All they wanted to do was play.
As the Nazareth girls basketball team's players grieved following the death of their head coach, Robert "Apache" Paschall, on Jan. 3, the Lady Kingsmen hoped to return to the court, wanting the chance to honor their coach.
It took eight days and the team saw two games get canceled, but on Jan. 11, Nazareth finally got to play against Molloy, a game the Lady Kingsmen won. It was one of the roughest weeks of the players' lives and one that saw them leaning on each other.
"Losing our coach was a big toll," senior guard Brianna Butler said. "We just had to stay together.
Paschall died in the hospital at about 1 p.m. on Jan. 3 and by 5 p.m. that night, assistants Lauren Best and Ron Kelley, and a group of Nazareth players, both past and present, gathered at the hospital.
Initially, Kelley had decided that the best thing was to cancel a scheduled game against Bishop Ford on Jan. 5. After the grief stricken girls got together, they decided that the best way to honor his memory would be to play the game as scheduled.
“They said, 'Coach no, what are you doing? We want to play Thursday,'” Kelley explained. “They told me that they all got together and talked about it and said that they want to play because Apache would want us to play. So I said fine, I’ll make the phone calls and we'll play.”
That game would never happen though. Ford’s administration decided it wouldn’t let kids make such an important call and postponed the game against their wishes. The next day, Christ the King, also postponed a game scheduled for Jan. 7.
For a group of girls who desperately wanted to play, not because they wanted to, but because they felt compelled to, this was very upsetting.
“It was hard because we all wanted to play and get out there to make Apache happy and the fact that no teams wanted to play us was very upsetting,” Butler said. “We called at least 20 schools to find somebody else to play and couldn’t find one team. It felt like nobody wanted to play us, nobody had the respect to play us.”
So the girls did the only thing they felt like they could do – continue to go to practice everyday and wait and hope that eventually they would play in a game. Even after it was clear they wouldn’t be playing until Jan. 11, the girls kept checking Facebook or hoped for their phones to ring with news that they had found a replacement team to play.
"He used basketball as a sanctuary and for us it is always a comfort to be able to play," Best said. "To be in the gym, to be at practice and to have games, that's a comfort."
Before that game against Molloy, they held a memorial in Paschall’s honor. Principal Providencia Quiles spoke about the trouble Paschall had caused her and the strong relationship that formed out of all of that trouble.
His mother, Elaine Bartlett, spoke about his ability to find something in nothing and his dedication to his girls. His daughter, Nytaea Satara Pascall, fought through tears to say that all she ever wanted to do was to make her father happy.
Finally, Best and Kelley spoke with Nazareth’s current squad lined up behind them. When they were done, each girl picked up a rose and placed it on his usual spot on the team’s bench. Each of them was in tears as they went back to the coaches' office to compose themselves.
After about 10 minutes, Nazareth took to the court and did the only thing they wanted to do for over a week – they played basketball.
"This week has been hard, disappointing, we've all been upset," senior guard Darius Faulk said. "It's been a tough week."