Playing for Tony got Sabers one win away from a title
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Brandon Len was a varsity basketball player at Souhegan High School for three years.
For most of those years, the senior wore jersey No. 11, but for the last four games, Len wore a different number.
It’s safe to say, we never get used to Len wearing No. 42. It’s safe to say, no one in the Souhegan community is going to get used to why Len was wearing No. 42.
It’s been over two weeks since the death of Tony Barksdale, a former Souhegan basketball player who graduated in 2012, and the Sabers did their best to honor their fallen teammate’s memory.
But by honoring his memory, the Souhegan players and coaches etched it in the stone that is the history books. After Wednesday’s 53-45 win over Lebanon in the Division II semifinals, the Sabers advanced to play Pembroke for the division title last Saturday.
When Len heard the news, he talked to coach Mike Heaney, and the two of them went to athletic director Dick Miller to ask to petition the NHIAA for a number change. The organization agreed and Len started wearing Barksdale’s No. 42. The whole team has been warming up in shirts with “Tony” and the number on the back.
“I wanted to do something for (Tony),” Len said. “It’s not just me wearing the number. We’re all wearing the number. We’re playing the way Tony would want us to play.”
That’s what the Sabers have been saying to each other: Play like Barksdale would play. Honor Barksdale’s memory by being the player and the teammate he was.
“The way we’re playing, we’re playing the way Tony played,” Len said. “He played with heart, he never took a play off and he just loved the game. We’re trying to honor Tony.”
To be clear, the Sabers say they weren’t trying to win for Barksdale. They’re just trying to play with the attributes that Barksdale brought to the court, and it happened to have brought them to the doorstep of the ultimate team goal.
“It’s remarkable,” Heaney said. “Tony’s father was here (Wednesday) and I gave him a hug and I said ‘we’re here because of your son.’ Not trying to make it sound dramatic, but there’s no other way to put that.
“The boys aren’t playing for wins and losses now, they’re really not. They’re playing to honor how Tony played. Be tough, fearless, spirited. Tony was all about the team. We’re finally winning because we’re playing like a team.”
It seems hard to believe the Sabers weren’t. Many of this year’s seniors – Len, Jake Kennedy, Tyler Ford, Zach Simmonds, Tanner Kent, Connor Holbrook, Matt Protzmann, Josh Eichel – have been playing basketball together for a long time.
Many of them are great friends off the court, and most played with Barksdale a year ago, when Souhegan went 16-2 before bowing out in the quarterfinals.
Expectations were high heading into this season, but then the Sabers plodded through an 11-7 regular season, which included loses to every team they faced in the postseason.
“It’s something that if you had told me we’d be playing for the championship at the beginning of the season, I’d have said yeah, absolutely,” Len said. “Midseason I might have been a little skeptical. I’m not saying I lost hope, but there were some serious ups and downs. We said all season, it’s how we play in March.”
It’s March and Souhegan played the way their teammate, their friend, would have wanted them to play.
Barksdale, a freshman at Boston University, had recently joined the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and was found unconscious in an off-campus apartment in the Allston section of Boston after a drinking party on March 2. He later died at St. Elizabeth Medical Center.
Boston University said the death came after an unregistered off-campus party.
The fraternity was suspended by its national organization and the university for reports of underage drinking and intoxication.
“Nobody is saying ‘win for Tony,’ they are saying ‘play like Tony,’” Heaney said. “You can’t explain life, you can’t explain what happened to Tony, but they have certainly rallied behind him.”
Joe Marchilena can be reached at 594-6478 or jmarchilena@nashua
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