BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL)- In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Tori Ryan, a senior girls basketball and softball player at Tennessee High School.
“It’s hard to deal with but we’re getting through it,” Tori Ryan said.
It goes a long way at Tennessee High.
“I just don’t want us to get quarantined again and it’s really important that we stay healthy,” Ryan said.
The girls basketball team is finally back from a team-wide quarantine, thankful to be out on the court.
“So right now at our games we have just immediate family that are able to come, we’re able to practice, every day we come we’re just thankful,” Tennessee High head girls basketball coach Kim Bright said.
“We just keep getting back up and try to get after it try to cherish every day I know we’re running today we’re out of shape cause of quarantine but I’m just glad we’re at practice,” Ryan said.
Staying positive is senior Tori Ryan’s trademark.
“Everyday’s a blessing especially with the teammates I have I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Ryan said.
It’s something she learned from fellow teammate Gabby Kennedy.
“I would walk in and Gabby would be like ‘hey Tori’ and I’d be like ‘hey’ and she’s like ‘you’re gonna have a great day’ and I’m like ‘yes I am because you started that great day’,” Ryan said.
It’s a rare thing to be able to make another person’s day special, and Ryan knows it.
“She always left notes for me pumping me up like ‘you’ve got this you’re gonna play centerfield you’re gonna do great’,” Ryan said.
But the last note she got was about Kennedy, not from her, and it changed her life.
“It was very tough I was actually at a softball tournament and my friend Mac, she texted me and was like did you hear and I was like what do you mean and she was like Gabby was murdered and I literally was hysterical in shock it was very painful,” Ryan said.
Kennedy, just 17, her mother Kristina Robinson and Kristina’s estranged husband all died in a murder-suicide in October. Police say Kristina’s husband shot both girls before shooting himself.
“It was hard to step on that softball field and keep playing and I knew I needed to keep playing and play the tournament out and after that I grieved that whole day I’m still grieving but it’s getting better by the day,” Ryan said.
She misses Kennedy.
“She’d send me texts and stuff saying ‘hey hope you have a great day I’m thinking about you praying for you love you’ just the simple things like that I’m still waiting for that text to come but I know she’s in a better place,” Ryan said.
As she read that heartbreaking text, news spread throughout Bristol. A candlelight vigil was held the following evening at the softball field.
“Those were hard days, bouncing back was really tough but I knew my teammates and friends were there for me,” Ryan said.
They know Kennedy is still with them spreading joy, and Ryan is still finding ways to honor her.
“We wrote her initials and then her number for softball and then on the other side her quote is on there, we all put an extra little thing and I put love you Gabs,” Ryan said.
Not just the toes, but from head to toe.
“We’re gonna make a shirt and I was like ok I’m all in for it, I know we all said we want it to be yellow cause that was her color we didn’t want it to be more about what happened to her we want it to be her,” Ryan said.
Yellow shirts with her favorite quote in purple: ‘walk the earth and leave footprints of love,’ in purple- the color for domestic violence awareness.
“She’s always there on our shoes in her honor, the shirt and the shoes I’m wearing them every game,” Ryan said.
“A lot of things for our school our community and our team we’re dedicating our season to her so Tori’s been at the forefront of that initiative,” Bright said.
Her leadership showed as her and the girls tried their best to get back to normal.
“We were there for each other and if we would break down we had someone right there waiting for us to say it’s ok we’re gonna get through this next drill we’re gonna do great,” Ryan said.
“One of the best kids I’ve ever coached and I’ve been around a little while her teammates love her she was voted captain she’s a star athlete in two sports,” Bright said.
Ryan is a key piece of the basketball team but softball is where she excels. She’s committed to play at King University.
“I’m really blessed, I had to really work for that and actually Gabby helped me with the video I sent them and she was the first one to say I knew you could do it even though some people doubted me she was still so excited for me, it’s a blessing to be able to continue my career at the collegiate level but also in her honor,” Ryan said.
It’s like Kennedy is still with them, and maybe she is.
“It’s gonna be very important to bring her positivity into the season and it’s very important to keep her alive, this year is for her like we’re gonna win some games for her like big time,” Ryan said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.