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The Last Game

Anyone who has ever taken a journalism class has most likely received similar advice. In my case, I still recall the warning from the instructor. “Always remember,” he said, “when you are covering an event, keep your opinion out of the story. The news should be the news, and the reader isn’t interested in your opinion. The only place for an individual’s opinion is on the editorial page or a personal column.”

Yes! Thanks to the opportunity afforded me by Webb Weekly in providing this column space; I can slip in an opinion every once in a while. Today’s the day so excuse me for being personal.

Fifteen years ago Jim Webb Sr. extended an invitation to write a weekly column. In doing so, he said he wanted me to write about sports, those who play the games, those who watch, and topics ‘which would be of interest to our readers.’ He wanted it to be a ‘family friendly’ column and wasn’t interested in the kind of topics that scream their controversial subjects from the checkout racks at grocery stores.

Many of you are aware that I am a basketball coach in the South Williamsport School District. In my daily contact with teenaged athletes, there are a multitude of stories that come out of that coach/player relationship. Some would provide interesting subject matter, while others are best left to the confines of the locker room. But I’m always aware that Webb Weekly, while its offices are in South Williamsport, is not a South Williamsport publication and try to present subject matter not gushing in blue and white.

Last week, my March 13 column devoted itself to Pete Sinibaldi, a South Williamsport senior that I’ve coached over the years in both basketball and baseball. That column reflected on Sinibaldi’s thoughts and feelings as he saw his final playoff game end in defeat.

What was not told (and perhaps maybe it shouldn’t be) was the post-game scene in the losing Mountaineer locker room. There was no yelling, throwing things or making excuses. There was just an eerie silence. Anyone who has ever spent time with 15 teenaged boys knows how unusual that is. For the team’s six seniors it was the end of the line, and they knew it. The nine underclassmen understood the meaning of the moment and remained motionless.

The coaches soon broke the silence, trying their best to express their appreciation for what the players had given them throughout the season. Some tears flowed. Some quiet conversation followed while some remained silently seated seemingly unwilling to take that uniform off for the last time. For me, that moment was three weeks ago, and it still remains vivid in my mind.

Following that game, my son, Doug, himself a junior high school basketball coach in Newville, called to find out how our team did. I told him details about the game and explained that the emotion of the night was something I hadn’t experienced in quite a while.

Then he quietly said, “Do you remember JT Kuhn?” I certainly did, as he was a talented player on the Big Spring varsity basketball team which I had seen play on several occasions. A 6’4” sophomore, Kuhn was a key reason why Big Spring reached the playoffs for just the fourth time in the past 23 years and participated in the District 3 playoffs for the first time as a 5-A school.

“Well, he is on life-support at the Hershey Medical Center,” came Doug’s haunting words.

Kuhn had been experiencing some migraine headaches on occasion but was under doctor’s care. The previous night he watched a college basketball game at home on TV with his family, snacked on a bowl of ice cream and went to bed. The next morning as his mom tried to wake him for school, he was unresponsive. He had suffered cardiac arrest, and his brain had begun to swell. A week earlier he was playing in the basketball playoffs. Now his life was hanging by a thread.

Sports have always been a big deal in the Lowery family, and have forged many memories for us. My grandson, Tucker, is a teammate of JT’s and he, like the rest of us, just can’t seem to make sense out of what has happened.

Over the years, I have heard many coaches, and I’ve said so myself, tell players “to go out and play the game as if it is the last one you’ll ever play.” Most often, they are words that just go into a player’s one ear and out the other. But, three weeks ago that wasn’t the case for Pete Sinibaldi and his South Williamsport teammates. They understood this was THEIR LAST GAME, and their emotions showed it.

Kuhn never regained consciousness, and just four days after that dreadful discovery his parents had to make that horrible, unthinkable decision to let him go to that great beyond. Somehow his mother, Jenn, courageously posted to the many who had offered their thoughts and prayers, “God seems to feel as though JT is needed on Heaven’s basketball team.”

Nobody told JT Kuhn this could be his last game as his Big Spring Bulldogs were eliminated from the playoffs. His talent was real, and his future was bright.

To anyone reading this who is an athlete, regardless of the sport, enjoy what you are doing and give every game or match your very best effort. No one ever wants it to be their very last game. JT Kuhn certainly didn’t.

Excuse me for being personal.

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