Former Razorback India Lewis Finding Strength from Friends, Fans During Cancer Battle
I learned early in my sports writing career that it’s smart to show up early. I never arrived at a game I covered later than two hours before the start. I don’t always get to 103.7 the Buzz High School Football Games of the Week early enough to suit R.J. Hawk, but I blame that on kids and my day job. But for years, I was always early.
One time, I covered a University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff basketball game at the University of Memphis at The Pyramid and was there early enough to see the initial warmups for both teams. An altercation broke out, and I was one of the few media members there, and the only one that wasn’t eating in the press room when the incident happened.
That fracas loomed large because it triggered a bench-clearing brawl in the first half. I won an award for that story partly because I was the only one that saw the initial incident. Then, I snuck into the UAPB locker room during the second half to get exclusive interviews with the ejected players and nearly got into an argument with then-Tigers Coach John Calipari when he fired back after I had the audacity to accuse his team of starting everything.
But I digress, and that’s a story for another time, but on a fall day in 1998, I showed up to the Siloam Springs High School Panther Arena well in front of a throng of expected media. I didn’t know it, but it was the beginning of a lasting friendship. I saw Lady Panthers guard India Lewis talking to family getting ready to sign with the University of Arkansas.
India was one of the top prep guards in the country, and when my editor was convincing me to take the job at the Benton County Daily Record, he told me, I would be covering one of the best girls basketball players in the country and one of the top tight ends in Rogers’ Nathan Ball, who went on to a solid four years with the Hogs.
I introduced myself to India, and we climbed the bleachers halfway up and found two seats and settled in for an exclusive interview before the signing. Although I had never seen her play, I had done some research and asked her question after question. She answered articulately, and I could tell she was also a good student.
Finally, she stopped. “Hey, you aren’t like the other reporters,” she said. “You really ask some great questions. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. I can tell you love your job.”
She was right, and I loved covering her. That winter she led Siloam Springs to the Class AAAA state title along with her sister, Brandi, who was a sophomore.
I think I did another feature story on her before the state tournament, and then a column for the Sunday edition, the day after they won the title. The column centered on how great players find ways to win championships and how her legacy as one of the all-time greats in Arkansas girls prep history was firmly cemented with that win.
Over the next four years, I covered her at Arkansas and Brandi’s final two years in high school. Our friendship grew, and the girls’ parents, Porky and Carmen Lewis, invited myself and then-Siloam Springs Herald-Leader sports editor Buck Ringgold, my good friend and colleague, to their home and to eat at restaurants before Lady ‘Back games. When I got married in Little Rock in 2001, I invited the entire family.
I’ve watched from Facebook as India moved into life after college and coached Brandi’s son, Makobi, in baseball. Not many people know India, was one of the top 12-year-old baseball players in Siloam Springs growing up. She was also a varsity letter winner in volleyball track and softball. Anyway, the entire family is still involved in sports, and I have no doubt if we lived in Northwest Arkansas, our boys would run into them on the baseball field or hardwood which would be great fun.
Sadly, though, India isn’t coaching any more this summer. She found out a few weeks ago she has Stage IV breast cancer. It was a crushing blow to her loved ones, but in true Lewis family fashion they have pledged to cheer her on as she takes on the toughest opponent in her life. That competitive spirit that made her one of the greatest female athletes I’ve covered will help her fight this dreaded disease.
“The doctors said the cancer has spread to her brain and her spine and is treatable but not curable,” Carmen said. “We told them, they don’t know about miracles or the Lewis family.”
As of Thursday night, India was still hospitalized as doctors try to get her oxygen levels up so she can begin treatment. Carmen is not sure if India will receive treatment at Tulsa where she is hospitalized or in Northwest Arkansas, but she could be released from the hospital soon.
The family has received an outpouring of support from the Siloam Springs community, and Razorback Nation. India can use it. She was laid off at her job at Ozark Electronics in Siloam Springs in March, and was going back to work for the Siloam Springs Parks and Recreation Department when she began feeling ill.
“[India] has received support from all over,” Carmen said. “It’s tremendous support. That means a lot to her and us.”
There are several ways you can help. There is a GoFundMe Me page that has been set up and you can go to any Arvest Bank branch and donate to the India Lewis Support fund. You can also purchase a T-Shirt from Pig Trail Clothing. The shirt is similar the ones Carmen designed for family and friends to wear to Hogs games when India played. It says “#21HogPen Pray for India.” All of the $20 goes to India’s care and travel. Shirts can be ordered at www. Pigtrailclothing.com.
I’m proud to call her a friend, and I am glad I showed up early that day during her senior year. I pray for her during this battle and know find strength from the support of her many friends and fans.