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Skyline teen mom athlete plays for her infant son
Prep sports » Skyline’s Ta’a Tuinei balances basketball and motherhood.

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"To me, she could do no wrong," Paloma says. "She was the one who was going to make it all the way."

Paloma swallowed her disappointment and immediately began taking care of things Ta’a had neglected until then, such as an ultrasound, prenatal vitamins, slowing down her schedule and showing her how to be a mom.

At a glance

Skyline’s season ends

Skyline’s quest to get to the girls 4A basketball championship game ended Friday with a 55-49 semifinal loss to Timpanogos at Salt Lake Community College. Miquelle Askew led Timpanogos with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Skyline’s Ta’a Tuinei, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help lead the Eagles past Maple Mountain to get the semifinals, was held to 2 points and 5 rebounds by the Timberwolves.

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"My biggest supporter is my mom," Ta’a says. "No matter what, I always try to make her proud."

Another shot

Deb Bennett has been coaching for 32 years. She’s won two state championships at Skyline and coached hundreds of players.

Never once has one of her players gotten pregnant.

Bennett empathized with Ta’a personally, but as a coach, she couldn’t help but be disappointed by losing one of her best players heading into a season with title aspirations. She prepared for basketball without Ta’a.

But in July, as Ta’a was caught in the whirlwind of impending motherhood, Paloma called Bennett.

She wanted to meet with the coach. Bennett agreed to meet, ready for disappointment. But to her surprise, Bennett found herself discussing with Paloma how her daughter could rejoin the team.

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"She said she wanted to play basketball, but she knew it would be tough," Bennett says. "We said we’d help her. I think the whole team was elated by that."

Paloma was a dancer before setting aside her dreams for her children.

She was determined that wouldn’t happen to her daughter. In fact, she felt even more strongly about it after Tereinga entered their lives. If her daughter couldn’t go to college, what future remained for her grandson?

"I’ve always told her life is never easy - that you work and work at it, but it’s always hard," Paloma says. "She’s a great athlete, and I know this is a way for her to get to college. She can use that to better her life. And your son is the reason you need to go on. He’s the one you need to do this for.

"It took her a while to believe that," she adds.

Taking care of Tereinga is a family operation when Ta’a is away. Her brother Tama Tuinei watches him when Ta’a is at school. Her sisters take over when they get home from school, caring for Tereinga when Ta’a is at practice. If Skyline plays a game, Paloma picks him up after she gets off work, and the two go to see his mother play.

Back in the game

Ta’a’s wanting to resume playing basketball was one thing. Getting into basketball shape less than a month after giving birth was another. It was grueling, Ta’a says. The conditioning was hell, and despite getting medical approval before the season-opener against American Fork, she wasn’t prepared to play.

She scored 2 points in a game she remembers as "exhausting."

Ta’a estimates it took her a month before she was in game shape. It’s telling that in the first month of the season, Skyline went 2-5. In the games since, the Eagles went 13-1 to finish the regular season, and won their first two Class 4A state tournament games. Ta’a is the top rebounder and one of the top scorers on the team, averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds a game. But there’s more to it than that.

"She’s a lot more mature now," Bennett says of her captain. "We have 13 freshmen in our program, and she’s a good leader for all of them."

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