When Columbus School for Girls senior Haleigh Wilson and her mother, Tracy Davis, were visiting family in Columbus on July 2, 2010, they received devastating news that altered the course of their lives.
That day, a neighbor called to tell them their home in Montgomery, Ala., had burned down.
They quickly returned to Montgomery to salvage the few personal possessions that hadn't been destroyed by the fire and then moved in with family in Columbus.
After enrolling at CSG as a sophomore, Wilson was so overwhelmed and distraught over the changes in her life that she became quiet in school and quit playing basketball.
"When the fire happened, I lost everything, and it was hard to pick up my life and move it so far away," Wilson said. "I loved Alabama, and I really missed my friends and the warm weather there. It was hard for me to move here because I don't like the cold or snow, and it was hard finding a new group of friends at first.
"My dad stayed in Alabama, so I didn't get to see him much and it was a tough adjustment to move into a house with five people in it. I missed going to school with boys, too. I've played basketball since the second grade and I love it, but my attitude was off, and I didn't even want to play anymore."
After taking a year off from her favorite sport, Wilson began playing basketball again as a junior, and she's emerged as a team captain and the Unicorns' starting point guard as a senior.
"My dad is the one who taught me everything I know about basketball and he's the person who inspired me to play again, and I started playing again for him as much as I did it for myself," Wilson said. "Playing basketball has always been an escape for me, because it's so detailed and clinical that you can't focus on anything else and still do well at it. Basketball took my mind off of everything I was going through and helped me feel comfortable again."
First-year coach Lindsey Smith said she can't imagine where the Unicorns would be without Wilson's leadership, ball-handling and scoring.
Through 17 games, Wilson averaged a team-high 8.5 points for a squad that was scoring only 20.8 per game.
When her father, Steve Wilson, drove six hours from his new home in Chattanooga, Tenn., to watch Haleigh play for the first time this season, she scored a career-high 14 points during the Unicorns' 81-18 loss at Worthington Christian on Jan. 5.
"Haleigh's definitely a pivotal player for our young team," Smith said. "Haleigh's first step is extremely explosive and I haven't seen anyone who can hang with her during her first couple of steps. She breaks pressure with her speed and dribbling, and she can score in a number of different ways."
Under the direction of Smith, Wilson has made drastic changes to her diet and she's improved her skills so much that she's being recruited, according to Smith, to play at Ohio Wesleyan University.
"There's a McDonald's right by my house and I often would go there to eat once or twice a day," Wilson said. "Now, I drive a different way home so I won't go past it and be tempted to eat there. I've replaced the burgers and sweet tea that I always ordered with home cooking and water, and I feel like I have a lot more energy now."
Even though Wilson said she used to view the house fire as the worst moment in her life, she now considers it to be a blessing in disguise. She said the fire's cause wasn't determined.
"I'm so happy with the person I am today that I wouldn't change a thing that's happened in my life," Wilson said. "Going through all of that at a young age has made me appreciate the small things that I used to take for granted. I now realize that material items aren't important and I'm so grateful that no one in my family was hurt in the fire, because that's all that really matters.
"After moving to Columbus, I now have a really good relationship with my parents, and I've become a lot closer to the rest of my family, especially my grandmother (Diana Bridges). That's made everything I've gone through feel like it's been worth it."
Swimming team continues to roll
The swimming and diving team went 2-0 in a tri-meet Feb. 2, beating DeSales 187-102 and Shaker Heights Laurel 178-113.
Rachel Politi won both the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 18.63 seconds) and the 100 freestyle (55.53). She also combined with Annie Moosavian, Erin Balasky and Eleanor Smith to win the 200 free relay (1:46.19).
Balasky, Erin Smith, Jackie O'Donnell and Keiko Wilkins won the 200 medley relay (2:02.21) and Gabrielle Eismann won the 100 backstroke (1:05.77).
The Unicorns will compete in a Division II sectional Saturday, Feb. 9, at Columbus Academy. The winner of each event qualifies for the district meet Feb. 15 at Ohio State.
In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites. Divers do not compete until the district meet.
Last year, CSG was third (202) in the Academy sectional behind champion Granville (336) and second (291) at district behind the Blue Aces (475).
The Unicorns also tied Lexington for 14th (64) at state behind champion Gates Mills Hawken (360) as 45 teams scored.