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March 11, 2014

This winter proved that sometimes life isn't all fun and games

The Daily Star

---- — Real life … I try to avoid it at all costs.

That’s why I do this. Sure, there are downsides such as the hours keeping me away from my family more than I’d like and feeling an urgent need to cry every time I look at my paycheck.

But the huge upside is that my job revolves around games.

For as long as I can remember, games have fascinated me. I love the fact there are winners and losers, I love the strategy, the energy, the athleticism, the atmosphere, the preparation and the passion.

When two teams or two individuals or multiple individuals are giving maximum effort to be the best … well, how can anyone not like that?

I’m a big pizza lover. To me, games are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

The best part about games is they’re not like real life.

The joy of a big victory will wear off as will the pain of a devastating loss. Sure, you’ll have memories – some happy, others hurtful, but most of us just move on to the next game.

Real life is different.

Unfortunately, since sectionals started a few real-life situations have interfered with the games.

I remember showing up to Oneonta High’s boys sectional semifinal and not seeing Jerry Mackey. I asked a few questions and found out Mackey was in the hospital.

Immediately, I thought it had to be serious. The Mackey I know, if he had to choose between taking the keys to a new Ferrari or a clipboard to coach in a sectional basketball game, he’d take the clipboard 100 percent of the time.

A few days later the news came out that Mackey had multiple sclerosis.

The same night I learned about Mackey, I covered the Edmeston-Southern Cayuga sectional semifinal and didn’t see Darren Belden on the bench for the Panthers. I later learned he had to be hospitalized that day with pneumonia.

Then three days ago, shortly after Oneonta High’s girls lost a state quarterfinal to Utica Notre Dame, OHS junior Madison Miller’s mom had to be taken to a local hospital after suffering seizures at Binghamton University’s Events Center.

That one really hit home for me. About three weeks before Christmas, my wife found our 14-year-old daughter on the floor of her room, suffering seizures. We called 911, she was rushed to the hospital and shortly thereafter was hooked up to a ventilator.

A couple hours later, she was sent to Syracuse, where she spent nearly two weeks, the first seven days in intensive care.

Since then, we’ve been back to Syracuse, to Rochester and we’ll be making our third trip to Philadelphia later this week, trying to find out what triggered that initial episode.

To see my daughter, who’d never had any serious health issues, hooked up to a breathing machine for two days, that’s real life.

Fortunately, my job requires me to cover games. It’s been a nice release and I’ve seen some good ones this postseason.

There was OHS’ Albert Odero’s 70-foot dash to beat the buzzer and Waverly in a sectional quarterfinal, Skylar Thompson’s four-point play that helped OHS top Susquehanna Valley in the semifinals and the overall grit the Yellowjackets showed in a sectional final loss to a quality outfit from Norwich.

I hope Mackey’s watched the tape from that one. I’m sure he’d be proud of how his boys competed that night.

That Edmeston-SC game was a keeper, a baseline-to-baseline treat that the Panthers lost in overtime. I’ve only covered Edmeston senior guard Logan Vibbard twice, but I love the way that kid plays basketball. Some years ago a friend of mine at the Binghamton paper, Kevin Stevens, annually put together a team of hustlers that he called the All-Janik Team. It was named after Maine-Endwell and Hartwick College graduate Tom Janik, who I believe played with Mackey in college. Vibbard, who would pursue a loose ball into rush-hour traffic, would have been a perfect fit for that team.

Finally, I got to see Oneonta High’s Mariah Ruff and Franklin’s Jordan Beers toward the tail end of their high school basketball tenures. Both played varsity ball for six years and if you’ve read these pages even sparingly over that time, their names should be familiar to you.

It seems fitting that their final high school basketball games started, and probably ended, at the same time Saturday, since they came in together.

If there was a Mount Rushmore for girls basketball players in this area, it’s my opinion that both girls would occupy space on it.

They combined for more than 4,000 points and a boatload of memories for area fans.

I talked to Ruff briefly Sunday. I missed her after Saturday’s game because she was with Miller’s mom.

“It was a tough day,” said Ruff, who scored 22 points and helped the Yellowjackets rally from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit before falling, 50-44. “And not just because of the game but for other reasons.”

OHS coach Matt Miller said Sunday Madison’s mom had been released from the hospital Saturday night. That’s good news.

I’m also happy to report my daughter has shown marked improvement over the last couple of weeks. She’s returning to her spunky self – not 100 percent but definitely getting better.

I haven’t heard much about Mackey recently and certainly don’t want to bother him now, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he was back on the sidelines at some point in the near future.

My biggest wish as the spring season nears is that I can get back to focusing on games.

Like I said, I’m not a big fan of real life.

Rob Centorani covers high school basketball for The Daily Star. Email him at