For months, Wenonah’s Emanuel Bell fought stage 4 lung cancer while issuing simple instructions to his girls: No more tears.
Don’t worry baby, Bell, in his raspy, baritone voice, told his players, as well as legions of people that love him. He was going to beat cancer, like so many girls basketball teams he faced during a legendary coaching career.
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So forgive Bell on Saturday morning for failing to heed his own coaching orders. As Wenonah completed a last-second rally, Bell, surrounded by hundreds, perhaps thousands of family, friends, former players, coaching peers and fans, celebrated a 55-52 win against Charles Henderson in the Class 5A championship game with a mixture of tears and smiles.
If you’ve followed Bell’s journey from August cancer diagnosis to basketball dynasty seven months later, you know that long before he flexed his championship rings – soon to add another – at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena, he had already won. Take that, cancer.
God has Bell’s back. And Wenonah is better for it.
Wenonah’s eighth girls basketball state title in school history – its fourth consecutive championship – cements the Dragons as one of Alabama’s most successful prep programs in state history. And, Bell as one of Birmingham City Schools’ indispensable gems.
What a program. What a season. What a championship game.
What a coach. What a man.
God is great.
In August, Bell stepped away from the sport he loves, missing preseason practices and the first two games of the season. Then on Nov. 23, with a shrinking tumor, Bell returned to the head coaching role.
Twenty-seven wins and three losses later, Bell is back at the top of Class 5A. And cancer is kicked to the curb.
Even now, Bell may cry a bit, but he doesn’t want a pity party. He still has business to accomplish. He has seven seniors. That means he needs seven college basketball scholarships.
“I’m here to be your friend, but I’m not really here to be your friend,” Bell said after Wednesday’s 73-50 win against Sylacauga in the 5A state semifinals. “I’m here to be your mentor.
“I’m here to be the person that’s going to show you how to get to the next level. If that means being your friend, OK. But really, I’m here to teach you a lesson. A life lesson.”
He’s learning too.
Bell’s cancer journey brought him closer to his faith. He’s learned to not question God’s will.
Get out of here, cancer. God has Bell’s back.
Hours before Wednesday’s 5A semifinal – a 3 p.m. tip-off – Bell had his latest bi-weekly chemotherapy session. He could have rescheduled, but that would have questioned God.
“Like, ‘Oh you’re going to question me now, after all I’ve done for you?’ Bell said.
“I’ll never question him again.”