Former Coppin State Lady Eagles basketball player Jennifer Martin was 24 when she learned that she was waging a battle for her life against a rare form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. She died on March 11, 2012—her 26th birthday.

Partnering with the American Cancer Society, the Coppin Lady Eagles recently hosted Hampton University’s Lady Pirates in a game called “Coaches vs. Cancer Presents Play for J” in remembrance of the 2009 graduate, who also was known as “Jenny” during her years on the Baltimore campus. A video showing Martin and a presentation was made to her family at the end of the Feb. 4 game.

“It’s an honor to know that she was loved by so many and that her short life touched so many,” said Martin’s mother, Saone Jones. “I’m glad to be able to share this moment with everybody at Coppin.”

Raised in Prince George’s County, Martin started playing basketball at age 10 at the Boys and Girls Club in Glenarden. She attended DuVal High School in Lanham, and earned a full athletic scholarship to Coppin.

Jones said she was grateful for the relationships her daughter developed while at Coppin, especially with the ladies’ basketball coaches and staff, who have been “an extended family since the day I dropped her off on the campus.”

That family stood by Martin after she was diagnosed. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Rhabdomyosarcoma is a “cancerous (malignant) tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones.” Only a few hundred cases are diagnosed each year.

Jones watched as her daughter took chemotherapy treatments two to three times a week at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Despite a noble effort, she lost her battle with cancer last year.

“We feel the loss, but I’m grateful that we had people surrounding her,” Jones said.

Cortney Caseman, 21, remembers Martin as a “real humble, nice and outgoing” friend whom she met through mutual friends at Victory Deliverance Temple in Fort Washington, Md. Martin, a writer who loved children and shopping, sang in the choir and was a member of the liturgical dance team.

“Jennifer Martin was an amazing person,” Caseman said. “When I found out she had cancer, it hit me and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to her. It affected everyone. But things happen for a reason and she’s in everybody’s hearts.”

Sherrie Tucker, 28, of Philadelphia, met Martin during their two years playing basketball together at Coppin.

“She was the life of the party,” Tucker said. “We spent a couple of years together during the summertime taking classes, working on our game in the gym … She was just a good person to be around and always willing to help people out.”

Coppin alumni and friends said a year after her death and four years after she left the campus, she is still missed.

“Unfortunately, she had to leave so soon, but she impacted my life,” Tucker said. “I am now more aware about cancer and how it affects people at all different ages.”

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer