Arch: Fort Loramie hoop standout inspired by brother

Thankfully, Carla Siegel ended up a little wrong about Darian Rose.

It wasn’t until the end of last June that the Fort Loramie girls basketball coach finally received the highlight reel from her team’s glorious run to the Ohio Division IV state championship three months earlier.

“My sister came over to my house and we were watching the highlights and that’s when I saw the picture of Darian, with a huge smile on her face, holding up our trophy and then she was kissing it,” Siegel said in a voice that began to break.

“I’m going to get teary-eyed here,” she whispered.

And the next thing you knew, her eyes were brimming over as she got up from the desk she was sitting at in her fifth-grade classroom at Fort Loramie Elementary School and grabbed a tissue from a box on a nearby counter.

Darian was the junior star of that 2013 team and would end up the greatest scorer in Fort Loramie girls basketball history, but the day she watched her 5-foot-8 guard — beaming and seemingly care-free — on that highlight tape, Siegel said she looked at her sister and said:

“I will never have that player back.”

She believed that because of what she had witnessed during her team’s basketball sessions earlier in the summer break.

Darian, as Siegel put it, suddenly had turned into “a different person.”

The coach didn’t know what was going on and the star player, quiet even in good times, was shouldering a troubling weight with fear … and silence.

“On Monday of that one week, everything was fine,” Siegel said. “Darian and I talked about her recruiting visit to St. Bonaventure. They had offered a scholarship. Ball State was interested too, and we had a great talk.

“Then Tuesday she showed up and she was acting weird and I didn’t know why. We played a summer league game and she played horribly. I took her out and she just looked at me and went and sat at the end of the bench. Usually she sits right next to me because she wants to go right back in.

“I was thinking, ‘Did I say something wrong yesterday?’ I had no clue. That night she let me know she wasn’t going to be at our camp the next day. The little girls that come love her and right then I knew something wasn’t right.”

Darian had another off night in a summer league game that Thursday and finally Siegel said she pulled her aside: “I thought it was basketball and picking a college that was getting to her and I told her it would all work out. And that’s when she just put her head down and started to cry. Pretty soon she was bawling and right then I was thinking, ‘Oh God, this isn’t good.’

“And that’s when she looked at me and said her brother had cancer.”

Connor Rose, two years younger than his sister and a budding three-sport star himself at Fort Loramie High, had been getting a routine physical when doctors discovered a problem.

Further tests revealed a mass in his abdomen — a rare form of cancer, “neuroendocratic paraganglioma,” Darian said — that had spread to a couple of organs.

The news was a numbing blow to Darian, who, as Siegel puts it, “is family first in everything.”

Bouncing back

“You can see our barns right over there,” Darian said as she pointed out the window of the otherwise deserted Fort Loramie High cafeteria the other day after classes.

She and 16-year-old Connor — wearing his red letter jacket — were sitting at a table discussing her basketball, his cancer fight and the ever-growing bond between the two of them.

They — and now 8-year-old sister Jaden, too — have grown up on that grain farm just outside of their small Shelby County town.

Sports were big with the family and there were times their parents — Ron and Sue — joined them in backyard games each summer.

“Almost every night it would be Mom and me against Dad and Darian playing baseball in the back yard,” Connor remembered.

Darian smiled at the memory: “He and I would play one-on-one at the basket in our driveway, too. Fights would start after the games. We were pretty competitive.”

A year ago this time, Connor, just a freshman, was the starting shortstop on the Fort Loramie baseball team. He had been the JV team’s quarterback and a guard on the JV basketball team, too.

Darian was a three-sport athlete, as well. She played volleyball and softball, but was known everywhere for her basketball.

She played AAU ball for Dayton Metro and would be on the varsity basketball team all four of her years at Fort Loramie. Three times she helped guide the Redskins to the state tournament.

They won the crown a year ago. This season, with Darian averaging 20.5 points and being named the Division IV co-Player of the Year with Jenna Burdette of Reedsville Eastern, she led the Redskins to state again.

Fort Loramie lost to top-ranked Reedsville, 68-59. Burdette, who is headed to the University of Dayton, scored 38 points.

Darian had 26 points and 12 rebounds and ended her prep career with 1,648 points. That shattered the old Fort Loramie record held by Sarah DeLoye, who went on to play at Bowling Green, by nearly 300 points.

“That record had stood for 20 years, so I figure Darian may be one of those once-every-20-years-type players,” Siegel said.

Sue Rose said when her daughter would have an especially good game or break a record (she holds 14 at Fort Loramie), she would get congratulatory cards from people in the town.

Siegel tells of little girls in Fort Loramie idolizing her and when they play basketball they pretend they are Darian Rose.

But the best thing that happened in this past 26-3 season, Siegel said, was that “by the end of the year I felt I had her back.”

The old Darian Rose had returned.

“Part of it was that Connor’s prognosis seemed a little better and part of it was that basketball was just a good release for her. Those minutes she’s on the floor playing she’s not thinking about anything else. She’s a competitor. When she is on the floor, the only thing on her mind is winning.”

Range of emotions

When the tumors were first discovered, Connor said: “I couldn’t believe it. I was just 16 and I felt healthy.”

By mid-July, Darian said doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center tried unsuccessfully to remove the main mass in his abdomen: “There was a lot of blood loss and they couldn’t, so now they’re doing a different type of chemo for it.”

Dealing with the situation has been an emotional roller coaster, she said: “It changes daily. At first I was real panicky. Sometimes I’m all confident that he’s going to get better and the next day I’m scared. The day after that I might be babying him and the next day I fight with him like any brother and sister would do.

“The thing you have to know is that God is going to take care of him, I guess. You just have to realize it’s not in our hands and you just have to trust that.”

After that stomach surgery, Connor said he can no longer play contact sports. Although football and basketball are out, he has returned to the baseball team — with special padding over his surgical area — and said he has done some pitching.

Sue said Connor’s return to baseball has “lifted his spirits a lot.” And while most sports are out, he’s now gotten into fishing and hunting.

Connor said his dream is to one day “be cancer free.”

“That’s the No. 1 goal,” Darian said as she looked over at him, smiled and added: “And there are some people who live with this cancer the rest of their life, right?”

Connor shrugged.

“I never read anything like that,” he said quietly. “I know they say not many people get Stage IV. And mine is — so that’s not good, I know that.”

So much support

Siegel said one of the boys on the baseball team has sold “Pray for Connor” bracelets to raise money for the family.

“Some are red and some are (camouflage) colored,” she said with a grin. “In Fort Loramie we like our camo.”

She said her basketball team — which was putting on a September fundraiser for a trip to the heralded Classic in the Country prep tournament in northeast Ohio — expanded the idea to become a benefit for Connor, as well.

They sold barbecue chicken dinners and had a live and silent auction and the turnout, she said, was overwhelming: “We had hoped to sell 200 or 300 dinners to fund our trip, but we sold 1,150 that day.”

Businesses in the community donated items big and small for the auction and there was sports memorabilia from the likes of Pete Rose and Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert.

They even sold chances on $100 gas cards and then three of those five winners turned around and gave Connor the cards since he had just gotten his license.

“I had never been part of a fundraiser before and it was just an amazing experience,” Siegel said. “ I felt blessed to be able to see, first-hand, the goodness and the generosity — the true love — coming out of our small town and people from surrounding communities. too.”

It’s no wonder Darian feels a closeness to her hometown.

Even before Connor’s illness she didn’t want to go too far away — “about five hours tops,” she said — when picking a school. She calls herself “a homey girl” and talks about settling in Fort Loramie again after college.

St. Bonaventure was outside the five-hour window but she was intrigued because “they have a cool school, and D-I is awesome, you get to travel everywhere.”

Although the Bonnies offered her a full ride — while some other D-I schools shied away because of her height — she turned them down when her brother got sick.

“It was too far away and I want to be able to stop home randomly on Sundays and check on him,” she said. “And if he gets really sick, I want to be able to drop everything and come home for a week if I need to.”

Cleveland State showed interest, too, and so did Ball State, but she had another stipulation.

She wants to study nursing — in part because of the way she watched nurses help her brother and other patients — but said some colleges either don’t offer that or are reluctant to let student-athletes pursue that course of study because of the time-consuming work in hospitals students must do.

More recently she had been pursued by Ashland, Taylor, Ohio Wesleyan and Ohio Dominican, which had shown up at Fort Loramie’s regional final with Fayetteville-Perry to see another player and ended up watching her score 35 points in a victory.

About a week ago, Darian chose Ohio Dominican, a Division II school in Columbus. She will get a part-academic, part-athletic scholarship and will study pre-nursing.

“It’s close to home so I can get back here, but also they’ll all be able to come to my games — right?” she said.

She looked at her brother and he nodded.

And that made her beam.

It wasn’t that care-free smile she showed when she kissed the trophy. This one was full of care.

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