It's Happening: Meredith Legg Stapleton's Basketball Legacy Celebrated, USC-Aiken Jersey No. 24 Gifted to Her Parents After Pacers' Last Game of Season

By Julie Perine on February 28, 2017 from It’s Happening via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Meredith Legg Stapleton was a key component of the Bridgeport Middle School and Bridgeport High School basketball teams and did the same for Hopewell High School after her family relocated to North Carolina in 2002. In 2005, she went on to become a four-year starter for the University of South Carolina-Aiken, where she broke and continues to hold many school records – all-time lead scorer (1,480) and best free throw percentage (.882), among others.
 
While still at USC-Aiken, Meredith was diagnosed with ocular melanoma and though facing debilitating tests, treatments and surgeries, continued to put her passion for basketball into action, accepting a position as head coach of the girls’ team at Mead Hall Episcopal School in Aiken. Under Meredith’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the game, the team completed its first winning season and championship. She also founded and coached the Aiken Elite AAU girls’ basketball program, not only establishing a feeder program for Mead Hall, but also an alternative league for girls who couldn’t afford to attend the private school.
 
After bravely and optimistically battling her disease for nearly five years, Meredith passed away on Feb. 24, 2014, leaving behind a legacy at the schools where she played and coached.  
 
At Mead Hall, the recognition process began in 2012 after she left the program to marry her high school sweetheart Christopher Stapleton. 
 
“The staff and the coach who took her place decided they wanted to do an award for a female basketball player who exemplified the qualities that Meredith brought to the team and the school,” said her dad, Basil Legg. “This is the fourth year that they have given that award and all four of those girls are totally outstanding young ladies; two who have already gone on to college and are doing extremely well.”
 
The honor is awarded at an annual banquet held after each season. The 2017 banquet was held Thurs., Feb. 24, exactly three years since Meredith's passing.
 
It wasn’t easy for the Leggs to attend the banquet, but knowing that Meredith was such a vital part of the program and its success, how could they not, they said.
 
“It was really hard to go because it makes us miss her more, but the only thing worse than going was not going,” Basil said. “Ultimately, it is reaffirming and uplifting.”
 
Once the Leggs discovered who was receiving this year's award, it was particularly uplifting.
 
"It went to one of the original fourth graders who started with Meredith on the AAU team," said her mom, Robin Legg.
 
Robin said one of the players’ dads approached her Thursday night and said his daughter – who is now a junior at Mead Hall and had played for Meredith from day one – has a bedroom full of her former coach’s photos, little mementos Meredith had given her, news articles and other memorabilia. It really touched Robin’s heart, she said.
 
Thursday wasn't the only day last week that the couple was deeply touched with regard to their daughter's lasting legacy.
 
On Wed., Feb. 23, they attended a game at the University of South Carolina-Aiken to receive Meredith’s jersey – No. 24.
 
And there's quite a story behind that, too.
 
“After Meredith left there and we knew things weren’t going well, we had actually talked to the school about retiring her number, but the athletic director said that had never been done,” he said. “So they didn’t.”
 
Jersey No. 24 thereafter was worn by a young lady named Carly Gilreath, who - with her abilities on the floor and attitude of determination - not only did the jersey justice, but she also became a close family friend.
 
“She has turned out to have had a similar effect on the community that Meredith did,” Basil said. “She’s serving as assistant coach at Mead Hall and working with Meredith’s AAU program. We got to know her last year when she came to the ceremony and (Wednesday night), we watched her play what was probably the best game of her career. She scored 20 points and hit three or four three-pointers.”
 
As Carly played her last college game for USC-Aiken, she and her fellow seniors were honored and the Leggs received a very special gift.
 
“At the bottom of the gift bag was a jersey (Carly) wore as a freshman – the same jersey Meredith had worn as a senior,” Robin said. “We’re going to take it and have it framed and put it in our house.”
 
Upon receipt of the gift, the Leggs were told that No. 24 had unofficially – at least as long as the current Head Coach Mark Miller heads up the program - been retired from USC-Aiken.
 
Carly, who plans to become a coach and teacher, has found a special place in the hearts of Robin and Basil. Meredith, who is a member of the Hopewell High School Hall of Fame, will always be a guardian angel for her family and friends – and a number of successful basketball teams.
 
Her parents say she was a competitor, had goals and played to fulfill goals for herself and especially her team.Local coaches for whom Meredith played include Rita Robbins, Dennis Hutson and Dave Marshall. 
 
Basketball was one of many ways Meredith set the world on fire in a way - which all who knew her - said was contagious. I can certainly attest to that. I can also say that while Robin and Basil  were sharing with me how they were uplifted through these events and honors, they were inspiring this writer in a big way. Their love for Meredith remains steadfast as they continue to celebrate her and her zest for life, but time after time they continue to share that love with those they meet along the way. 
 
Read more about Meredith at a Web site which has been established in her honor and memory HERE.
 
Read Connect-Bridgeport's April 24, 2013 story about Meredith's appearance on TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress" - one of our biggest stories to date - HERE.
 
Julie Perine can be reached at 304-848-8200, ext. 2, julie@connect-bridgeport.com or follow @JuliePerine on Twitter. More "It's Happening" HERE.



Connect Bridgeport
© 2018 Connect-Bridgeport.com