Stabbing survivor on the rebound
TAMPA - LeRia Jenrette felt a sharp pain in her lower right side. Reaching toward the small of her back, the Tampa Bay Tech starting point guard's hand revealed blood. That's when she knew she was in trouble. Jenrette had been stabbed and she thought of only one thing. "I'm too young and I still want to play basketball," Jenrette told her friends that were gathered with her.It was New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2008, a night Jenrette thought she would spend celebrating with teammates. Instead she would spend it and the following six days in a hospital. A little more than a year ago, Jenrette survived a stabbing that nearly paralyzed her and robbed her of everything she holds dear, mostly basketball. As Tampa Bay Tech begins defense of its district title in the Class 5A-8 tournament this week, Jenrette, Hillsborough County's leader in assists, bears a 3-inch scar from the incident, but put it behind her with a focus on her team. "She's a real humble kid," Tech coach Reggie Lawrence said. "She wants to get better and she does what it takes to get her team better. If that means sacrificing points from her stats, she'll do that. She's really all about winning." Thirteen months ago, however, she was all about surviving. Jenrette had gathered with a group of teammates and friends near the University Mall to celebrate the coming New Year. As the clock ticked closer and closer to 2009, the crowd grew larger and larger, with a lot of unfamiliar faces. Suddenly some pushing and shoving evolved into an all-out fight with Jenrette caught somewhere in the middle. When her friends discovered Jenrette had been stabbed, they piled into a car to rush her to the hospital. Along the way, they spotted a police cruiser in a convenience store parking lot where the officer summoned an ambulance. The friends waited with the officer to provide details while Jenrette was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital. "We were all crying, but she wasn't," Titans senior forward Shani Fareed said. "She just kept talking about basketball. It's the only thing that came out of her mouth. She was calm and everyone else was crying. Every word that came out of her mouth was about basketball." No arrest was ever made for the attack. Jenrette remained hospitalized for a week, her entire right side swollen from nerve damage. Every little movement sent sharp pains down her side. The fact that she had feeling , however painful, was a welcome indication she'd suffered no paralysis. Had the blade gone an inch in another direction, doctors told Jenrette she would have been paralyzed from the waist down. An inch in the opposite direction? "It would have hit my liver and they said I could have bled to death," Jenrette said. Jenrette missed nine games before returning with a protective vest near the end of the regular season and just before the district tournament, which they won by beating Armwood, a team that beat Tech during her absence. The Titans made it to the second round of the playoffs, falling to Wesley Chapel, a run Lawrence said wouldn't have happened without Jenrette. "She's a difference-maker," Lawrence said. "She definitely gained a greater appreciation. I think by sitting out and not being able to play, she developed a better passion for the game." Since the stabbing, Jenrette doesn't go out with groups of people - not to the movies, not to friends' houses to hang out. Her friends come to her. Her safe places are home with family and on the basketball court. "This taught me that I have to make the right choices and be smart and how I need to take leadership of myself," Jenrette said. "And I want to play basketball more than ever. I'm hungrier now to just get in and play."
Reporter Katherine Smith can be reached at (813) 259-7860.