Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 28, 2013

Neeley sisters inspire coaches, teammates as Christian role models

By Josh Sigler
Tribune sportswriter

Greentown — For most people, a New Year’s resolution is usually some variation of a proclamation to live a better, healthier, more virtuous life.

Studies have shown that less than 10 percent of people will make good on that resolution for a full 365 days.

Eastern seniors Brittany and Bethany Neeley aren’t like most people.

At the start of 2012, the three-sport-athlete twin sisters made it their mission to read the Bible cover to cover in one calendar year. They mapped out a course that allowed them to read a portion of the Bible and then study that portion, reading the final portion of the scripture on Dec. 31, seeing the resolution through to the very final day of the calendar year.

Just another testament to the character and perseverance of a pair of girls who’ve left a deep, lasting impression on their community.

“That’s dedication. That’s, to the core, a dedication to faith,” Eastern girls basketball coach Jeremy Dexter said. “They do a great job of making every decision they make through morals and values and faith. It really has trickled down, even to me. From my perspective, it’s pushed me.”

At a young age, the deeply devout sisters were dealt circumstances that would’ve left no one surprised had they strayed from the righteous path.

Their dad, Brian Neeley, died when they were just 7 years old, leaving them to live the vast majority of their lives without the guidance of a true father figure.

Yet, the duo shows no bitterness for the adversity handed to them long before they were ever able to understand the magnitude of it, choosing instead to be thankful for the multitude of blessings bestowed upon them.

“It doesn’t even faze us,” Bethany said. “Without God, our lives wouldn’t be like this. We could be really bitter and upset about things, but we just try to enjoy every day like it might be our last.”

The sisters have been turning heads on the athletic surface since middle school, rewriting the cross country, track and field and basketball record books along the way.

That was about the same time they accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Dexter sees a direct correlation between the starting line of their journey with God and the voyage they’ve taken in reaching great heights in realm of athletics.

“When you have the faith they have and instill that within yourself, it’s going to bring those values and work ethic that’s going to then push you to be dedicated enough to achieve the heights you want to achieve on the athletic floor,” Dexter said. “I think that faith, on the fact of being diligent in that, has taught them the work ethic needed and the time that goes into being great. It’s helped them build their values and work ethic up as strong as they are.”

Their ability to witness has had a profound affect on Dexter, who led his first-ever out loud prayer in front of the team before its sectional championship win over Tipton.

Brittany often leads the basketball team in pregame prayer, and the sisters routinely have been seen with words such as ‘Faith” written on their arms during the season. Showing perspective rarely seen in children their age, it’s all an attempt to make people aware of their larger purpose during this life.

“We try to convey that basketball is more than just on the court,” Brittany said. “The character and the person you are is more important off the court than it is on the court, so that’s what we’re trying to teach, that when we leave, [teammates] can continue to follow that. [Sophomore] Jenny Keith and I alternate saying the team prayer every day before practice. So, there’s underclassmen following in the footsteps, too.”

The sisters played an integral role in four straight cross country sectional titles, their careers culminating in leading the Comets to a seventh-place finish in this year’s state finals.

They beat the likes of Fishers, Westfield, Avon, Bloomington South and Valparaiso that day, but only the top five teams make the medal stand, leaving the squad disappointed as they walked off the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.

Falling short of a goal after countless hours of hard work and countless miles of running put in to prepare for that moment was hard to swallow for the Neeleys.

But, as the two lead Eastern into the Class 2A basketball state finals Saturday against defending state champion Evansville Mater Dei, they are starting to understand that maybe God has a plan for them that differs from their own.

In reality, they’ve known that all along.

“In the middle of the [basketball] season when we were losing some games, we asked, ‘Why aren’t we winning? We’re devoted. We’re always staying after.’ We weren’t getting answers to our questions,” Brittany said. “Now that we’ve gotten to the postseason, everything is starting to come together. I was telling Coach that we were heartbroken when we didn’t medal in cross country. That’s all I wanted in high school was to medal in cross country. We didn’t really have the answers as to why. Now that we’ve gotten to the postseason in basketball, I told Coach I honestly believe the reason we didn’t medal in cross was because something better was coming in basketball.”

Before the tipoff of Saturday’s contest, Brittany will tell her sister she loves her, just like she would before the start in any other game or race. She will then give it everything she has physically so that she can fulfill the message in her favorite passage of scripture: II Timothy 4:7.

“‘I have fought a good fight. I finished the race. I have kept the faith,’” Brittany recalled from memory. “It translates a little better to running, but you can obviously relate it to the game of basketball, too.”