The Greater Johnstown boys basketball team will play for more than a defense of its District 6 Class AAAAA championship on Saturday.
The 21-3 Trojans also will support their ailing teammate, senior Izir Britt, when they meet Hollidaysburg at 1:30 p.m. in Saturday's district title game at Mount Aloysius College.
Britt is a patient at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh with an undetermined illness.
“He’s been with us for three years. I think he’s really worked himself into a really good basketball player with hard work,” Greater Johnstown coach Ryan Durham said. “It’s devastating to see him finish his high school career on this note. He’s not going to be able to come back and play.
“You feel for him and the family, his teammates and everybody around. It’s just really heartbreaking.”
Durham said Britt, known as Izzy to his teammates and friends, has been out of the lineup for about three weeks. Recently, he was admitted to the hospital in Pittsburgh, his coach said.
“They’re continuing to do tests," Durham said. "He’s still down there.”
Izir's father, Quan Britt, is a Greater Johnstown graduate who played at Mount Aloysius College. Izir's older brother, Imil Britt, played basketball and football for the Trojans and basketball at Mount Aloysius.
Durham fought back tears while talking about Izzy Britt in the moments after a dramatic 52-51 victory over Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic last Saturday in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title game.
The Trojans won after a late 3-pointer by senior Gershon Simon. The team celebrated jubilantly with its fans. Durham said he planned to take the LHAC championship trophy to Britt, but the player's medical situation prevented the reunion.
“He had some health issues going on," Durham said. "He wasn’t feeling well, so we were not allowed to visit.”
Helping a friend
The region’s sports community has stepped up to help a friend.
The Richland High School boys basketball boosters organized a fundraiser for Britt during the Rams’ District 6-AAA home playoff game against Mount Union on Friday night.
“He’s a fellow basketball player, a fellow Laurel Highlands Conference player,” Richland Athletic Director Bonnie Kidd said. "He went to Richland when he was in junior high.
“The varsity boys all signed a basketball as a get-well card. They’re putting collection cans at the gates to help fund food cards and gift cards for the Britts. From what I understand, Quan (Britt) and his wife are pretty much living at the hospital.”
Tulunes Living the Dream Bar & Grill will host a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Britt family from 4 to 8 p.m. on March 2 at the 90 Lulay St. location.
“Everybody at our place has a special relationship with the Britts,” said co-owner Tony Penna Jr., the Conemaugh Township High School football coach who formerly was Greater Johnstown's football coach and director of athletics.
“We just think this is the kind of thing you should do when somebody in your community is struggling," Penna said. "We want to do whatever we can to help ease the burden.”
Penna and co-owners B.J. Gibson and Deshawn Sharpe all have strong ties to Greater Johnstown and the Britt family.
“We’re closed on Mondays, so it’s going to be just for that event,” Penna said. “We’ll have baskets, too. We’re accepting donations. Hopefully, Quan is going to be able to come. We’re going to be open only for that function and 100% of the money raised will go to them.”
'Hug your kids'
Durham said the Trojans emphasize that basketball is only one part of a student-athlete's life.
“We talk about that a lot, not just in these circumstances, but all circumstances,” Durham said. “You run into things in life. Some of our kids have dealt with a lot of loss already in their lives. We reiterate how they should enjoy the moment and don’t take anything for granted.
“We talk about it on a day-to-day basis and even more so now with what Izzy is going through.”
Durham said his staff knew something was wrong earlier this year. Britt is a senior starter, a playmaker.
“We noticed it. We saw it. He agreed that he wasn’t feeling well,” Durham said. “We started the process of sitting him out. He wasn’t getting any better.”
Durham said Britt showed no improvement despite seeking medical attention early in the process.
“If you’re sick, if you’ve got the cold or the flu, eventually you start getting better,” Durham said.
Instead, Britt went to Pittsburgh for treatment.
“I think Izzy will be on our minds a lot,” Durham said. “He was on our minds a lot on Saturday in the Laurel Highlands game. You’re at practice every day. You look around and he’s not here.”
The Trojans coach appreciates the community’s response.
“It just makes you feel good,” Durham said. “Through everything you see, that’s what community is about, people just stepping forward.
“There is a lot of respect. You appreciate that. In times of need, this is what you’re supposed to do. Not everyone does it. I can’t thank Richland enough. I can’t thank Tony enough. I’m sure the Britts really appreciate it.”
Quan Britt posted on Facebook:
“Hug your kids extra tight, give them a extra kiss, not for no reason, but just because. 1 day at a time. Thanks for all the love, support and mainly the prayers. Please keep them coming.”