GOOCHLAND - Both teams stood together in one circle, arms linked together. Coaches and players from both the Goochland and Nottoway boys basketball teams wore colors symbolic of the kinds of cancers that have affected their lives in one way or another.
A game was then played. And a loss was avenged - Goochland came back from narrowly falling to Nottoway 62-61 on Monday to defeat the Cougars 65-39.
But for head coach Preston Gordon and his Goochland Bulldogs boys basketball team, Friday's fifth annual Ballin' 4 a Cure game was about more than the game's result.
"Basketball tonight was a platform - it was an opportunity for us as a basketball team and us as players and coaches, managers, cheerleaders, band members, just as a community to let everyone know that we've been touched by this awful disease that has affected so many families, but also there have been families that have beaten cancer, so there are survivors that want to tell their story," Gordon said. "It's just tough that it needs to be this way, but at the same time, the more that we can spread the word and get it out there, hopefully people will get checked.
"Everybody might think that we live in a rich county, but there's plenty of houses that don't have running water and don't have heat...a lot of times those are the individuals that maybe don't have the financial assistance to go see the doctor on a regular basis. We need to step up and help out our neighbors and help out our community members."
When the teams were together before the game, Goochland coach Preston Gordon told them that it's bigger than the game of basketball, and that it's going to be up to those young individuals to make sure their parents and grandparents are going to the doctor and getting checked regularly.
"A lot of older folks, they just don't like to go to the doctor, and sometimes you see signs and you see some health going down, and if people will go to the doctor early, a lot of this can possibly be prevented," Gordon said. "But it's also just having the initiative to talk to your parents and talk to your grandparents about their health."
Cancer has impacted the lives of those within the Goochland basketball program. Former player and Goochland High School Class of 2017 alum Jack Twombly lost his mother to pancreatic cancer, Goochland coach AJ Nash lost his mother to lung cancer and Gordon found out that his dad had prostate cancer. Over the last four years, funds raised by Goochland High School's Ballin' 4 a Cure games have gone towards research for lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, to the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation as part of Class of 2018 graduate Finley Miers' senior project and to St. Jude's Research Hospital when Class of 2019 graduate Katie Waller, who lost her sister Samantha to brain cancer, took the benefit game as her senior project. The benefit has raised about $8,500 in that four-year span.
This year, the proceeds from Friday's fundraising event were marked to be split between research for prostate cancer and leukemia in honor of Agricultural Science teacher Danny Allen's father, who is fighting prostate cancer, and mathematics teacher Scottie O'Neill's father, who is fighting a form of leukemia.
Bouncing back from Monday's loss
After Quincy Snead took a pass from Goochland teammate Jack Hoffler and turned it into a go-ahead 3-pointer for an early 10-7 lead, the Bulldogs seized command of Friday's game with a 6-0 burst, sparked by three takeaways, and never let go.
The first takeaway came right on the heels of Nottoway player Willie Lawson's steal; Snead took the ball away from him on the defensive side, flipped the ball behind his back as he dribbled it down the left sideline and dished the assist to junior Kameron Holman, who flew up and put the ball through the hoop as a defender rose up to pressure him. Holman and Snead each took away a Nottoway possession after that, and 6-foot-7 sophomore J.B. Bell turned both steals into a putback and two free throws. Snead, Holman and Bell all led Goochland in scoring with 20, 14 and 13 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs further padded their lead with an 8-0 run in the third quarter and took a mountain climb of a 52-28 advantage into the fourth.
When Snead wasn't going after the basket with the ball in his hands, he was finding a lot of success in going after the ball. The 5-foot-8 senior got big on defense, blocking four shots and hauling in a whopping nine steals, some of which he took to the house for layups.
"That doesn't happen by luck. He is a very smart player defensively. He sees things a little bit differently than most players," Gordon said of Snead. "And he's got a quickness about him that is hard for other individuals to match. Every time he steps out on the floor, he's got a chip on his shoulder...our kids feed off of him, and they see his energy level, it's so high. He's a fun one to watch."
He also had six rebounds and four assists.
Holman, continuing to flex his quickness and aggressiveness on defense, added five rebounds and four steals. Bell showed his toughness when he drew the foul on a hard hit in the fourth quarter, made both free throws, took back the ball right underneath his basket on the scoring side, drew yet another foul and made the next two free throws. He also brought down five rebounds. Hoffler hauled in six.
Prior to Friday's rematch with Nottoway, Goochland had just finished playing six games in eight days. Monday's first game against the Cougars was in that stretch. Goochland had played and beaten Clover Hill just two days before on Saturday. Gordon noted the importance of having a day of prep before game night, and with a Monday game, sometimes Saturday is that prep day - and while it doesn't have to be a whole lot, sometimes you just need to walk-through things, watch a little bit of film and get shots up, he said.
And a record, Gordon added, doesn't always reflect a team's athletic ability. Nottoway stands at 6-11, and Prince Edward, who was 4-13 before Friday, beat Buckingham, the second-seeded team in the James River District behind Goochland.
In the case of Monday's game, Gordon said they didn't do a very good job defensively in one quarter, but on Friday, the Bulldogs never relented, and they were bolstered by a lively home game atmosphere accentuated by Goochland High School's band and the fans in attendance.
Goochland (14-2) has another big week up ahead, as it will rematch Fluvanna on the road on Monday at 7 p.m., host Buckingham in a home matchup on Thursday at 7 p.m. and head to Central Lunenburg for a 7 p.m. game on Friday.
"Those are games you've got to be locked in for," Gordon said. "If you want to control your destiny, you've got to bring the intensity every game and play four quarters."