Missy Tiber, the head women’s basketball coach at UNA, has accolades that can line the walls for years to come. One accolade, however, outshines the rest and required five years of perseverance and a lifetime of hope. What Tiber accomplished in the summer of 2018 is a feat that will last a lifetime. It is not a plaque or trophy, but a 20-month-old boy from Wichita, Kansas, named Ezekiel who Tiber adopted after wanting to be a mother throughout her career.
Tiber adopted Ezekiel “Zeke” Lee Tiber before he was born and was in the hospital room for his birth. Although she always knew she wanted a child, Tiber waited five years before she made the decision to adopt.
“I always wanted to be a mom,” Tiber said. “The process started about five or six years ago, I really started considering adoption. I thought I would have a kid of my own someday, but you get to chasing this career and every four years I was fortunate to obtain a better job.”
Tiber has made stops at Southern Illinois University, West Liberty State, Belmont Abbey and Tusculum college. North Alabama, after its transition to Division-I, became the second Division-I women’s college basketball team that Tiber has coached.
Now in her seventh year as the head coach of the Lions, Tiber said she first contemplated adoption toward the beginning of her tenure at the university. She consulted with family, friends and even her pastor throughout the years to help come to a decision.
“Finally, a couple years ago I got enough courage to talk with my pastor,” Tiber said. “I told myself I would go talk with my pastor and see what he thinks about [adoption]. He had so many good things to say and that I would be an awesome mom. After that, I started the process.”
During the adoption procedure, Tiber did not have a preference of gender or race, however she knew she would always do great with a little boy. Her faith in God and patience led her to adopt Zeke after enduring many highs and lows throughout the adoption process.
“I just wanted a healthy baby,” Tiber said. “I didn’t have a preference of sex or race, but I always knew in my mind who I would like to be matched with – I thought I’d be a great boy mom. I first got matched with a baby girl, then the birth mom changed her mind. I was in the lowest of lows until Ezekiel.”
After the birth mother of the girl withdrew her child, Tiber received another match that very day.
“Later that same day I got matched with Ezekiel,” said Tiber. “I went from the lowest of lows to about the happiest I could be. I wasn’t supposed to be a mom until July, then all of a sudden the mom changed her mind and Zeke was coming the next week.”
The adoption process can take anywhere from two months to seven years, depending on a number of factors. The cost of adoption averages to be $43,000, and is made up of two periods: pre- and post-placement.
Tiber embarked on an almost three month home study to determine her fitness as a parent and the best match for her in a future child. This homestudy included a screening on her life, her home and her personality. Adoption agencies require a homestudy before applicants are officially able to adopt a child.
“[The adoption procedure] is intense,” Tiber said. “You have to do a homestudy which means you have to hire an agency. You visit their agency and then they come visit you twice in your home. They ask you everything from ‘how will you discipline the child?’ to ‘what families live around?.’ They also ask how you would integrate a bi-racial baby into the area if you were to get one.”
The head basketball coach hired Faithful Adoption Consultants out of Canton, Ga., a consulting firm that helps connect individuals pursuing adoption with agencies throughout the United States accelerates the process. A person could hire one agency but the process could take a lot longer than being with a consulting firm.
Everything came together for Tiber, the timing, her faith, her patience and her profile book. A profile book is presented to the birth mom and kept for the child as well. This book details significant parts of an adoptive parent’s journey to get to where they are in life and aids birth mothers when selecting an adoptive parent.
Tiber created her profile book with pictures, important pieces of her life and colors. She picked out two colors in her book, purple and gold, for North Alabama. Her consulting firm asked her to change her colors to help her chances of matching with a potential birth mother. Tiber, hesitant, did as instructed but kept one of her colors: purple.
“I said ‘I’m not changing purple’,” Tiber said. “Purple was staying but I changed the gold, so we ended up making the gold become blue-ish color in my book.”
As Tiber sat in the hospital room the day of Zeke’s birth, the mother grabbed Tiber and pulled her close.
“She grabbed my hand,” Tiber said. “‘Purple. My favorite color,’ she said. ‘I noticed that in your book and it was perfect.’”
Guided by her faith throughout the adoption process, Tiber chose to honor that commitment by bestowing her new son the first name Ezekiel. Instead of choosing both his first and middle names, Tiber asked the birth mother to give him his middle name. She chose Lee.
“I picked his first name before I even met her,” Tibor said. “I let her pick his middle name which she chose Lee. That was my grandfather’s middle name as well. There were things that I noticed that the Lord had this child specifically planned out for me. I knew he would hold true and get me the child I was supposed to have.”
Tiber, a single mother after the adoption of Zeke, cannot do everything on her own. Coaching a Division-I basketball team as well as taking care of her newborn forced her to rely on others around her.
“I could no where do this without the support system I have,” Tiber said. “My assistant coaches are awesome, my players are awesome and Lindsey Williams is his nanny. Without all these people that help me and this administration being so supportive, I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own.”
Williams, a sophomore at UNA,helps take care of Tiber’s son Zeke. She nannies him on weekends or when Tiber travels for games. Williams has taken care of Zeke for most of his life.
“I started keeping Zeke when he was a couple months old,” Williams said. “I would babysit him during practices or when coach Tiber went on short recruiting trips. As he got older and started to walk, I think it got harder for Tiber to take him on as many trips. She reached out to me to babysit more.”
Zeke attends the daycare at First United Methodist in Florence, where Williams drops him off and picks him up before and after her classes. After she picks him up she typically takes him to Flowers Hall to watch his mother and her team practice and play games.
“You should see his face light up,” Williams said. “When he sees the team and his mom, he gives the biggest hugs. He is one loved little boy. When we go to home games he loves to give high-fives to the team before and after the game. We sit upstairs because I’m afraid that when he sees his mom and the players, that he will run out onto the court.”
When it is just Williams and Zeke, they usually watch the movie “Cars.” Zeke also drags Williams to run and play outside or do anything that involves a ball. She tries to keep his schedule as close to Tiber’s as possible to not get him off track. Although he does always get a surprise when Tiber is away.
“When Coach Tiber has a road trip, I will stay at her house,” Williams said. “I try to keep his routine as close as possible to when she is home. However, she always facetimes in the morning, afternoon and before bed. He lights up when she calls and gives kisses to her through the phone.”
At just over a year and half, Zeke has already established a large presence in Florence. He has 12 girls infatuated with him on the basketball court, and he also gets noticed elsewhere, like at his daycare.
“He is usually the last to get there,” Tiber said. “They tell me he is a little rough-house but he is the leader. Every day that I drop him off I always hear, ‘Zeke! Zeke! Zeke!’ by all the other little kids.”
He also has his favorite girls on the team such as Emma Wallen and Kenysha Coulson, both seniors under Tiber. He enjoys the opposite personalities of the two players, such as Wallen’s roughness and Coulson’s motherly attributes.
“He’s like a little brother to us,” Coulson said. “I feel like I am the team mom, I am just a nurturer. I have that soft touch when it comes to any kind of baby. Emma is the more playful one, he is just our little ray of sunshine.”
Zeke is constantly with the team, either in the locker room, giving high-fives on the court or even on recruitment trips his mom. Zeke’s presence has become a form of relaxation for the team and coaches.
“He has taught us patience,” Coulson said. “Especially her [nods to Tiber], like at practice when she wanted to yell at us, he just ran up to her and hugged her leg. It just made us all laugh and it lightened the moment.”
Zeke is treated like a celebrity when on the North Alabama campus or at the basketball games and practices. Even when he is at home, he gets his mother’s full attention as if he were still at the big game.
“We play with his cars,” Tiber said. “I’ll cook dinner, then he might want to shoot some basketball, other times he just wants me to read to him. We do all the [normal] stuff and then our nightly routine is bath and a book. This is what we do, and I’ve also been teaching him to pray since he was a little guy.”
As children grow, they sometimes follow their parents wishes and wants for their life. Tiber, like any mother, wants what is best for Zeke and hopes he gets the most out of life. However, she does lay some groundwork on how she plans to help him succeed.
“My biggest thing is keeping him on track,” Tiber said. “His learning, his words and everything I am supposed to be teaching him. Basketball is just something fun we do together right now, I assume he will love it because he is always around it. Honestly, I don’t care what he does as long as he enjoys doing it.”
Throughout her 20 years of coaching, Tiber regularly progressed to a job that was bigger than the last. She quickly climbed the ranks of Division-II, into Division-I and then landed at a transitioning North Alabama program where she became the eighth head coach in program history.
Most of that time was spent watching countless hours of film, coaching young women, hosting meetings, practicing and competing through games. After adopting Zeke, Tiber’s perspective on life and basketball have changed.
“When you are a college coach so much of your time is focused on what you do,” said Tiber. “You try and be successful and to maintain success, that you forget about yourself. Zeke has given me the opportunity to step away from basketball and to just be something else. Now my number one priority is being his mom and that is the greatest blessing in the world.”
Tiber’s faith and patience has given her the opportunity to not only adopt and parent Zeke, but also to watch him grow. She gets the chance to leave an imprint in his life while he blossoms into a young man.
“I want him to realize how important he is,” Tiber said. “That he is loved unconditionally, and that he can be whatever he wants to be in life. He can be whatever he wants to in life, there are no limitations on him.”
Even at two years-old, her son is already making an impact on his community, the 12 UNA basketball players, the North Alabama campus and his mother’s heart.
Zeke has become the ultimate 13th man.