Princess Josie Hodges

In Community, Leone Fitzgerald by Lola Magazine

Have you ever met a 19-year-old who has traveled to Kenya with her mother and helped start a non-profit organization there?

What about a 19-year-old who likes to make her own Halloween costumes – including elaborate feathered headdresses and wooden stilts that she built herself and masks that emit smoke? No? Well, then you have not met Josie Hodges, this year’s princess honored by the Northwest Louisiana St. Jude Classic tennis tournament. Each year since its inception, the tournament committee chooses a prince and/or princess who has received treatment at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Having a prince or princess participate in the tournament puts an innocent face to the scourge that is childhood cancer. It reminds the planning committee of why they are doing what they are doing. It also educates those involved about the miracles that are performed every day at St. Jude.

When the committee was searching for a prince or princess this year, they heard about Josie’s story and called her up. When asked if she would be interested in being the tournament princess this year, it took her a fraction of a second to say “Sure! I’ll do it.” Josie was then invited to the next committee meeting so they could meet her and tell her more about the tournament. She never missed another meeting. When asked what kind of cancer she had, Josie’s reply was something like “Oh, it was just Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” That reply is a perfect example of the tenacity and resilience that Josie exudes in her daily life.

In 2018, Josie was a student taking mid-term exams at Caddo Magnet High School when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Josie went to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where she endured six cycles of chemotherapy. She completed her last cycle just in time to head off to summer camp! Rather than complain about having cancer at such a young age, Josie describes St. Jude as “the Disney World of hospitals!” Thankfully, she is now cancer-free! Josie did have to repeat one year of high school, and tragically suffered the sudden loss of her mother earlier this year, but she graduated last May and is currently adjusting to being a freshman at Centenary College. She is interested in studying medicine or perhaps theater and seems perfect for either (or both)! It was Josie’s mother who exposed her to her greatest passion – her chickens. That’s right – raising chickens. Josie is very well-versed in all things chicken and loves to talk about them with others. She even has a few bobwhite quail, too. Since her chickens were not allowed to move into the college dorm with her, she still goes home each day to visit and care for them.

Normally, being the tournament prince or princess is just an honorary title. But not for this princess. Josie worked right along with the committee – attending planning meetings, stuffing player goodie bags, making name tags and being part of the cleanup crew when the tournament ended. She was even doing biology homework during one of the meetings! But, after all that work, the princess got to play. If you had been at Pierremont Oaks Tennis Club that Saturday night, you would have had the heartwarming experience of watching Josie jumping around swinging a tennis racquet while attempting to win one of the prizes that were scattered on the opposite side of the tennis court. “Hit for Prizes” is a very popular event that the tournament added to the lineup a couple of years ago. Many prizes are spread out on one side of the court and if a participant hits that prize, then it is theirs. There were many gift cards, t-shirts and gag gifts, including a pink jellyfish costume that looked fabulous on its male winner (You know who you are). And, because the tournament committee likes to go big, the grand prizes this year were a Julie Vos necklace from McCary’s Jewelers, a Pelican Elite cooler and a 65-inch smart television. Not having much experience with playing tennis, Josie never hesitated to give hitting for prizes a try. All of the other participants received a true blessing watching her unabashedly swat at the balls being fed to her – all while bedecked in her princess tiara and purple feather boa. If the errant feathers scattered about the tennis club the next day were any indication, it appeared the princess had quite a festive night.

This year’s event was the 14th Northwest Louisiana St. Jude Classic and drew 273 players. It was so many that matches had to be played in two locations. For the first time in the tournament’s history, there were two title sponsors who donated at the highest level – Lang Orthodontics and Ivan Smith Furniture. (Mr. Ivan Smith happens to be the grandfather of Princess Josie and one of her biggest supporters.) The tournament committee reports they are on track to beat their own record this year – with a grand total of approximately $58,000 that will go directly to St. Jude. Because of the recurring generosity of this community, all cash raised is donated to St. Jude and is not needed to cover tournament expenses.

Year after year, the tournament committee is overwhelmed by the hard work and generosity that the citizens in this area are willing to provide. The tournament includes a silent auction of donated items, which run the gamut from jewelry, trips, gift cards, coolers, tennis lessons and more. This year’s auction had a banner year and raised over $14,000 – another record. Local food trucks Kona Ice, Ono Hawaiian Grill and Downsouth Dawgs and Catering all showed up Saturday evening to feed hungry tennis players and donate a portion of their proceeds to the tournament.

Many in our area are unaware that we have one of eight St. Jude Affiliate Clinics right here in Shreveport. Affiliate clinics can greatly help some patients and their families by lessening the number of out-of-state trips required for treatment.

One of the most remarkable things about the Northwest Louisiana St. Jude Classic is the myriad of ways people can and do contribute to make the event a success. If you played in the tournament, donated cash or an item to the auction, purchased an auction item, liked and shared on social media, volunteered to work the registration desk, provided food or drinks, or even just bought a hot dog, then you directly contributed to a child and the family of a child battling cancer. To hear the stories year after year of our princes and princesses and their families who have experienced the devastating diagnosis of cancer is all the volunteers need to stay motivated to put this tournament on. Because “no child should die in the dawn of life.” -Danny Thomas

As for Princess Josie Hodges, she is definitely living life to the fullest – thanks to the folks at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. This will not be the last time you hear about her. And as for this year’s Northwest Louisiana St. Jude Classic tournament committee, they have been doubly blessed. Not only did they successfully help support St. Jude’s mission of finding a cure and saving children, but they all gained a beautiful friend.

If you want to become involved with the tournament as a donor or a volunteer, please contact co-chairmen Edmund Brown by calling 318-458-2511 or Teri Flash 318-393-0006. You can also check out the tournament Facebook page or the website at www.StJudeClassic.info.