sports psychologist & clinical psychology

MOURNING TIP-OFF – FOR THE PAST THREE MONTHS, ANTHONY ANDERSON HAS LED HIS LA PLATA BOYS’ BASKETBALL TEAMMATES THROUGH A TRAINING REGIMEN THAT INCLUDED GRUELING RUNS ON THE SCHOOL’S TRACK, PUNISHING WEIGHTLIFTING SESSIONS AND BRUISING GAMES OF PICKUP

Washington Post – Nov 16, 2007 – Alan Goldenbach – Whenever a player slowed, the 6-foot-8 senior co-captain would yell, “Hard bodies!” His teammates would then repeat the words in unison.

After running and lifting weights for an hour Nov. 6, Anderson was too worn out to play ball. Sophomore Donte Segar wasn’t about to let his leader off so easily.

“What happened to ‘Hard bodies’?” Segar teased.

Anderson smiled. He nodded with approval toward Segar and walked out of the weight room.

“It’s the last thing I ever heard him say — ‘Hard bodies,’ ” Anderson said. “That’s what I’m always going to remember about him. ‘Hard bodies.’ ”

A little more than an hour later, Segar and three other La Plata players were riding in teammate Jonathan Chapman’s silver Mercury when it collided with a Chevy TrailBlazer on a two-lane road in Dentsville. Chapman, a junior, and sophomores Tavonne Alston and Dionnte Swinson were pronounced dead at the scene. Segar died at Prince George’s Hospital Center in the early hours of Nov. 7.

The other passenger, junior Markus Allen, is recovering from serious leg and pelvic injuries at Prince George’s Hospital Center and is listed in fair to good condition.

Anderson led his teammates onto the La Plata court for the first time yesterday, the first day Maryland high school basketball teams were allowed to practice together and nine days after the fatal crash. Many teenagers experience the sudden loss of a friend or classmate, but it is rare to face four at once.

“It’s Day One here,” La Plata Coach Shawn King told his players as they huddled at midcourt. “We’ve got a long journey to go. Let’s get started.”

Two days earlier, King had called the situation “overwhelming,” but said the team will have to get through it with love, laughs, hugs and, when necessary, tears.

“You come together voluntarily and live and breathe together and share a mission, not unlike what war veterans do,” said John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist who has worked with professional, college and scholastic athletes. “While it’s not the same [mission], it’s very similar psychologically. You lose part of yourself. A team is more than a sum of its parts, and at this age, it’s particularly devastating.”

Last March, a charter bus carrying the Bluffton (Ohio) University baseball team to a tournament in Florida, crashed in Atlanta and dropped 30 feet from an overpass, killing five players. Eight months later, Bluffton Coach James Grandey said, his team is still mourning the loss of its teammates.

“It’s not what we did [to cope]. It’s what we’re still doing,” Grandey said. “Every decision you make is scrutinized and put under a microscope. . . . You just want to make sure you’re aware of other players’ needs and recovery. They lost their best friends and teammates.

“It’s something that you cannot prepare for. There’s no manual.”

On the first day of school after the accident, La Plata brought in 30 grief counselors to help its shaken student body. It was an unprecedented scene, according to L. DeHaven Colston, La Plata’s guidance counselor who helped coordinate the effort.

“Normally, when we have a death, we can handle it in-house,” Colston said, “but now we see it times four. It was just amazing to see how many lives these four young men seem to have touched.”

La Plata junior Chris DiMisa, a member of the junior varsity team last season, said that over the past week players have mainly felt comfortable sharing their grief only with one another.

“At the funerals we sat together, and that helps us cope,” he said. “It really shows how close you’ve gotten to them over the years. You go up and ask them how they’re doing and they do the same. We’re really the only people we can count on for that.

“During the season, we practically live together. It’s six out of seven days of the week, we’re together” at games or practices.

Last season enthusiasm for basketball at La Plata reached a level not seen in many years. After winning just 10 games combined in the three previous seasons, the Warriors’ varsity went 13-10, its first winning mark in 15 seasons, according to King.

Though eight seniors graduated from that team, the JV, led by Chapman and Segar, went 9-6 last season and was poised to replenish the varsity’s lost talent. Swinson was a standout on the freshman team.

“There was a lot being expected of this team,” King said. Last season’s success “got a lot of guys to come out who may have had an interest in basketball, but weren’t excited about joining a losing program.”

Junior varsity coach James Douglas added: “That’s what Tavonne and Markus were seeing. That’s why they came out this year.”

Alston moved to La Plata from Temple Hills last January and was so eager to try out for this season’s team that he approached senior co-captain Jesse Staton in September.

“He came up to me and asked, ‘What do I have to do to play here?’ ” said Staton, who told Alston about the fall workouts. “It’s going to be real hard looking for him to be coming through that door [of the gymnasium] and he’s not going to come.”

Sophomore Greg Hanger was Swinson’s teammate on the freshman team and also played with him on the same youth football team for four years. In addition to requesting Swinson’s uniform No. 33 this season, Hanger had designed a navy blue headband with the four players’ names on it. He said he hopes each player will buy matching ones and wear them during games.

“That way we could bring them on the court with us all season,” Hanger said.

Yesterday, after King finished his brief words of encouragement for the upcoming season, Anderson huddled everyone at midcourt, arms outstretched over their heads.

“On three, everyone,” Anderson yelled.

The other 20 knew what to say.

“One, two, three, hard bodies!”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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