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Whitfield Learns It's Only a Game

Newport Harbor junior able to join sister on Make-A-Wish excursion and get back in time for playoff game, a 57-39 loss to Edison.

February 21, 2003|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Jillianne Whitfield, a junior at Newport Harbor, had waited her entire high school career for a playoff game.

By the time it arrived, she had learned an important lesson with the clarity one gets having spent a week on your younger sister's Make-A-Wish trip.

Whitfield and her teammates lost, 57-39, to Huntington Beach Edison in the first round of their Southern Section Division II-AA girls' basketball game.

Earlier in the day, Whitfield and her family were disembarking a cruise ship in Florida. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Orange County had granted Hannah Whitfield, 7, her wish of a family vacation to the Bahamas.

Hannah is about halfway through a three-year chemotherapy treatment program for leukemia, but has been in remission since last March. A few weeks ago, when Jillianne thought the playoffs would conflict with the trip, she told Hannah that she wanted to stay behind.

"Everyone was telling me 'Go on the cruise,' " said Jillianne, who averaged a team-high 11.2 points. "I was having major problems with that. My team has been working for such a long time to get this far, and I felt I would be letting them down if I didn't stay with them. But if I didn't go on the cruise, I would be missing a lot with my family.

"I was pretty conflicted."

Her mother, Colleen, said Jillianne had been passionate about basketball since the third grade. "She was crying for weeks about the decision," Colleen Whitfield said. "She was so torn."

Fortunately, the Disney cruise that began Saturday ended Thursday, and she was in the lineup with three hours to spare. She had seven points and seven rebounds against Edison, which is ranked No. 22 by The Times.

"I'm glad I went, even though I missed some practice time," said the 16-year-old, a little wiser after the trip.

"At the very end of the cruise," Colleen Whitfield said, "I think she knew that basketball was just a game."

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