.”

A few days after the shooting, Kasey and Camm headed to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for an already-planned, week’s vacation with Kasey’s maternal grandparents.

“That’s my happy spot, we go every year,” Kasey said. “We go to the beach and the sand dunes and sometimes we go on a tour and see the wild horses. There’s a ton of things to do.”

But this time simple events triggered flashbacks.

Seeing white caps on the ocean at night and going out for ice cream after dark with her grandmother brought on sheer moments of panic. Since then, she suddenly felt “just so sad” while watching an old episode of Friends on Netflix.

“I don’t really have an answer to what or when it comes,” she said. “There’s no way to totally decompress from something that takes a chunk of your heart.”

‘She’s going to be a rock star’

Coming out of Springboro High, she said Wright State showed some interest in her soccer while both Ohio Dominican and Union College in Tennessee offered her partial basketball scholarships.

Lindsay Meeks, one of her assistant basketball coaches at Springboro, had played for Harrer at Baldwin Wallace and suggested she take a look at her alma mater.

“When I came up here I was like ‘Wow! This is an amazing school!’“ Kasey said.

“I was walking across campus with the coaches and I had a come-to moment. I was like, ‘I can see myself here.’ I felt a really strong community sense and I got to meet people that first day. I met my advisor who ended up taking me to Germany three years later and has become one of my really good friends.

“This has turned out to be the perfect school for me.”

Along with hoops success at Baldwin Wallace – she’s now started 96 of her 97 college games – she blossomed off the court. She’s a two-time All-Academic Ohio Athletic Conference selection and this past summer – on her own – she lined up an internship at a public relations firm in Austin, Texas.

She said she’s in the process of applying to various law schools:

“My goal was to do crisis communication work, but now I’m thinking I want to do something where I can have a positive effect on people whether it’s helping with immigration services or civil rights or something like that.”

Harrer is convinced that whatever Kasey does, “she’s going to be a rock star.”

Last Saturday was Senior Day and Kasey’s family came to celebrate with her, as did Camm.

The two went to a local tattoo shop and each got a small “937” inked on her arm.

“That’s the Dayton area code and we wanted to get something that meant something to us,” Kasey said. “It was an easy way to remind us of home and all we’ve been through.”

While remembrance is one thing, returning to the Oregon District is another.

“I don’t think I’m going to go back there,” she said quietly. “It’s not that I have anything against it, but I compare it to when you get sick from eating a certain food. You can never eat that food again.”

After months of feeling she wasn’t ready to do so, she explained why she’s finally sharing her thoughts now: “I don’t want people to feel bad for me or to treat me any differently, but I want people to be aware that this could happen.

“Everybody talks about how low the percentages are for it happening, but all I can say is that it happened to me.”

And while she was so hard on herself early on for “freezing up,” she’s actually done just the opposite in pretty quick fashion.

“Not to toot my own horn, but I don’t know a lot of people who could have seen what I saw and then lived to go back to college again right away,” she said. “I’m not the toughest person by any means, but I’m working through it.

“And instead of feeling vulnerable now, I feel empowered. I’m thinking that maybe I was meant to be there that night. And now I think I need to talk about my experiences. Now I have something to say.”

It about getting knocked on your rear end.

And it’s about getting up again.

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