A loving father with only two weeks left to live
learned that his ultimate sport dream would finally be realized by
his 17-year-old son and loving wife next basketball season in Duke's
Cameron Indoor Stadium.
How it all came about is a story of love, kindness, happiness and supreme class, mixed in
Rory Hanley, one of my three best friends in the world, passed away a
week ago on July 3 after a tenacious 12-year battle with cancer. Cancer
didn't beat Rory, time just ran out on him.
For Rory, a co-worker of mine for nearly 25 years at what is now the Port
Arthur Valero Refinery, and a great friend for nearly 30 years, a trip to watch a
basketball game between North Carolina and Duke in the Blue Devils' famous
arena had always been the No. 1 thing on his bucket list.
My friend didn't get to fulfill that dream due to his illness, but
dreams sometimes come through in the most unique ways.
Rory and wife Shawn's son Kirby, a senior-to-be this upcoming basketball
season for Brian English's Nederland basketball team, is a die-hard Texas
Aggie and is headed there when he graduates. But he has always loved Duke
basketball and Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach K, as he's known, is a legend in the basketball world and is the
winningest men's college basketball coach of all-time. He's also been
the U.S. Olympic head basketball coach since 2006, guiding his team to a
gold medal in the 2008 Summer Games. He will again lead the American Olympic
team in London later this month.
Knowing how big a fan Kirby is of the Duke program, and of Coach K himself,
this past Christmas Rory and Shawn gave their son a dream gift —
participating in Duke's summer basketball camp.
Kirby, along with Nederland coach English's son Zach, and another
Bulldog, Jared Lorimier, drove to Durham and participated in the camp
three weeks ago. Along for the ride were Kirby's mom, Jared's mother Lynde, and
Kirby's big sister Kaitlin, who'll be a sophomore at Texas A&M this fall.
At the beginning of the camp, campers were given a treat by getting to
meet and talk with Krzyzewski, take pictures with him and get autographs
from one of the most famous coaches in American sports.
The moms also got to take photos with Coach K.
Two days into the camp, Shawn got a call from home that her husband had
taken a turn for the worse. The Hanleys quickly packed their bags,
booked the earliest flight that Monday afternoon and headed home.
Upon their arrival late that night, Rory had actually rebounded, leaving his
wife, daughter and son relieved.
A day or so later, Shawn sent an e-mail to Krzyzewski thanking him
and his staff for an incredible overall experience. She expressed her sincere appreciation for the manner
in which the Duke staffers helped the Hanleys get on their way back to
Texas as soon as possible.
She also thanked the Duke coach for taking time to talk to the Nederland kids
-- and not just give autographs and take photos with him. And she told him that the main
reason Kirby and her were such big basketball fans was because of her husband,
who was a huge fan of the sport.
Included in the e-mail, she mentioned that the reason they had to leave the
camp early was because her husband's cancer condition had worsened. She also said that Rory had always
dreamed of watching the Tar Heels at Duke in person, but that Kirby getting to
meet and talk with the Duke coach probably meant more to her husband that anything
Several days later, while sharing stories about the incredible trip
with Rory, Shawn got an e-mail from a most unexpected author. After
reading it, she passed her phone over to her son to read what had been written
When Kirby read it, he couldn't believe the sender was Coach K. The fact
that someone like the Duke head coach was thinking of him and his mom in this
difficult time was incredible.
Due to his illness, Kirby knew his dad wouldn't be able to realize his
dream, but Krzyzewski displayed the ultimate in class and compassion by
making an incredible invitation through the e-mail.
The legendary coach said that he was so sorry to hear of their families'
story, but wanted to invite Kirby and his mother to be HIS personal guests at
a Duke game of their choice next basketball season.
"I can't begin to explain how excited and blessed we were that Coack K
took time out of his day to give my mom and I this amazing opportunity,” said Kirby. “Of
course, I wished dad could have been able to go, but I know when mom and I
start screaming with the Duke Crazies, dad will be right there with us in
spirit," Kirby said.
As a friend of Rory for so many years, it's sad that he didn't
realize his dream. But I know he would have been just as thrilled that his son
and his wife will be able to go to what I believe will probably be the North
Carolina at Duke matchup in early March of 2013.
Rory Hanley was laid to rest Monday, but his spirit
will always live on!
Larry Bodin is a former Port Arthur News sports writer who now lives in Tennessee.