Dawn Brown received the tragic news of Sierra’Li Wade’s passing just before dinner on Monday night.
At 8:45, Brown was on the phone with former Vol football player Chris Walker, who currently serves as UT’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes Chaplain. By 9:34, Walker and 15 other members of FCA were surrounding the Arkansas-Pine Bluff women’s basketball team to grieve with them, and pray over them.
“Nothing really prepares you for moments like this,” Brown said. “But one thing that we talked about yesterday in our little meeting space is that it was okay for us to grieve, and it was okay for us to cry because that’s a part of healing.
“I told them that we’re family, and that’s the great thing about being part of a team, that we don’t have to go trough these things by ourselves, we can go through these things together, and I think that they embraced that.”
Wade, a freshman guard for the Lions, was killed in her hometown of Lake Village, Arkansas on Monday afternoon in a shooting while playing basketball. According to Liz Chapman, a corporal in the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, another shooting victim faced injuries that were non-life threatening.
Chapman stated that police received a phone call at 5:58 p.m. saying that people had been shot at the park. Wade was transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.
“She just made a presence around you. She’s 5-foot-2, feisty, and never wanted to give up,” Brown said. “She pushed us, but she was that teammate that can no matter what was going on, she would make you laugh — make the coaches laugh, make you smile.”
“She was full of life,” senior forward Aiya El Hassan added about Wade. “She never gave up during anything, always pushed her hardest, and was determined.”
Wade was a walk-on for the Lady Lions, but she wasn’t with the team because of her obligations to ROTC. She was supposed to start playing for the team at the beginning of conference play later this season.
“It never crossed any of our minds that we weren’t going to play this game today,” Brown explained. “We did some things with them to allow them to spend some time with each other, but it was never a situation where we thought about not playing this game.”
With heavy hearts for their opponent, the 20th-ranked Lady Vols (6-0) won on Tuesday night by a final score 92-51. Rae Burrell and Rennia Davis led the way with 17 points apiece, while Kasiyahna Kushkituah scored 15 points. Davis also grabbed 11 rebounds to record her fourth double-double of the season.
As Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game, however, Tuesday night’s basketball game was bigger than the sport itself.
“You don’t want to have to go through the tragedy to have to put something in perspective, but it does,” Harper said. “All afternoon, it’s weighed on me because I can’t even imagine being in their shoes. I can’t. That’s a young life gone way too soon.”
Along with Walker, the University of Tennessee and the Lady Vols did their best to comfort Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Lady Lions were provided breakfast, Walker checked in on them throughout the day, a woman from UTK’s international studies did her best to help, and Vol Nation flooded social media with thoughts and prayers.
“I don’t know if we could have been in a better place to get news like this, to have people around us that it felt like family,” Brown said. “Just for them to be covering us and praying for us and standing with us… it meant a lot.
“It just speaks volumes to the type of people that stand and represent Tennessee.”
Each Lady Vol wrote a hand-written letter and gave them to each member of the Arkansas-Pine Bluff program before the game.
“We wanted to do something for them, and I know it’s not anything big, and nothing is enough at this point, but we wrote cards to their players, and staff, and we gave them to them before the game,” Harper said. “Just a small token of ‘we’re thinking about you.'”
“It was just hand-written, genuine messages, just offering our condolences to them,” Davis said. “I can’t imagine how they must feel right now. For me personally, it made me appreciate my teammates more and take a step back and look at life for what it is.”
Tennessee will now do its best to turn its attention to Air Force, who it’ll face on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.