For God and her dad

Faith, father’s lessons help basketball champion get through difficult times

Julie Spencer and her dad
Julie Spencer was best friends with her father, James Spencer, who taught her to play basketball and trust God. Photo: Courtesy Spencer family

CHEHALIS 
By Kim Haub

Julie Spencer’s father taught her to trust God and play basketball. The high school junior didn’t know she would do both on the day of her dad’s funeral 

“It was the hardest, yet most rewarding day of my life,” said Julie, a forward on the girls basketball team at W.F. West High School and a member of St. Joseph Parish, both in Chehalis.

Julie’s father, James Spencer, died Feb. 13, and his funeral was set for March 8 at St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo. That turned out to be the same day Julie’s team would play for the Class 2A state championship in Yakima.

At her father’s request, Julie, the youngest of 10 children, sang at her father’s funeral Mass. After saying her good-byes, she flew across the mountains for the game — a trip donated by Kenmore Air after Dori Monson told Julie’s story on his KIRO Radio talk show.

On a day filled with so many emotions, Julie would say little prayers — “Jesus, I trust in you,” or “Your will be done, Lord, not mine” — to calm her nerves. “These were the phrases my dad kept saying in his last days,” she explained.

Spencer and her goddaughter
Julie Spencer holds her goddaughter, Bridget Spencer, at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Everett. Photo: Kim Haub

When the championship game over was, W.F. West had beaten Longview’s Mark Morris High School, 48-37. Julie, who averaged 10 points a game all season, scored 20 points and was named tournament MVP.

“I know Julie is a strong girl with a strong faith, but she’s still a 17-year old girl,” said Henri Weeks, Julie’s coach. “With her faith the way it was, I didn’t have any doubt that she would be OK. But I didn’t think she would have the game of her life,” he said.

“God got us to the championship game and God got me there,” Julie said. “And then for him to put the fairy-tale ending on the story was amazing. I just knew he wanted to use me for something and I was going to accept that,” she said. “I just played for God and my dad.”

The next weekend, Julie celebrated a happy family occasion. She stood up as godmother for her 6-month-old niece, Bridget Spencer, who was baptized at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Everett.

“What a difference a week makes,” Julie said. “Through every hardship in life, God comes in and he finds a way to make good things happen.”

Julie has seen her share of hardships. Her parents divorced when she was young, and “we’ve always been poor,” she said. “With 10 kids we don’t have any spare money. We went through some really hard times and I just came to rely on God.”

Her dad was her best friend, her “rock,” Julie said, and losing him to melanoma was more than she thought she could bear. “I was so heartbroken,” she said. “But I feel like God has given me this armor to take whatever comes my way, and that I don’t have to go through it alone.

“I know through Christ, I can do anything,” she said. “I feel like I am so much stronger now.”

 

Helping Hands

Read more about Julie Spencer’s journey to her championship game

 

April 10, 2014