Home to hardwood, Baccas learns leadership
Drawing inspiration from mother’s health struggles, Baccas prospers on court
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
At 6-foot-2, Christa Baccas stands above nearly every other women’s basketball player on the court. She is often the last line of defense between her opponent and the basket.
With an absent father and a mother diagnosed with breast cancer, she knows what it means to rise up for a team. Baccas was left to not only fulfill her basketball dreams, but help her mother and four siblings throughout her mother’s treatment.
At age 16, following her mother’s diagnosis, Baccas was called upon to make the switch from the passenger seat next to her mom, Ann-Marie Baccas, and her oldest brother, Mario Baccas, and take over the wheel.
These days, Baccas is driving the Bulls in a winning direction.
Baccas, a sophomore forward, is one of two captains on the women’s basketball team. She finished the season first in minutes, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage for the Bulls en route to being selected to the honorable mention All-Mid-American Conference team. She was also second on the Bulls in steals, third in assists and fifth in scoring. Challenges have been thrown her way, both on and off the court, but she has been able to surpass them all and exceed expectations.
Baccas’ father left when she was only a child, forcing her mother to work 16- to 18-hour shifts as a shipping clerk and at Walmart. When Ann-Marie returned home, she had to fulfill the role of both mother and father to five children.
“She never complained once,” Baccas said. “I have no clue how she did it.”
The family pulled together to help make every day as easy as possible for their mother. The kids would often cook dinner for her so she could relax and have a hot meal ready for the limited time she had before another shift began.
The family members were used to uniting and sacrificing for one another through adversity when they were challenged yet again. This time: a life-threatening diagnosis.
In Baccas’ sophomore year of high school, Ann-Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer, leaving her unable to work for over a year while dealing with treatments.
Following the diagnosis, Baccas knew she had to play a larger role in the family. She was called upon to drive her younger brother to practices and school or take her mother to doctors’ appointments when Mario couldn’t.
Her mother’s strength amidst difficulty was staggering to Baccas. She never “broke down,” according to Baccas.
Their mother’s diagnosis shook the family, but it provided opportunities to spend more time together – something they rarely experienced before.
“Looking [back] now, I can say the only thing that cancer did to me was make me a much stronger person by giving me a year of unpaid vacation so that I can see my family more often, which resulted in my family becoming closer,” Ann-Marie said. “We would all sit down every night for dinner, which normally happened only around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas because of my work schedule.”
Mario was first a role model to his sister because of his basketball abilities, but that was far from the only reason. He was a three-sport athlete – baseball, basketball and football – his entire life. However, he stopped playing sports early in high school to help out with his mother.
When Mario played growing up, Baccas was never far behind.
Baccas would always go to Mario’s Catholic Youth Organization games and charge the court during halftime just to shoot around for a few minutes. When she was younger, Mario would even pick her up to help her make the shots until she became able to knock them down on her own.
Whether it was a gym floor or blacktop, Baccas was looking to play with her older brother at every opportunity.
The two had an aunt who lived about 10 minutes away with a basketball park around the corner. Although the siblings are separated by five years, they spent countless hours on those courts together growing up.
“I remember Christa would follow me over asking to play, but she would have to wait until the big kids were done, so she would go to the next court and just shoot away all by herself,” Mario said. “As soon as I was done, I would say to her: ‘You ready to lose?’ She would smile from ear to ear, and we would play one-on-one until it was dark.”
That’s when he knew playing ball was her calling.
Off the court is where Mario’s importance to Baccas and the rest of the family truly shined.
“He was important [to keeping the family together],” Baccas said. “With him around, [Ann-Marie] wouldn’t have to worry about how we would get to our dentist appointments, practices and school. He was just always there to make us feel comfortable.”
Both mother and daughter have shown resiliency and the ability to handle affliction while making no excuses. The two demand the best out of themselves and are not satisfied with any less.
Baccas was able to bring what she learned in her home to the courts of Buffalo. The women’s basketball program needed the same things her family did – multiple leaders and a “me-second” attitude.
“Christa’s invaluable,” said women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “She is like our caretaker. She doesn’t care about the points or anything other than our success. She will do whatever she has to do to make sure we are good. That’s why she’s our captain.”