43 Brothers for the Coach's Son - by Jerry Price

By Jerry Price

The boy at the center of this story is 10-year-old Nick Bates. His father, Chris Bates, is the head men's lacrosse coach at Princeton University, and right now, Nick is sitting in a locker room in the Caldwell Fieldhouse.

He is taking bites out of an apple, a textbook open across his lap. Princeton lacrosse practice is just about to start, and Nick will go out to the field once he is finished with his homework.

Nick wears a green hooded sweatshirt, across the front of which are the words "William & Mary" and a "W&M" logo.

The College of William & Mary is where Nick's mother Ann went to school, before she graduated and headed off to Virginia medical school and then to residency at the University of North Carolina. It was during that time of her life that she met Chris Bates in the Raleigh-Durham airport during a hurricane.

Ann Bates died last Nov. 30, died after three valiant fights against cancer, died at the young age of 43 years old.

You are here now to write a story, write about Nick, write about how the men's lacrosse players have rallied around the boy, before and since his mother's passing. It seemed like a simple story at first a group of college kids take their coach's son to Great Adventure or to one of his soccer games. Nice, heartfelt, simple.

Except it's not working out that way. Each of the four players you've already spoken to has basically said the exact same thing in the exact same way, with a mix of helplessness over what they could do, concern for Nick and ultimately awe at the heroic way their head coach has handled himself through this process.

It reaches each of them every day, every minute they are part of Princeton lacrosse. They continue to be a touched by the spirit of a woman they all knew, even as they deal with the sadness of not having gotten to know her well.

And at all times, they have her son's back.

Now it's just you and Nick in the otherwise empty locker room.

When Nick uses words, they're spoken softly, and each time he speaks, it's as if you've never actually heard his voice before.

Instead, he speaks in smiles. A few minutes earlier, when he first walked in, you asked him how he was, and he smiled. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to.

And now you're thinking about everything he's been through and everything he continues to go through. You want to hear his side, get an understanding for how this 10-year-old boy feels, but what would he say? What would you even ask him?

You long ago went through the checklist of questions in your mind, the ones that you might normally ask, and none of them are remotely relevant.

Now, as you sit here with him in an otherwise empty locker room, you realize that there are only two questions you'd even consider asking him. You are about to ask the first, when you realize that there is only one answer and that the answer is only a single word.

So instead you ask the only other question you have.

"How's your apple?" you ask.

Nick Bates just smiles back.

Ann Bates passed away on Nov. 30, 2011, a little less than three months ago. The following night, the Princeton women's basketball team hosted Delaware in the next athletic event at the University.

You've written a moment of silence in her memory, and you know how it begins: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Princeton Athletics family suffered a tragic loss yesterday with the death of Ann Bates."

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