- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - Back in the 1990s, avid sports fan Harvey Branch worked across the street from Shelbyville Central High School, home to the nationally famous Golden Eaglettes. He began closely following the winning girls’ basketball team, which had garnered many wins and a national title, explained Branch’s daughter Jennifer Frank.

“I’d started playing basketball in Murfreesboro in 1990, after we moved,” Frank said. “He saw Tiffany Woosley … and he said she was a fantastic ballplayer and he said, ‘You’ve got to watch this girl play. That’s who I want you to play like.’”

Twenty-five years later, life came full circle for Branch, who is now in Alive Hospice care, when the nonprofit palliative care agency hooked up a meeting between him and the famous ballplayer.

Branch’s outreach liaison at Alive Hospice just happens to be the relative of former Eaglette Coach Rick Insell. So the two started talking basketball and Tiffany Woosley came up in the conversation, Alive Hospice communications manager Jared Porter explained.

“She reached out to Tiffany to ask if she could pay a special visit to a big fan,” Porter said.

Alive Hospice social worker Lauren Goley helped coordinate the visit by making the arrangements with Branch’s family.

“It was a surprise, so everyone worked hard to keep it quiet,” Porter said.

On Monday Woosley showed up to the home of the “very surprised” 78-year-old.

“It was wonderful. It was hard to believe. I just never expected someone like her to come and visit me,” Branch said. “She’s a wonderful person. She certainly is special; I was just astonished.”

The meeting was emotional for Frank.

“I had to step out of the room because I teared up. I had to cry and collect myself and go back in. He was totally shocked and he asked me, ‘Are you serious?’ … After she left, he kept asking me, ‘Is this real? Did she come here to see me?’ I kept explaining to him that she came to see him. He said it was fantastic.”

After graduating, Woosley went on to play for the Lady Vols until an injury sidelined her during her senior year. However, she recovered and played in the WNBA for the Houston Comets. Branch lost touch with the player, but he and his daughter still have fond memories of seeing her play.

Woosley also brought along her 13-year-old son, Evan, and they visited with Branch and his family for about 30 minutes. She signed a basketball and gave him a set of Lady Vols collectors’ cards featuring her teammates during her days at UT-Knoxville.

Porter said meetings such as the one between Branch and Woosley are examples of ways Alive Hospice tries to focus on quality of life during palliative care.

“Experiences like these really celebrate what the patient and family find meaningful and joyful. It’s so important to live life as fully as possible because the end of life is a time for living, too,” Porter said.

Since her father has been in hospice care, Frank said the family has “tried to do as many things as possible” with him.

“We’ve tried to put a lifetime of memories in a short amount of time. We’ve been remembering old memories and making new ones,” Frank said.

In recent months, the family took Branch on a whirlwind tour of the Grand Canyon, San Diego and Las Vegas. They also pushed his wheelchair in the Color Run 5K.

“This meeting with Tiffany was just like the icing on the cake,” Frank said.

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Information from: The Daily News Journal, https://www.dnj.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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