Ink represents an eternal spirit. A shirt brings her closer. The orange ball put her on this path. Fenway junior Janyah Gulley is determined to play Division 1 college basketball on scholarship.
It was a goal set with the help of her mother, Chequetta Gulley, but now the 17-year-old is trying to reach her dreams minus her biggest supporter.
Chequetta Gulley passed suddenly on Oct. 20, 2017 at 41 due to complications from a severe asthma attack. Through the pain and grieving of the loss of her mother, Janyah Gulley maintains the same aspirations, to be a college scholarship athlete.
“It would be like a trophy I can give to my mom, that everything, all the sacrifices, all the getting on me didn’t go to waste,” she said.
Gulley wears two tattoos in memory her mother.
One on her left forearm with Chequetta’s nickname “Birdie” with her mother’s birthdate and rest date. Birds encircling her mother’s name represent her father, John, and the four children: Janyah has a twin sister, Jaylah, and two older brothers. She’s quick to say she’s the youngest, by six minutes.
Her right forearm is adorned with “Birdie,” surrounded by birds representing each of the family members atop a stairway to heaven. The ink is a physical complement to her belief in her mother’s eternal presence.
Chequetta Gulley went to every one of her daughter’s games, as well as an occasional practice, sharing love not only for her daughter, but her daughter’s teammates and coaches as well.
Fenway coach John Rice said Gulley sometimes needs extra space.
“I just kind of took a step back, and that’s the way my support came,” Rice said. “You’ve got to find the balance with her because it’s changed her. Some days are better than others, so I just try to keep that in mind.”
The 6-foot junior wears a custom “Gulley Team” shirt during warm-ups and on the bench. A brand inspired her mother through the siblings, the birds on both sides of the shirt represent Chequetta and the path she and John Gulley III set for their children.
“It reminds me of who I’m doing this for and why I’m doing it,” she said. “There’s people that are out there that support me.
“There are people out there that my mom built a relationship with that can’t be broken.”
Gulley’s teammate, senior point guard Colby Upchurch, lost her father her sophomore year. That ultimately led to a transfer to the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) while continuing to play basketball at Fenway.
“[Colby] doesn’t let her father passing away stop her from letting her achieve what she wants to achieve,” Gulley said. “I just use that as my motivation.”
Losing a parent at any time, especially when young, “it’s not really a good feeling for anybody,” Upchurch said. “It’s really only time that can heal your wounds, and even then the pain is never really leaving you. Every time she’s down and not doing well, I always try to keep her in better spirits.”
The first time she suited up for the Panthers without her mother in the stands was unfamiliar territory, yet Gulley turned a somber moment into a motivational tactic.
“I was expecting to see her and hear her before and after the game, but I had a reminder, like one of my cousins said, ‘she’s here in spirit and just play your game. Once you play your game, you’re going to hear her and might take a glimpse at her in the stands,’” Gulley said.
She added: “My very first game back was Beantown Slam (fall tournament). When I got on the court, all my emotions and my grieving went away.”
Games to Watch
Friday, Reading at Belmont, 5:15 p.m. — The Rockets (5-1) take their crack at freshman standout Nina Minicozzi and the fifth-ranked Marauders (6-0).
Friday, Bishop Feehan at Coyle & Cassidy, 7 p.m. – The 13th-ranked Shamrocks (4-2) visit Sam Hourihan and the fourth-ranked Warriors (7-0) for an Eastern Athletic Conference tilt.
Friday, Masconomet at Pentucket, 6:30 p.m. — This is the first meeting between the Cape Ann rivals since last February, when a showdown of two once-beaten teams fizzled after Masco fielded a junior varsity-only unit for one game for disciplinary reasons.Correspondent Nate Rollins also contributed to this story. Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.