The buzzer sounded on Friday night at Mullins and the Kingstree girls were embraced in front of their bench in a giant group hug. The Lady Jaguars had just upset the Auctioneers in overtime to reach the 2A quarterfinals. As the players lined up to shake hands, my mind begins to race.
It's time to get on the road.
40 minute drive to the station.
Do I have time in the show to interview a player or coach?
Who's winning the other games?
Should I go say a quick word to Coach Burgess and congratulate her? I would have told Coach Burgess, "Tremendous win, Coach - they're ain't no party like a Jaguar party, because a Jaguar party don't stop". Then I would have turned around and raced back to the station.
But it's time to get on the road won over my thoughts.
So I turn off the camera and head for the car. I'd see Coach Burgess at the Hoop Zone Banquet, I thought. The thoughts fly around in your head in an instant and sometimes it takes tragedy to slow everything down and realize how quickly life goes by.
I'm not going to see Sonya Burgess at the Hoop Zone Banquet.
There are 90 varsity basketball coaches in our area (boys and girls). We try our very best to get to every nook and cranny and visit as many communities as possible. When something tragic like this happens, you get mad that your interactions are too brief. I have immense respect for every coach in our area and the positive influence they have in the lives of young people. Sadly, the interactions I have had with Coach Burgess through the years were brief interludes, but they certainly had an impact on me.
The phone used to ring off the hook on Tuesday's and Friday's with coaches calling in their scores. Thanks to text messages and Twitter, the phone isn't always buzzing like it used to, but every Tuesday and Friday night this year, I'd get a phone call from Kingstree.
Coach Burgess knew that Jaguar country is on the outskirts of our viewing area and that there are 90 teams to cover. I love coaches who don't oversell their players and program. Every Tuesday and Friday, I'd get a Kingstree score and the stats on LaToya Jones. Coach Burgess didn't need to make a call and sell me on her player. In her own way, by simply calling persistently and passing along information, she got LaToya Jones on our radar and on to this year's Hoop Zone team.
Sometimes you need to put one moment, one subtle thing under the microscope to paint the whole picture. This is just one tiny sliver of Coach Burgess having a positive impact in a young person's life. There are so many more and I imagine over the coming days, there will be many people in Kingstree who will talk about their moments and the impact that she had. Mark Haggard went down to Kingstree and saw a talented team that was much more than Latoya Jones.He saw Sonya Burgess in pink shoes and showing passion about Coaches vs. Cancer.
Kingstree was down by five points in the 4th quarter on the road in the playoffs. It was supposed to be game over, season over - nice try. The Lady Jaguars willed their way to the free throw line with 8 seconds left in a tie game. LaToya Jones missed two free throws. Mullins missed the game winning attempt and the game went to overtime. I don't know what Sonya Burgess said in that huddle, but it worked. The Lady Jaguars won a game they weren't supposed to win against a team that spent a good portion of the year ranked #1 in the state.
Sports are all about those tiny moments. It's so hard to get them and coaches know that better than anyone. In front of the bench in Mullins, the Kingstree Lady Jaguars had that moment. A group hug that was a good ten seconds and Sonya Burgess was right in the middle of it. If there's anything positive to come from this horrific tragedy, that moment was Sonya Burgess's final one on a basketball court. You can't get 15 people together and say, "we're going to have a moment right now". In that group hug were all the twists and turns of practice, season, injuries and ultimately, hard work paying off.
As the Lady Jaguars take the court tonight with the daunting task of trying to manage a roller coaster of emotions, I hope they know that it doesn't matter what happens tonight good or bad. Think about that embrace in Mullins and know that your coach's last game was a championship moment. That moment never goes away.
Now that the Lady Jaguars harnessed their emotions and honored their coach the best way they could, there was another group hug on an opponent's floor. And if you ask anyone from Kingstree, they'll tell you that Sonya Burgess was there and the Jaguar Party is not only happening in our backyard, but in heaven as well.