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Sport has helped Panther overcome tough times

The first time Melissa Foraker picked up a basketball, she was bored.

She was 8 and living in a trailer park in Ohio. Her mother, who had recently divorced, was working while Foraker was home alone. She wanted something to do. The hoop on the cement court was netless and rusty. Her teammates became the older boys, and she learned how to play street ball.

"It wasn't a good one, but we still played," Foraker said. "I guess if I didn't do basketball, I would do anything. I'd be a bum and probably wouldn't go to school."

When her parents divorced, Foraker and her older sister split, each went with a parent. For three years, Foraker didn't see her sister. One night when her father showed up, "he was beatening on the trailer or something," Foraker said, "and my mom called the police." Foraker's future stepfather took the call.

Foraker, her mom and stepfather moved to Florida after Foraker's grandmother died when she was 15. Now the Lecanto junior is the team's leading scorer, averaging 11.6 points. She also has 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. She's a shooting guard who sometimes sees action in the post or at point. She fills in for back-up point Nicole Joyce, who has been out with wisdom-teeth problems; and senior guard Tiffany Wright, who's returning from an ankle injury.

Against Springstead, Foraker led the Panthers with 14 points in a 54-20 victory.

"She's a good go-to person, because when she gets the ball, something good usually happens," Wright said. "She's really strong with the ball."

Tonight, Lecanto plays district-leading Leesburg. The Panthers (10-6), second in the district, lost 68-24 to Leesburg earlier. If Lecanto and Foraker win, the teams will be tied in the race for the district's top seed.

"She can make things happen that some of the other ones can't, just because of her athletic ability," coach Ron Allan said. "When she makes a good play or a good drive, the rest of them feed off it and it helps get us jump-started."

But there were a couple times last year when Foraker thought about giving it all up. "Yeah, it's kept me in school a couple of times," she said.

School work, teachers and parents sometimes seem to get to Foraker.

"I'm bullheaded about everything," Foraker joked. "And I always think I'm right, but I don't try to be a troublemaker."

Foraker hopes to play in college, possibly at Salem State in Massachusetts, and major in sports medicine. The self-proclaimed independent athlete loves to be outdoors and go bowling. She hates watching T.V. _ except for basketball games.

"I don't know why I like basketball," Foraker said. "I always thought it was stupid, throwing a ball through a hoop."

But now she isn't bored.