‘Coaches vs Cancer’ tournament hits close to home for Nazareth
It was exactly three years ago that Nazareth Regional High School’s Lady Kingsmen lost their head coach due to complications due to cancer, and just over two years ago that the team’s current coach had his own battle with cancer. These are among the reasons why it was important for the East Flatbush school to host the “Coaches vs. Cancer” tournament last weekend.
“For all of the survivors of cancer and for everyone that is fighting it right now, this is great,” said Nazareth head coach Ron Kelley. “Everybody across the country, not just here, is doing something to fight cancer. They’re trying to get people to understand what’s going on and raise money for finding a cure. It’s wonderful to be a part of this.”
Kelley was diagnosed with throat cancer more than two years ago and managed to survive the fight. Unfortunately, his mentor, Robert “Apache” Paschall, wasn’t as lucky and passed away on Jan. 3, 2012, due to a heart attack that was caused by complications from skin cancer. Paschall’s death still weighs heavily on Kelley.
“I try not to think about him a lot because if it gets on my mind, it’s hard not to let it affect me,” Kelley said of Paschall. “ESPN did a special with [former Nazareth star] Bianca Cuevas about her being at South Carolina. I watched that, and it made me think about Apache and it really got to me.”
That’s why it was important for Kelley and Nazareth to host Coaches vs. Cancer, a program of the American Cancer Society that helps raise money for its mission. Unfortunately, the Lady Kingsmen lost 68-53 to Riverdale Baptist (Riverdale, Md.) on Friday night, their sixth loss in a row, which didn’t help Kelley’s situation.
“Usually, I try to figure out what [Apache] would do or what he would say,” said Kelley, whose team is currently 3-8 overall. “Right now I have no idea what he would say because in my nine years with him, he never lost this much. It makes it tougher, and I’m just trying to figure it out.”
It’s easy to say that Kelley is being really tough on himself. For one thing, Nazareth plays one of the toughest schedules of any team in New York City. It also lost five of its Division I student-athletes from last year to graduation, a transition that would be tough for any coach to handle.
Even with the tough schedule and early losses, the Lady Kingsmen should still compete for a city title.
“We’ve been really up and down so far this season, but facing these tough teams is forcing us to play better together,” said junior Shalix Hines. “We’re going to be playing in more league games now, and I think once we get a few wins to build up our confidence, then we can be a hard team to beat.”
Hines is a big reason that Nazareth can still expect to be a tough team to beat during playoff time. She’s a speedy guard with excellent ball-handling skills who can score nearly at will. She has averaged 15 points, 7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game, according to MaxPreps.com. Her teammate, Niya Johnson, also makes the Lady Kingsmen dangerous, because she has averaged 20.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this year. Both players should eventually be D-I players.
“I’m looking for progress right now and it’s coming slowly, but I am seeing it,” Kelley said. “I’m looking for them to be paying attention to details, making sure they’re going to defend, and I want to see better energy too. I think they’re doing a better job of that.”
Six of Nazareth’s last seven games have been against non-league opponents. While they still have a few non-league teams left on its schedule, the Lady Kingsmen will begin playing a lot more city teams now. Their next game is no cupcake, however, — they will head to Queens to take on powerhouse Christ the King on Friday. A win against that team would go a long way toward boosting confidence.
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