My favorite story of 2023

Published 10:33 am Friday, December 29, 2023

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It all started about this time last year with an unsigned note that came in the mail letting me know some of Kendall Alligood’s remarkable story. It took a while to get the facts together, so the story didn’t run until January 2023. There’s a neat postscript at the end

The Northside girls basketball locker room was respectfully quiet as the team gathered to hear a former player talk to them.

Kendall Alligood was a little nervous because she had never shared her story, but felt comfortable in her old dressing area.

When she finished, the room was still silent as the players needed a minute to process what they had just heard.

Alligood, Class of 2016, played volleyball, basketball and softball at the All-Conference and All-State level and could have played college softball if tragedy hadn’t struck.

In early January of her senior year, she got a life changing call telling her that her mother, 51-year old Linda Alligood, had been in an automobile accident. She wouldn’t survive.

Linda was an operating room nurse at Vidant Beaufort Hospital, coached her daughters and many others in the Bath rec softball, volleyball and basketball leagues, was the Bath Elementary girls basketball coach and created the Easter Panorama at Beaver Dam Church.

Alligood’s father had moved to Kentucky a year earlier and her two older sisters were away at college, leaving Kendall by herself, but not for long.

Her first call was to her coach, Michelle Leathers, who had also coached her sisters.

“It was the first time anything like that had happened with one of my players, but I knew her needs came before anything else,” Leathers, who still coaches the Panthers, said. “Kendall amazed me with the way she pulled herself together and became a success and I knew my current team needed to hear her story.”

After graduation, she enrolled at UNC-Charlotte to put a little distance between herself and home for a chance to heal. Softball was off the table because it would hurt too much to not have her mom in the stands. She worked her way through school and was doing well when she got another call that altered her path.

Her sister had been in an accident and one of her best friends from high school had committed suicide, so she returned to Washington to help.

She transferred to East Carolina to complete her degree in Management Information Systems, but the school pulled her financial aid and canceled her classes a week before the fall semester started.

“My aid form said my mother had passed away, but they didn’t believe it,” Alligood said “I showed them her death certificate and they didn’t believe that either. I knew I couldn’t quit at that point, so I worked four jobs and barely slept so I could graduate.”

Her day started at 2:30 a.m. so she could work the 3-11 shift at Sheetz, followed by another job from noon to 4 p.m., class until 7 p.m., then softball lessons to as many as 45 girls, followed by homework and a couple hours of sleep. She was a nanny to six children from seven a.m. to seven p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday when she didn’t have class.

“That was my life for two years, but my mom always said education was the most important thing, so quitting was never an option,” she said.

A Business Law class in her first semester at ECU sparked an interest and she ended up enrolling in the North Carolina Central School of Law after completing her undergraduate degree.

“My mom always said I would make a great lawyer because I loved to argue,” Alligood said. “I specialized in family law because I want to fight for those who don’t have a voice, like kids in tough domestic situations and abused spouses.”

Her classes were online because of the COVID-19 pandemic until this past fall, when she made the four-hour round trip to Durham four days week to save on rent, while retaining the jobs she started as an undergrad.

She graduated in December, a semester early and is preparing for the bar exam next month in Raleigh. She has job offers in Washington, D.C., Houston and Charlotte and is still deciding between them.

“We were shock when she finished,” Northside junior Mariah Jones said. “She showed us that good things happen when you don’t give up. You have to keep going no matter how bad things are.”

Her teammate, sophomore Olivia Jane (O.J.) Cahoon agreed.

“We had no idea that was coming,” she said. “It was inspiring to hear how she made it through to become a lawyer. I’ll think of her when I’m having a bad day and realize it’s not really that bad. I think all of us will remember her talk for a long time.”

That was why Alligood said yes when Leathers asked her to speak.

“I had never told my story in public, but it’s worth it if it helps one of them” Alligood said. “Coach Leathers has been a huge influence on me and I’m glad I talked to them. I told them to be kind to everyone because you never know what someone is going through.”

Kendall texted me out of the blue a few days before Christmas to let me know she is working for the Jones & Sasnett law firm in downtown Washington handling civil litigation and domestic cases. She thought of me as she walked past our office and decided to check in.

She coached an 8u softball team this summer with 17 girls from five to eight years old and will be an assistant softball coach at Northside this spring.

Stories like these keep me going. Here’s to more of the same in 2024.