“The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow”: Former Division I basketball coach finds new coaching career after spinal chord injury

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"What more could you ask? You're playing UConn, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Boston College..."

FORT SCOTT, Kan. — Pechone Stepps was on top of the world, going from growing up in Fort Scott, Kansas, to being hired as an assistant women’s basketball coach at St. John’s University, a Division I school, and eventually, becoming the interim head coach in his second year with the team.

Stepps says, “My mouth pretty much dropped to the floor there. The really cool thing was laying in bed, you see your name go across the ESPN ticker at the bottom, ‘Pechone Stepps, interim head coach at St. Johns.'”

Stepps was in the process of interviewing to be the permanent head coach when he went home for the weekend, but on May 24, 2002, while heading to a family reunion, a drunk driver changed his life forever, while he was changing a flat tire.

Stepps says, “I laid up under the truck and was getting the jack under the bumper. My mom saw the car coming, but she thought it was someone seeing us having vehicle problems, and so she didn’t say anything, just thought it was gonna pull up behind us. But the car kept going. And so while I was laying up under the truck, that vehicle hit the back of our truck, the truck popped up on me, and drug me down into a ditch.”

Stepps’ neck was broken. At the age of 28, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors told him he would likely never walk again

Stepps says, “But that’s something I didn’t accept. Being an athlete, I was kind of built for that, the next goal or the next thing that drives you. So playing a sport, I think definitely helped me, in college and high school, helped me adjust to my rehab because you just attack it as a training.”

After spending four months at a rehab facility in Denver, Stepps moved in with his parents in Fort Scott. He never returned to St. Johns. In fact, he didn’t return to work at all. The comeback was stalling. It wasn’t until years later that his former coach stepped in.

Stepps says, “He goes, I’m not gonna allow you to lay around the house and feel sorry for yourself. You need to re-engage here in society.”

Re-engaging meant starting all over. 3 years after coaching St. Johns against teams like UConn, Pechone Stepps began coaching intramural basketball at Fort Scott Middle School. The level of competition was different, but the job? That part was the same. Soon, Stepps was taking bigger coaching responsibilities. And now, he’s the head coach of the girls basketball team at the high school, doing what he’s always loved.

Stepps says, “Coaching is definitely a blessing. The thing about coaching the girls, the players don’t know they’ve been good for me as well, for me to have something to do every day, to engage with them.”

Through all his struggles, Stepps serves as a beacon of positivity and encouragement to his team.

Kenzi Hardesty, Fort Scott senior basketball player, says, “He pushes us to be our best, and at the same time, I know I need to do my best. Considering the circumstances he’s in, we could be in those same circumstances and we just take what we have for granted sometimes.”

Dillon Duffy, Fort Scott assistant girls basketball coach, says, “Just being able to step up through all that, can just show a team, just by looking at him, he’s here today. He could just as easily not be here, and that shows him that we can get through anything.”

Stepps hopes he can show people in the end, everything will be okay.

Stepps says, “No matter what you’re going through, there’s always a plan. Don’t think it’s the end of the road. The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow, it’s a new day with new opportunities.”

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