Versailles basketball player overcomes challenges of cerebral palsy to enjoy a game she loves

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Versailles sophomore Kobie O'Rourke watches her free throw in a game at Osage on February 4.

Basketball is just part of life for Versailles sophomore Kobie O’Rourke. 

She was named after two of her parents’ favorite players, Kobie Bryant and Michael Jordan, she shoots hoops with her siblings and she loves to play ‘NBA 2K20’ on the Xbox One. 

“She really loves basketball,” O’Rourke’s mother, Toni, said. “She could tell you all of the players on the ’97 (Chicago) Bulls team.” 

So, when Kobie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy with developmental delays due to complications of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) during infancy, affecting three of her limbs, it would not deter her from the sport she and her family enjoys. 

At 18 months old she began seeing a doctor in Columbia who started treating the spasticity and tightness in her legs and she learned to walk with assistance at the age of 2. By the time she turned 5, Kobie was walking on her own and it was not long before those steps led her to the basketball court. She began playing basketball in the Morgan County Athletic Club (MCAC) program under Coach Mark Sherman. 

“She could run somewhat with the rest of the team and could shoot the ball with only one hand,” Toni recalled, noting the spasticity in her daughter’s legs. 

“She may not have gotten a lot of playing time, but Mark made sure she was able to play and have fun. She then graduated from MCAC and began playing in middle school under Andy Moon and Coach Moon made sure to get Kobie in the game and fed her love of basketball.”

The love of the game was certainly fostered at home, too, as she spent time working on her game and shooting hoops with her older brother, Wyatt Espinosa, and her sister, Kierra, who is also currently a sophomore on the team. She also enjoyed playing with her older sister, Cheyenne. 

“It was hard not to want to play sports,” Toni said. 

The time eventually came for Kobie’s varsity debut at Versailles in the fourth game of the season during the Tri-County Conference Tournament against Eldon. In the final minutes of the game, the sophomore had her number called. 

“I was extremely nervous putting her into a game the first time. Coach (Dabecka) Kirk, the assistant coach, suggested we put her in the last round of the tournament and Eldon’s coach, Isaiah Rhine, immediately recognized the situation and called me to his bench to let me know they were going to help us out,” said Versailles coach Tempary Gunter who is in her first season with the Tigers. “She ended up scoring twice in that game, which was awesome. We have had several other coaches who have been awesome and have done very similar things to help us out.” 

Since that time, Kobie has scored 34 points overall for the Tigers so far this season and the sophomore is embracing every opportunity she gets.

“Having a fun time with friends and family and having good teammates no matter what,” she said of what she enjoys about the game. 

Kierra has enjoyed the time with her sister, too, and has been with her every step of the way. Seeing Kobie embrace that time on the court, despite all of the challenges, has been all the motivation she needs for her own game.

“It makes me want to work harder and get better every day,” the sophomore said. 

That inspiration is not just felt by Kierra, though. Gunter said she has been an inspiration to the team and there is just a different feeling in the gym when she checks into a game. 

“I love having Kobie on the team and I know the girls do as well,” she said. “When she goes in, it doesn’t just excite our team and fans, it’s the entire gym. When she shoots the ball the atmosphere of the gym changes. Everyone is cheering and clapping and it’s just a surreal feeling.

“When she makes it, her excitement and energy might bring a tear or two to your eye, honestly,” Gunter continued. “It’s such a positive note to end on in any game. The celebration is like winning the biggest game of the season.” 

But, Gunter has not just put Kobie in to simply score baskets. Just like her teammates, she is in the game to do whatever is being asked of all the players on the court. The coach has taken notice to how well the sophomore pays attention, too.

“We have been big on ‘little things matter’ this year. That kid listens to every word we say,” the coach pointed out. “For instance, against Osage I wanted to stop the clock and made a call and right after we put her in she instantly did exactly what I was calling. Once after a game, I asked her about something she did and her response was, ‘You’ve been saying to do that.’” 

Another season is nearing its conclusion with the postseason scheduled to start next week. Rest assured, whether its wearing a Versailles uniform or simply shooting hoops with her siblings, Kobie’s passion for the game will go on because basketball is part of her life and no obstacles can change that.