Tri-State teen off sidelines, in starting line up - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Tri-State teen off sidelines, in starting line up

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MT. VERNON, IN (WFIE) -

Basketball fans usually think of champions as players who win trophies, cut down nets and make big shots. 

But sometimes just being able to play the game is the greatest achievement of all.

As a senior at Mt. Vernon High School, Justin Rutledge is happy to be a member of the varsity basketball team.

Until a week ago, Justin hadn't scored a single point all season.  In fact, he'd played just a few minutes here and there.

But considering all Justin has been through, stats seem less and less important.

When he was eight, a doctor found a tumor on Justin's brain stem.  He and his family were told it was inoperable.

"I was terminal," said Justin. "They said there's no chance of survival."

After chemo and radiation, Justin went into remission.  The tumor came back, though.  He beat it again when he was 10. 

Since then he's survived a brain aneurysm, a stroke, a seizure, and even a broken neck from a car crash.  His dad, Troy Rutledge, says that crash-- involving a semi-- happened on their way back from the hospital.

During what would have been his sophomore year, Justin wasn't able to go to school or play basketball on the team.  He was dealing with another tumor, at one point in bed for months at a time.  That tumor was not cancerous and Justin again eventually recovered.

By now, at 19 years old, Justin has endured 23 surgeries.  He says his pain never goes away. 

Through all of his health issues, basketball has been a huge motivational factor for Justin.  Without it, Justin's father says he thinks his son may have missed at least two years of school, instead of one.

"The only way I'm going to stay out is if I'm crippled or dead," said Justin.

Justin's teammates, who call him by his nickname "J-Rut", say he is an inspiration.

His success was on full display last Friday night during a special pre-game recognition followed by his first and only varsity start on Senior Night.

Justin scored his first points of the season and was able to enjoy some well-deserved time in the spotlight.

"It means a lot," said Justin. "This is my love.  My teammates are like my second family. I love this sport."

Mt. Vernon plays its first Sectional game tonight (March 7th) against Bosse.  The game is at Princeton and begins at 6 p.m.

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