The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 12, 2013

Harold Raker's high school football column: Batts wants to be No. 1 again

Heart issue sidelines star tailback


Daily Item

---- — When a regional TV station showed a highlight from Selinsgrove's opening-night win over visiting Mifflinburg, the sportscaster raved about the long touchdown run by Juvon Batts.

It's not that Batts didn't want his teammate, Zach Adams, to score that touchdown. But he sure wishes that it was he who was wearing No. 1 for the Seals.

After taking the Valley by storm near mid-season last year as a freshman running back, Batts was among the top returning backs and the one coaches feared the most.

Instead of burning defenses with his speed and Gumby-like moves, Batts is sidelined with a heart-related condition which also threatens his basketball season.

Meanwhile, his teammates have dedicated the season to the sophomore with a different player taking a turn wearing Batts' No. 1 jersey each game. The first week it was Adams, who otherwise wears No. 25.

"Zach Adams did a real good job," Michelle Batts, Juvon's mother, said this week. "They dedicated the season to him, to keep his spirit up, which is beautiful."

Someone who had seen the TV replay and heard her son's name told Michelle about her son's nice run. "I was at work, so I was shocked," she said with a laugh. "I didn't tell her any different."

She said that the delay to the start of last season for Juvon was the result of his being found to have a heart murmur. He was eventually cleared to play.

But, in this year's preseason physical examination for football, doctors discovered a problem and sent him for an EKG and, as a result of that, a CAT scan. The latter showed an abnormality which threatens his athletic future.

Michelle explained that the two arteries on the left side of his heart are so close together that there is no circulation.

"There is not enough circulation (or airway) for him, being an athlete with his heart pumping while he is running," she said. "He could pass out and it could be fatal."

So now, as her son and the family await the doctors' next move, which is likely surgery, Juvon attends school and goes to practices and games, trying to stay positive in a frustrating situation.

"He just went for a stress test and it came back great," Michelle said.

Making things worse, the woman who shared the stress test results with him, on a recent Friday, unknowingly said to him "Good luck with your game tonight."

"He was really confused," Michelle said. "He wanted to find out if he could play. He said, 'Can you call my doctor and see if I can play part-time?' He thought maybe he could play in three home games and one away game."

Even more strange for the family, while Juvon shows no symptoms of the problem, an older sister has had it -- and has passed out -- but all of her tests have come back normal.

Michelle said her son hopes to get his surgery as soon as possible so that maybe he can save his basketball season. He is also a sprinter for the track team.

"This is really stressful for my 15-year-old son. He is not only scared, but this is taking away his passion," Michelle said. "He is stressed out, but he's holding up pretty well, and the team, the coaches, the whole town has been supporting him," she said.

She said Juvon is excited that he can at least be with the team. "It's good that he can still be involved. But it's also hard for him. He doesn't just want to be there and sitting there. This year is a challenge for Juvon."

It just shows how precious time really is.

Last year, after Batts put on a show against Berwick at home, Berwick's Hall of Fame coach, George Curry, when told Batts was only a ninth grader said, "He's just a freshman? Wow! He's going to be a great player here for four years."

If everything goes well, maybe he can at least have half of that time.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.