Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SPORTS >> Remembering ‘True Wildcat’

Leader sportswriter

SEARCY — Loving memories have a way of touching hearts and helping to ease the pain of tragic events.

For Searcy residents Dennis and Terri Rine, loving memories of their daughter Micah are also shared by the entire community.

So much so that Micah’s high school alma mater, Harding Academy, made the unprecedented gesture of retiring her varsity basketball jersey after a victory over Riverview on Friday night.

It was the first jersey retirement in the 26-year history of the Lady Wildcats basketball team, and the first in the school’s 86 years. The ceremony was held at Harris Gym, on the very court where Micah created so many of her basketball memories.

Micah Rine-Pate was a 2001 graduate of Harding Academy. She was a gifted athlete, loving daughter and beloved figure at her school.

She went on to graduate from Harding University before moving to the Memphis area to pursue nursing and start a life with her husband Thomas Pate.

But what was supposed to be a beautiful new beginning for Micah ended tragically, and Pate is now awaiting trial in August for her murder in April 2009. Micah was 26 years old.

Lady Wildcats head coach Rusty Garner and assistant Darren Matthews, who was Micah’s head coach when she was at Harding Academy, set up the jersey display near mid court following the game. The Rine family stood alongside while a tribute was read over the public-address system.

The display contains the jersey and a photo of Micah wearing her red-and-white number 12, along with passages of Bible verses from I Corinthians and II Timothy.

The tribute was especially touching for Micah’s father Dennis Rine, who has been a longtime faculty member at Harding Academy and head coach of the boys baseball team since its inception in 2002.

“She tried to do what was right,” Rine said. “And for the community and the school to see that enough to honor her this way tonight, it’s very touching and very humbling. It’s very emotional to have Micah honored this way.”

Matthews remembered Micah as a scrappy guard for the Lady Wildcats; a player who was not afraid to play physically.

“It’s fitting,” said Matthews. “Micah was a true Wildcat. She grew up watching girls basketball here at Harding Academy. She played so hard. Her knees were always bruised and cut because she was down on the floor hustling and giving incredible effort. That’s the way she lived her life.”

For current Lady Wildcats coach Rusty Garner, who was a classmate of Micah’s at Harding University, the decision to retire a jersey for the first time was one that was met with unanimous agreement.

“It’s never been done before, but she deserved it, and there wasn’t a doubt,” Garner said. “All former Lady Wildcat coaches were in agreement that it needed to be done. We’re glad that we had that opportunity.”

Rine said that among his fondest memories was when he baptized Micah at camp when she was 12 years old. The two also ran together frequently, and even participated in the Mississippi Coast Marathon together when Micah was in college.

But the most unique aspect of their relationship was that Micah spent time with her dad at Harding Academy while she was a student and he was an administrator.

“She would eat lunch with me in the cafeteria,” Rine said. “For a daughter to do that in front of her peers and not be embarrassed about eating lunch with dad even though he was on the faculty, that was pretty special.”

The motives for Thomas Pate’s actions on April 30 of last year are not known. Initially he reported his wife missing, then he later confessed to shooting her and led police to Micah’s body near the Loosahatchie River.

But, with Pate’s trial now a little more than seven months away, Rine and family choose to celebrate the life of a daughter who touched so many in such a short time.

“We just have to let the court sort those things out,” Rine said. “We know because of some things that she has written and some conversations we’ve had that she was faithful until the end. She maintained her faith all the way through, and we’re very thankful for that. That probably gives us the most peace.

“I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but I know she’s in a better place.”