Column: (updated) Former Bossier basketball star Roots has come a long way since accident

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Jeff Thomas/Press-Tribune

Russell Hedges

Reggie Roots said watching his son Kaalas walk across the stage to receive his diploma at the CenturyLink Center on Saturday during Bossier High’s graduation ceremony was “truly a blessing from God.”

“It was the ultimate gratification,” he said. “You always hear people say that ‘I’m blessed.’ That was truly a blessing from God for us to see that (Saturday), because at one point in time we were actually thinking there was a possibility we’d be attending a funeral instead of seeing him walk across the stage at graduation.”

On March 28, Kaalas, a basketball star who helped Bossier reach the Class 4A state championship game last season, was involved in a car accident that left him with a severe head injury.

The accident occurred after he left a practice for the I-20 Classic All-Star basketball game which was scheduled for the following Saturday at Centenary.

When Kaalas walked across the stage, he looked pretty much like the hundreds of other Bossier Parish graduates who got their diplomas.

He bumped fists and pointed fingers with principal David Thrash and they hugged briefly. He then continued on his way, raising his right fist in the air while getting a huge cheer from the crowd.

Roots arrived at the ceremony in a wheelchair and needed a little help getting down the stairs off the stage. He still has a ways to go with his rehabilitation, but Reggie Roots said his son is doing “exceptionally well.”

He said the injury mainly affected his short-term memory. But in the last two weeks, things have started to come together.

“Everything seems to be intact,” Reggie said. “He’s catching on and just going through everything. He’s had to go through some small things because of the brain injury. His left side is a little bit weaker than the right side.

“It’s just working on those things and getting those motor skills back together. I am ecstatic from what I’m looking at from the first day I walked into University Health and saw him.”

After receiving treatment at University Health, Kaalas was transferred to a hospital in New Orleans and put in a program for patients with traumatic brain injuries.

According to an April 13 post on his mother Nesha’s Facebook page, Kaalas was diagnosed with a grade 3 brain injury called diffuse axonal which causes apraxia, a range of neurological deficits that affects a person mentally and physically.

In New Orleans, Kaalas has made rapid progress.

Just a few days after a video showed him sitting on a table shooting a small basketball into a toy hoop from a few feet away, another video showed him swishing a real free throw at a New Orleans recreational center.

The center just happened to look somewhat similar to Bossier’s gym with a lot of green on the walls.

Kaalas did not head back to New Orleans after his graduation and may be able to finish his therapy here.

There was some talk of flying, but the family drove to Bossier City from New Orleans. Reggie said Kaalas’ medical team wanted to see how he handled the trip. He got a CT scan before he left and is scheduled to get another Monday morning.

If the scan basically shows the same results as the one in New Orleans, Kaalas will remain home.

Reggie Roots said before he left New Orleans Kaalas was put through a “little obstacle gauntlet” and didn’t have any setbacks.

“They decided to go ahead and let him try to make the trip and see how things would work,” he said. “They want him to be at home. He has just progressed so well that they thought he could just finish his therapies out here and it would help him because he’s at home in a familiar place as well.”

(Update: Kaalas’ scan on Monday showed the same results as the one he had in New Orleans so he will be able to complete his rehabilitation locally, Reggie Roots said Monday in a text message.)

Since the accident, there has been an outpouring of support for Kaalas in the community. It has shown again, too, that no matter how competitive Bossier Parish schools are on the fields and courts, everyone comes together when something like this happens.

“I can’t tell everybody thank you enough or with the amount of joy that’s in my heart because of what they’ve done for our family,” Reggie said. “That part is where it gets teary for me. For people to have that type of care for human beings. You always hear the bad things in the news and to see that there are people who still love people out there. It’s just real heart-pressing for me.”

A few days after the accident, Bossier High set up a fund to assist with medical expenses and other needs for the Roots family.

Kaalas’ middle school Cope was one of the first to make a donation through some of its organizations.

The Airline lacrosse team donated almost $1,000 raised through gate receipts from a playoff game. Gate receipts from Benton’s spring football scrimmage game against Haynesville last Friday were also earmarked for the Roots’ family.

The I-20 Classic All-Star basketball game had a “split the pot’” with proceeds going to the family.

On March 9, Cope Middle School coach Ron Walsworth announced a new annual award for the “hardest working, most liked player that goes all-out on the floor, passion every game.” It is called the Spirit of Roots Award. Appropriately, the first one went to Kaalas’ brother, Tahj, a guard for the Cougars the last two years. He will be a Bearkat like his brother this fall.

Reggie said that the family is in the process of figuring out a way to personally thank everyone who has provided any kind of help.

In addition to being a standout basketball player, by all accounts Roots is also a “great kid.” That’s how his former coach, Jeremiah Williams, described him during a conversation with me at a recent track meet.

On a personal note, I watched Kaalas play basketball many times over the years and he was impressive. But I was even more impressed with how he handled an interview I did with him in the summer of 2018 for a story about how he and teammate Jacoby Decker were preparing for the upcoming season.

His answers were well thought out and offered good insight.

Reggie Roots said the family’s strong Christian faith has helped them get through this. He believes the fact that Kaalas is alive now is divine intervention.

“The entire thing is a testimony of God,” he said.

Reggie said Kaalas’ head injury was caused by the air bag. When he went to take the tags off the wrecked vehicle, he noticed Kaalas’ backpack on the passenger side against the gearshift.

It had been left there because the employees figured there were valuables in it and one of Kaalas’ family members would eventually retrieve it.

“So I reached over to grab the backpack and something was on top of it,” Reggie said. “When I pulled it out a Bible was sitting on top of the backpack right where the (air bag) compression stopped.”

Reggie said the Bible was an older one his wife had many years ago, but they don’t know why it was in the car or how it got there.

Reggie only knew that it wasn’t in the glove compartment or under the front seat before the accident because he always kept that area cleaned out.

“It couldn’t slide from the back because there was no undercarriage under the backseat for it to go through,” he said. “It had to fly from somewhere in the back and land right on top of the backpack right where the compression stopped. The Bible and the backpack had no scratches, no tears.”

It was in perfect shape.

Saturday’s graduation ceremony was obviously a special day for hundreds of students and their families. Many if not most likely had to overcome some degree of adversity to reach this point in their lives. They all have their own stories.

But there is no doubt the day was extra special for the Roots family.

Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at rhedges@bossierpress.com