The sports community in general and the basketball community in particular have endured a tragic summer.
Three members were taken beginning with Penn State Altoona assistant men's coach Jim Ellis on July 2, former Altoona Area High School and St. Francis player Jeff Churchill on July 27 and Lois Jubeck, wife of Bernie Jubeck, who coached at several high schools and St. Francis, a week ago.
Ellis was 42.
Churchill was 31.
Jubeck was 54.
Each died well before their time, leaving so many with heavy hearts.
Tom McConnell had trouble making sense of the sad chain of events.
A former fixture of the local basketball scene himself - first as head coach at St. Francis followed by a stint at the helm of Bishop Guilfoyle - McConnell was linked to all three.
Ellis, who died of cancer, was his assistant at Guilfoyle.
"I got to know Jim even before we coached together," McConnell, entering his third season as an assistant women's coach at the University of Colorado, said. "He coached both [McConnell's sons] Tommy and Sean, and he was so good with them. So good. They loved playing for him. He had a great way with young people. And he loved BG. He had such a great experience playing for Tom Lane. He talked about it all the time, and he wanted the kids he coached to have that same experience."
McConnell hadn't put down the phone long from Josh Baker, who informed him about Ellis, until it rang with more bad news. This time, it was former Red Flash player Tom Fox, one of Churchill's teammates.
"That call," McConnell said, "will forever be etched in my mind because it was so sudden and so emotional."
McConnell flew to the funeral in Lancaster.
"Most of the guys [former SFU players] came from all over the place, and it was very, very touching,'' he said.
Fox eulogized Churchill. He also encouraged many friends to write their favorite memories and presented those letters to his 1-year-old daughter Kaitlin so, McConnell said, "she could learn about her dad."
McConnell wrote about recruiting Churchill, who later assisted him at McConnell's "Word and the Rock," basketball camp and later became a head coach at Penn Manor High School.
"I've never met anybody more comfortable in their own skin than Jeff," McConnell said. "He accepted everything around him. The kids loved him. He was so funny and so happy."
Bernie Jubeck was on McConnell's first staff at St. Francis, but their friendship dated back to the mid-1980s when McConnell was hired as a young assistant to Kevin Porter.
Like Churchill, Lois Jubeck's death was heart-related.
"Shocking," McConnell said. "I hadn't talked to Bernie in a while, but you start reflecting on the times you've had together. When I was 25, 26 years old, I came to St. Francis as an assistant, and one of the first people I met was Bernie. We had some great times together - me, him, [wives] Lisa, Lois - and Lois really made us feel welcome. She was like a role model for my wife, and I actually lived with them for a couple weeks before my family moved.
"The thing that touched me was her devotion to her family - how supportive she was of Bernie and how much she loved her kids."
Three people, three families - each linked to the game they loved. Here's hoping it can help provide comfort, now and forever.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.