Columbus Christian senior returns to court after brain injury

A quick glance at the boxscore from Saturday night shows that Levi Sallee scored two points in Columbus Christian’s 74-26 win against Fortune Academy.

But those two points may be the biggest two points the Crusaders score all season. They were definitely the biggest two points of Sallee’s career.

A little more than 14 months ago, Sallee was a passenger in a car accident along the Bartholomew-Jennings County line. He was flown to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis by helicopter, where an MRI revealed a traumatic brain injury.

Sallee spent the next 55 days in hospitals. For more than a month, he was in a coma.

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“First, he was fighting for his life,” said his mother, Michelle Sallee. “(Fourteen) months ago, we didn’t know if he was going to still be here. Then, he was fighting for the ability to pick up a water bottle, put one foot in front of the other, eventually. Every single thing he’s done has been a fight.”

Levi returned to school last November in a wheelchair. He progressed to a walker, then gained the ability to walk on his own.

Although he couldn’t play basketball, he sat on the bench with the team during games.

“Most times, it was rough because I knew there’s nothing I could do to help my team in the midst of their struggle,” he said. “I could encourage them, but I couldn’t physically help them at all.”

But Columbus Christian coach Kevin Roth said Levi still played a significant role on that team.

The Crusaders went 28-6 and won a National Association of Christian Athletes championship in March in Dayton, Tennessee. Levi was there every step of the way.

“Levi is a smart young man, and he would encourage the guys and talk to them during halftime or when they would come out of the game,” Roth said. “He knew where we were struggling on maybe offense or defense, and he was able to encourage his teammates.”

Along the way, Levi has gone through the rehabilitation process. He spent his first 40 days of rehab at Riley Hospital For Children in Indianapolis, then went to Methodist.

Levi now does his rehab at Select Physical Therapy in Columbus with Rob Ingram, the father of one of his classmates at Columbus Christian.

“It’s trying to relearn how to walk,” Michelle Sallee said. “Rewiring of the brain is taking place, so therefore, he’s had to learn how to do everything. It’s been thousands upon thousands of hours of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. We’ve just done everything we can for him. The doctors and the nurses, everybody that’s taken care of him, have helped tremendously through the challenges that we have. It’s such a long journey.”

That journey reached a milestone seven days ago when doctors cleared Levi to return to the basketball court for practice and games.

Although he would be limited to a couple minutes per quarter, that was good news to Levi, who had played a key role off the bench as a sophomore and was projected as a starter last season before the injury.

“I don’t cry very often, but I almost cried then,” he said. “I just gave my mom a huge hug. She just had surgery on her right shoulder, and I hurt it because I hugged her so hard.”

The Crusaders opened the regular season with a pair of games on Saturday. Levi played a couple minutes in the second and fourth quarters of a 57-31 win against Trinity Christian in the afternoon.

That night, Levi played a couple minutes in each of the final three quarters in a 74-26 rout of Fortune Academy.

“It feels amazing,” he said. “I just have to thank God. I was so bad off, and now, here I am. I just prayed continuously, and here I am. I think the hardest thing for me is just knowing that I’m not as good as I once was. I still have some rough patches, but I’ll get there.”

Levi still has limitations on the basketball court, but that didn’t stop him from getting in on the action late against Fortune Academy. He took two shots from underneath the basket, making the second with 43 seconds left in the game.

That would be the last — but certainly not the least — basket of the game.

“He just never gives up,” said his father, Tom Sallee. “I figured he’d do it someday. He sets his goals, and that’s what he wants to do.”

Roth said he has had opportunities to work with Levi in practice, and that he has made some uncontested 10-to-12-foot jump shots.

Roth thinks with Levi being able to be part of some of team’s drills and getting his confidence up by making baskets in practice and scoring in the game, the more it is going to help his mobility.

“I think it’s helping him get out here in practice and work hard and getting back to where he wants to be, and it was really icing on the cake for him to get that layup there in the fourth quarter,” Roth said.

Michelle Sallee said Levi likely will stay in Columbus next year and pursue a degree in the medical or education field at Ivy Tech or IUPUC. Then, he plans to study for a doctorate in physical therapy.

She called Saturday’s basket by Levi, “The basket of his life.”

“It was just elation and fear and joy and just thankfulness to God for healing him,” Michelle Sallee said. “We’re thankful to so many people and mostly to God.”

Levi Sallee

Name: Levi Sallee

School: Columbus Christian

Year: Senior

Height: 6-foot-2

Position: Forward

Family: Parents Tom and Michelle Sallee, brother Joshua Sallee

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.