Disease forces former Cardinal into coaching role

Kyleigh Jones has been playing through pain her entire life. 

Sometimes the pain is so bad she can barely eat. Sometimes she can barely do anything at all.

Now Jones has been forced to take a step back from the game she loves, which may be more painful than the effects of Crohn's disease.

"If I had the choice, I'd still be out there," she said. "I'd be on the court. I'd be playing."

Jones, a two-year letter winner for the Ball State University women's basketball team, is no longer a player. She was forced to the sidelines for good after consulting with her coaches and doctors in the off-season.

"Ultimately, the coaches and doctors didn't feel that it was healthy for my body to play," Jones said.

Crohn's disease, a chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease, is the catalyst for her health problems.

Being less active is what Jones attributes her health problems to. A four-sport star in high school, she was always active. Jones had never been injured until her senior year of high school, and since then, the effects of her Crohn's disease have increased dramatically.

Jones was injured in her first two years of college, which has contributed greatly to her current health problems. One of those injuries caused her to redshirt. Last year, she came down with mononucleosis and was unable to play a large portion of the season.

"I had flare-ups in high school, but I could always still practice," she said. "When I got here and got sick, it would be ten times worse than before."

The team has been supportive of Jones from the beginning. Her teammates knew what she was going through.

"We knew going in that she's had some medical problems that have been inhibiting her," senior forward Danielle Gratton said. "We had a feeling that her role might be limited in some way."

As a player, Jones has been limited to zero participation. Instead, she has taken a role as a coach.

Coach Kelly Packard decided to add Jones to the staff as a student-assistant coach this year.

"I had really one goal when it became apparent that she wasn't going to be actually able to compete," Packard said. "That was to keep her as closely tied to the program as possible."

The players and coaches, as well as Jones, could not have been happier about the decision.

Senior guard Audrey McDonald, who has known Jones since high school, might have been more excited than anyone else. The two played together in high school, in college and even roomed together as freshmen.

"I figured she wouldn't want to just walk away or even could walk away," McDonald said. "I know I couldn't."

With Jones' role on the team now defined, it became a question of how the team, mostly made up of Jones' former teammates, would respond to her as a coach. 

Packard seemed wary of how the players would react, but Jones was more worried about the incoming players. Freshman guard Mercedes Miller is one of those newcomers, and she accepted Jones as a coach from day one.

"I was excited that she could still be with the team and teach us things that we don't see," Miller said. "Especially me, coming in as a freshman, I don't see things that she does."

This immediate respect from the new players was a surprise to Jones.

"I didn't expect that because they were new and hadn't played with me, but they take it just like I'm another coach," Jones said. "If I tell them something, they do it."

Jones' coaching style has been greatly impacted by her relationship with the players.

"She brings the players mentality into it," junior forward Emily Maggert said. "Sometimes coaches are always worked up on Xs and Os, but Kyleigh thinks about how we are feeling and doing on a more personal level."

On the court, players and coaches alike point to missing her energy and basketball sense.

"Ky Jo in general has an essence about her," Gratton said. "We miss her personality on the court."

Some of that personality can often be seen on the sideline during games. Jones has taken the energy she can no longer spend on the court to her position on the side of the court.

She is always high-fiving, chest-bumping and cheering from the sidelines in between giving advice to players.

Jones has said that she wants to take this experience and apply it to her future.

"I ultimately want to get into coaching," she said. "I love the sport enough and I just want to be able to help somebody like I was helped growing up." 

Jones' teammates all voiced their support for her and her coaching future, unanimously agreeing that a career in coaching would be perfect for her.

As a result of her involvement and the support of the players, Jones has turned her disappointments into happier moments.

"It's always positive," she said. "You can always learn from a situation. There is always something you can do to make it positive."


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