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Through loss, Manheim Township's Ali Quinn has gained perspective on, off basketball court

Ali Quinn will forever be grateful that she has wonderful memories of the last day she spent with her dad.

“He dropped me off at school that day,” Manheim Township’s senior student-athlete said. “Most of the time when he drove me to school, we’d fight about politics, or we’d listen to Tom Petty, because he loved Tom Petty. But that day was different. He was like, hey, do you want to go to McDonald’s for breakfast? I said sure. That was great.”

“And when we got to school,” she said, “I said I love you and he said I love you, too. And then I left.”

It was Dec. 14, 2017. Quinn was in her sophomore year at Township.

Later that day, her dad, Stephen Quinn, died unexpectedly from a heart condition.

“Sometimes teens get so caught up in life that they forget to say I love you,” Quinn said. “But I did that day. And I’m so glad I did.”

Ali and her dad had a special bond. Stephen played basketball for Lancaster Catholic in his prep days, so he paid particular attention to his daughter’s career and how she played the game.

“A group of teachers used to play pick-up games twice a week after school, and I remember him coming in and playing with us a few times,” Township girls basketball coach Sean Burkhart said. “He was a good guy to play with. He was always laughing and having a good time on the floor. He always wanted the best for his kids, and what they were doing.”

That would be sons Ben and Nick and daughter Ali, who has firmly established herself as one of the top defensive players and all-around point guards in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. She’s having an outstanding senior season, just a few years after losing her dad.

Ali and her mom, Kelly, look after her brothers.

“Senior year has been the hardest because there are a lot of lasts,” Quinn said. “And I can’t share those lasts with him. Graduation. Senior Night. Not having him there for Senior Night in soccer was so hard. Senior Night in basketball will be especially hard because my dad was the basketball guy.”

Pep talks. Pointers. Talking shop. Stephen Quinn was a handyman by trade, and he taught his daughter to play sports passionately, and with an edge. So it's not uncommon to see Quinn sprawled out on the court, diving after loose basketballs. Or playing in-your-face defense from end-line to end-line.

That's Ali Quinn, who said she can hear her dad’s voice in her head during games, urging her on.

“He always told me to play defense and pass the ball,” Quinn said. “He’d say pass first, shoot it second. So that’s what I’ve always done and that’s how I’ve always played. It’s my last year, and if he can’t be here, then I want to do the best I can — for him.”

Quinn excels in transition and in the open court, playing gritty defense and forcing steals at one end, and running the break, making pinpoint passes and chipping in with fast-break layups and 3-pointers at the other end.

“She plays tough,” Burkhart said. “We go as she goes. With Ali, it’s not always vocal. But she’s starting to realize that this is it. She wants to be on a team that’s remembered for doing something. You can see it in her demeanor.”

On the basketball court and off. She's excelling in the classroom, too; Quinn was recently accepted at Millersville University, where she’ll study social work in hopes of becoming a therapist for kids under 18. She wants to help kids overcome things like she's had to overcome at such a young age.

“She’s done a tremendous job figuring things out, being a big sister to her brothers and supporting her mom,” Burkhart said. “She’s mature beyond her years.”

Quinn’s last year playing basketball for the Blue Streaks has been her best yet. She's been a terror on defense, and is chipping in more than six points a game, as Township is in line for league and District Three playoff spots.

“When my dad played basketball in high school, he was the smallest guy on the court, and that’s pretty much me,” Quinn said. “He didn’t shoot the ball much; he was always known as the guy who played defense and made the awesome passes and tried to hype his team up. So I’ve always tried to do that: Bring the energy and play the best defense and to have the heart. That’s what my dad taught me.”

Stephen Quinn would be very proud.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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