There is a face so familiar on the social media pages of ORU men’s basketball it doesn’t require a caption.
The players embraced her as their “Mama Bird,” who cheered for them even during the toughest games on the road. She traveled more than 2,500 miles to watch her son and the other Golden Eagles play, and if she wasn’t with them she was watching them on TV. She can’t wait to do it all over again this season.
Kelly White is a 1996 ORU alumna and mother of four, including sophomore men’s basketball player Javan White. She describes herself as “that mom” who is the loudest, most passionate supporter of her kid’s team. She even had a special t-shirt designed.
“Some website just came across my Facebook feed where you could order a Golden Eagle shirt that said ‘Mama Bird.’ I got it and I wore the heck out of it,” Kelly said with a chuckle. “I probably need a new one.”
Javan, the 6’10” forward, wasn’t always a big man. He started his athletic career on his hometown’s Upward basketball team in second grade. Kelly wasn’t “that mom” yet either.
“I was working for the post office when I was having to miss some things here and there and other people were taking him to tournaments. I just said ‘no more,’” she recalled. “I was like, ‘I am not going to miss my kid’s stuff.’”
She quit, and Kelly has proudly worn the title of “that mom” ever since.
“In high school, she was at every home game and every away game,” said Javan. “You could hear her through the whole gym, no matter how big it was.”
Her support went further than simply cheering at games. She was a mother who strived to teach her son to be kind, humble and handle all situations with maturity.
“If I was having trouble with teammates or had to deal with an issue with a coach, she was always able to coach me on how to handle things off the court. Then I was able to develop characteristics to handle things on the court,” Javan said.
Those lessons translated into a spot at ORU and a mom who couldn’t disguise her pride.
“[She] was super excited and blew it up on Facebook. It was a dream come true for me and for her,” he said cracking a smile. “To have a scholarship to a Div. I school, and then for it to be ORU is very special.”
The Summit League spans three time zones, seven states and nine cities, yet Kelly went to more than six conference road games and multiple home contests over the course of the season. She had to work around the basketball schedule of Javan’s sister Jasmine, who was a high school senior at the time. But Mama Bird was still rooting for her Golden Eagles, even when she wasn’t physically present.
“When I wasn’t at his games, I was watching them at home,” Kelly said. “I didn’t miss a single game last year.”
Javan wasn’t surprised to see his mom at more than a few games. He describes it as “Mom being Mom,” and is more than appreciative for her support.
“She’s the best mom in the world. She had to sacrifice a lot of her own time to make sure I could live my dreams,” he said. “Being able to put a smile on her face every time I go out there and play, just knowing at the end of the day she wants the best for me, you can’t thank her enough.”
Kelly’s presence is welcomed by the coaches and staff as well as her son and his teammates.
“I was really surprised by the coaches, but they really embraced it and loved that I loved being there,” she said. “Then the staff, the radio guy [formerly Geoff Haxton] and Blake [Freeland, assistant athletic director and head of media relations], they’re all talking about it. I guess people don’t go overboard like that, but that’s me. I can’t stay away.”
She’s not going to, either. Kelly White will put her Mama Bird t-shirt back on and make a few fatheads with the regular season just days away, to once again take her place as “that mom” for the Golden Eagles.
“I’m so thrilled with the boys, the team and the program,” Kelly said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to have success this season. They deserve it and the coaches deserve that. It’s an honor for my son to be a part of that program and I could not be more pleased he’s at Oral Roberts.”