Remembering a Legend


Our basketball team this year is having a season to remember due to COVID-19. The first shutdown was caused due to one positive case of the virus during the Thanksgiving holiday. After the two-week shutdown, the team went on to win eight straight games before Christmas break, keeping a perfect record. Shortly after our last game before Christmas Break at Wekiva High School, we were sidelined again with six positive cases, including one of our assistant coaches, Earl Graham. Coming back from this shutdown was tough the first couple of days, taking a turn for the worse when our head coach, Mr. Williams, contracted the virus. At the same time, our assistant coach Earl Graham was now fighting for his life in the hospital with COVID-19. Thankfully, the team could continue playing since we were not around Coach Williams for 48 hours.

After Christmas break, we won our first game, but we received devastating news a day later. Our assistant coach Earl Graham had passed away at the age of 72 from complications of COVID-19. The doctors told us that they did everything they could to try and get our coach back functioning normally. However, there was no brain activity, and he could not function independently without the ventilator’s help. The passing of Coach Graham not only crushed the entire Apopka community, but also affected the whole Orange County community as well, because of the impact he made on so many of our lives. 

For those that do not know, Coach Graham has been helping people throughout his life. Before being involved so heavily in youth sports, he was a firefighter in Orange County before retiring after 30 plus years. It was always in his spirit to help others and give back to the community he loved so dearly. Although he was involved in sports at the high school level, his notoriety came from his influence coaching AAU or travel basketball. His teams would travel all over the states and compete in big tournaments where they would always make a good name for themselves, beating out the nation’s so-called best travel teams. Before making his final stop at Apopka, he was a part of the football and basketball teams at Wekiva High School, Lake Highland Prep, and Edgewater High School. No matter where Coach Graham went, he was always a winner.

Senior Co-captain Devin Leath explained how he feels this season is unfolding for the team this year. Devin said, “I feel as though we are doing pretty well, especially with all that’s happened to us this year, and we have a lot more ahead of us.” The team has won one out of its last six games coming out of the Christmas break holiday. Going through a bit of a rough patch lately, the team has picked it up after losing five straight games by punching in a win on MLK Day against Central Florida Christian Academy (CFCA). When questioned about if there were any memories Devin wanted to share about Coach Graham, he said, “I remember when I was little I would go to Wekiva’s youth basketball camp in the summer. One time of the day we looked forward to the most was when Coach Williams said that it is lunchtime. That’s when we’d get to run over to Coach Graham and get our pizza and snacks, and I can still hear him saying, ‘Come get your Gata-ade.’ ” Coach always believed in making sure that his players would be productive citizens in life. That  was bigger than winning a game. He had a big impact on every kid he crossed paths with. Devin finishes off by saying, “I feel as every day I have to get better, no matter how tired I get, I have to keep adapting to a different basketball mindset with how we play and flow into offense with defense, but with that comes time.”

Lastly, we hear from another senior, Jalen Studstill, who highlights the memories that he had with Coach Graham over the years and how this season looks different from past years. Jalen starts by saying, “I feel as if we could be way better, but mentally, with everything going on, as a team, we just have been falling apart.” If you think about it, having to play without your head coach and knowing you won’t ever see your assistant coach again is a very heavy burden to carry, especially as teenagers. Jalen further adds, “Seasons before the pandemic were way more exciting because everything was flowing the way that we wanted them to.” Now, teams will have to deal with shutdowns and never knowing who they will be playing from game to game. Jalen finally ends with his memories of Coach Graham. He explains, “During practices with Coach Graham, it was always hilarious because he always had a joke ready.” Coach, you will forever be missed. We love you!