The emotionally heartbreaking and trying path that Tayler Chandler negotiated through her time at Columbus East High School took a triumphant turn Monday.
Standing in front of her classmates and family during a celebration at the East commons, Chandler signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at Marian University.
Not only does she get to showcase her athletic talent at the next level, she gets to remain near her family, a huge priority ever since her mother, Chena Chandler, fought a 32-month battle against cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease July 21 of last year.
“I think she would have loved (Marian),” Tayler Chandler said of her mother. “But she would always say that I should go ‘wherever I would be happiest.’ She just wanted me to find a program that would help me grow as a young woman.”
The personality traits Chena Chandler passed to her daughter have been on display ever since she took up volleyball in seventh grade.
“We have the same type of personalty,” said Tayler Chandler, who helped the Olympians to three consecutive sectional titles and a semistate appearance her junior year. “We go after what we believe in, and we do not give up.”
That combined with another trait from dad, Chris Chandler, helped turn the 5-foot-11, senior into a scholarship athlete.
“My dad and I … we’re both pretty hard-headed,” Tayler Chandler said with a laugh.
Standing not far away, her dad wore a smile that just wouldn’t go away.
“She is as strong as her mom,” Chris Chandler said with a halting voice. “How is she like me? Stubborn. She will never give up.”
Chris Chandler remembered the first day his daughter went to play volleyball as a seventh-grader. “She liked it, and I knew she was going to be good at it,” he said. “She had played basketball for me for a long time, and then she flipped to be a cheerleader. But volleyball, she stuck with it. At that time when she was in seventh grade, I had never seen a volleyball match.
“Now she plays 11 months out of the year.”
Before her mother became ill, Tayler Chandler looked into continuing her education out of state, but the traumatic family journey convinced her to find a place closer.
Even so, her best offer had been from Concordia University in Chicago. Then 10 days ago, Marian volleyball coach Ashlee Pritchard went to see her play club volleyball because Pritchard got an unexpected opening on her roster.
It took Pritchard just one play to be convinced that she should offer that spot to Tayler Chandler, who will be a middle hitter in college.
“She made a block on the outside, then went back to her right for another block, and then back to the outside to block another ball,” Pritchard said. “Three blocks on that one play, and then she got the kill.
“That one play clinched it for us. She is extremely athletic, and it’s easy to see how dominant she can be on the floor.”
Pritchard called the Chandlers and made the offer. Tayler Chandler, who had been hoping that Marian would be interested, accepted immediately.
“I knew that this is where I wanted to be,” she said. “Their business school is top notch, and I am excited it’s not far away from home.”
East Athletics Director Bob Gaddis addressed the crowd before Chandler spoke.
“We hope our students can use athletics as a way to get an education, that’s what it is all about,” Gaddis said. “We are proud that she is a product of East.”
Chris Chandler was asked how his daughter managed to handle her academic and athletics commitments through such a trying time.
“I can’t even imagine,” he said. “Words can’t describe it. I am so proud of her. She never came home and complained. She never asked for help.
“But she always finds a way to succeed.”
Tayler Chandler said she drew strength from her mom and dad.
“My sophomore year was the hardest,” she said. “It was at the height of my mom’s illness. I was going back and forth on whether I should play volleyball. But there was no way my dad was going to let me quit because he knew how much I loved it.”
She now heads to a rebuilding Knights’ program that was 11-23 overall last season and competes in the Crossroads Conference. She hopes that adversity has made her a stronger person.
“I definitely feel it has brought me closer to my faith,” she said. “I think I will be more prepared for obstacles.”