For one Indian Creek junior, the goal was to be on the field playing high school football, not working as a manager.
The latter has turned into a pretty good backup plan, though — especially considering how much she’s had to go through just to make it to the sideline.
Jonnae Henderson grew up in Indianapolis, where her home life was less than ideal. In and out of foster care, she and her half brother, Jathan McMillian, appear to have finally found a permanent home with Dan and Rita Bray of Franklin.
Midway through her freshman year, Henderson moved in with the Brays and transferred from Ben Davis to Indian Creek.
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Along with that transition, which split Henderson from her two other siblings, Jonnae also was continuing to deal with headaches, neck pain and growing vision loss that had been plaguing her for almost 10 years.
The original diagnosis for the problems was stress, but Rita Bray, a nurse, wasn’t buying it. She insisted that more testing be done — and an MRI revealed that Jonnae had pseudotumor cerebrii, a rare condition that mimics a tumor by increasing pressure inside the skull.
“It took a lot of persistence at her worst point to push through and say, ‘We need more testing,’” Bray said.
A year ago, Henderson had a shunt placed inside her head to help drain excess fluid from around the brain. She had to go back in for a second procedure in December after the original shunt broke.
That operation derailed Jonnae’s hopes of playing football for Indian Creek, but last fall she started tagging along with her older sister Amanda, who was a senior in her third year as a manager with the program.
Once she experienced that up close, Henderson knew right away that she wanted a bigger piece of the action.
“It was just exciting,” she said. “The energy, it was just fun for me.”
Henderson also worked as a manager with the wrestling team last winter, but she’s got a clear preference for football. She’s one of six managers helping out this fall under first-year head coach Brett Cooper, assisting with such tasks as getting the field set up before practices and ensuring that the players are properly hydrated throughout drills and games.
“It’s a vital role,” Cooper said, “because we’re rolling from teaching all day to meetings and then out to the practice field, and if they already have it set up, that’s one less thing that’s off the plate.
“That’s a gigantic help for us.”
Henderson did get one chance to take the football field last year for Indian Creek’s annual Powder Puff game, but Bray jokes that she might not get invited back.
“She worked some of those girls over pretty good,” she said with a laugh.
Even if she never gets to play another down of football, Henderson has found fulfillment in many other ways since coming to Johnson County. She had a chance to travel to Iceland last year on a school trip, she’s about to start working toward a career in cosmetology at Central Nine and she’s found her calling on the gridiron as a valuable member of the Braves’ program.
Most importantly, she’s found a stable home life and laid the foundation for a successful future.
“A lot has happened the last couple of years,” Henderson said. “It’s been a big change … but this change is good.”