This #WarriorWednesday is in honor of Tina Crum and her battle her against breast cancer. Family friend, Scott Wallin, wanted to bring her story to light so be sure to read her story.
My childhood buddy Steve Lager trash-talked our way into a basketball game against two of his neighbors about 23 years ago.
It was always Steve and I against Matt and John in epic 7 a.m. battles on the outdoor courts of Boston Hill Park in Oviedo, Fla.
Friends began to hear about our game, and they wanted in. Soon, they began bringing their friends. We grew to three-on-three, then four-on-four before hitting a milestone moment of having enough for a full-court run of five-on-five.
Steve and John no longer play, and Matt only comes occasionally when he isn’t busy coaching one of his daughters’ softball teams. I keep the game going as the self-appointed “Team Mom,” my main task remembering to send the weekly “who’s in for Saturday?” email and organizing the annual team party.
Our list now includes about 40 guys and it ranges from the diehards to the semi-diehards to the ones who make an occasional cameo or who just want to attend the team party.
As “Team Mom,” I have set four simple rules for the game:
1. Don’t be a jerk
2. Try not to get injured
3. Get a good run in
4. And try to have a laugh or two
Despite a couple of unfortunate ACL tears over the years, we accomplish our goals every Saturday. The beautiful thing is the game has evolved beyond basketball. Guys who never knew each other before are now great friends, and we exemplify diversity in every sense of the word. Everyone is a college graduate, and most are married and fathers. All of them are rock-solid humans and fantastic role models.
Some guys have yet to see their 30th birthday; one has had his 60th with several more of us knocking on that door. We have former military, first responders, teachers, coaches, a minister (and the drummer from his church band). We have a few brainiac engineers and several others who represent a variety of business pursuits. And our lone attorney would likely tell me there is some sort of legal obligation to mention him!!
And then there is Mo.
Mo would be Maurice Crum and he’s our resident celebrity. While a lot of guys enjoyed high school careers and a few had college stints, including two members of the University of Central Florida Athletics Hall of Fame, Mo played in a national spotlight in college, but it was in a different sport: football.
Mo was a pillar of the Miami Hurricanes’ defense as a linebacker during the team’s dynasty in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He helped his teams win national championships in 1987 and 1989 and even found time at Miami to play a couple seasons of baseball.
As cool as that experience is, there is another chapter of his history that I would argue is just as impressive. Mo was part of the Belmont Heights Little League team out of Tampa that played in two World Series against Taiwan in 1980 and 1981.
Mo still looks the part of a linebacker and has stayed in great shape as an Orange County Sheriff. There have been many a Saturday when you feel the wrath of him imposing his will on a drive to the bucket or a rebound he vigorously pursues. In those instances, you have been “Mo’ed” and you just hope to survive the unfortunate clash.
While Mo could carry himself in a less-than-humble manner, he chooses not to. Mo really isn’t impressed by Mo, and while he will politely recall memories of his playing days when asked, he chooses not to live in the past.
Our Saturday morning brotherhood was rocked about two years ago when Mo shared that his beautiful wife Tina was diagnosed with breast cancer. In his typical form, Mo remained strong for Tina and upbeat as we asked for updates each time we played.
Our basketball group collected money for Mo, which he used to purchase a comfortable chair that Tina could relax in following her chemotherapy treatments.
There was cause for optimism along their journey, but devastating news soon came when Mo and Tina learned the cancer had spread further through her body. The prognosis was bleak, and they were told she only had months remaining.
Tina passed away on Nov. 2 at the age of 53 and our collective hearts broke for Mo and their two sons.
It had only been a couple days since her passing when it came time for my weekly Wednesday basketball email. The game didn’t seem that important and I’m certain everyone would have been fine skipping that week. But then one player texted me saying he wanted to play: Mo.
He said something about the house being quiet and I could understand his need to want to do something he enjoyed during a such a dark time. So, we did what we do every Saturday and gathered for hoops, but we knew this day would be unlike any other.
We had an awesome turnout of 18 guys and before we started playing, we gathered at mid-court to surround Mo literally and figuratively with love and support. We held hands as the minister, Sedrick, led us in a beautiful prayer.
Then, it was basketball as it always is and we went about accomplishing our four goals for the day.
The guys collected another round of funds for Mo that was used for Tina’s funeral the following Saturday. There was understandably no basketball that day as several of us attended her service.
But the support didn’t end there. Another one of our players, Alan Gooch, is the CEO of the Orlando Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2008 to raise awareness and funds for cancer research through events, including the Cure Bowl. Alan announced that five Orange County teachers will receive $500 in Tina’s honor to help with classroom resources. The Cure Bowl and the College Football Playoff (CFP) Foundation partnered for this “Extra Yard For Teachers” initiative. These teachers will receive their funds in February to begin equipping their classrooms for the new semester. An official presentation will take place in April that fittingly will be led by Mo.
I have no idea how many more basketball Saturdays are ahead of us. Twenty-three years is a long time to keep a pickup game going, but I have a hunch nobody is quite ready to call it quits.
After all, it’s much more than a game. It’s a brotherhood