He stood tall and strong as he left his seat at midcourt.
There, Truman High School Hall of Fame boys basketball coach Steve Broughton had greeted many of his former players before the start of Tuesday night’s Anything Can Happen Alumni Benefit game.
The effects of his chemotherapy treatments were apparent as Broughton addressed the overflow crowd in the Truman gymnasium, but he felt it was important to thank them for coming to support his greatest challenge.
“I want to know that there is no way I can repay all of you for what you have done for me tonight,” said Broughton, as players, fans, friends and family members wiped tears from their eyes and tried to maintain their composure.
“I appreciate you beyond words. I’ve learned a lot (the past month) – including how lucky I am to have my family, friends, Amy (Temples, who he will marry this Saturday), the kids – I want to thank all of you. This is so much more than I deserve or could ever imagine. Thank you.”
As he walked off the court, he was greeted with a minute-long standing ovation.
Broughton, who has pancreatic cancer that has spread to his liver, then took a seat on the bench for the beginning of the alumni game that featured teams from various parts of Broughton’s career. Because of low white blood cells and fatigue, the beloved coach was not able to stay for the entire event.
“I’m speechless, my dad was speechless when he saw how many people were here,” said his son Jared, a 2006 graduate of Grain Valley High School, who played in the game and who was recently named the new girls basketball coach at Oak Grove High School.
“I’m in awe. None of us knew what to expect tonight, but we did not expect anything like this. He was totally caught off guard, and like he said before it started, he wants everyone to know what tonight means to him – means to all of us.”
One of the event organizers was 2001 graduate Chad Abernathy, who got to share the court with his boyhood idols, Jason Bunker – the Truman single-season scoring champion – and Will Palmer, the Patriots’ all-time scoring leader.
“When I was in fourth grade, I swept the court and watched Jason and, later on, Will play basketball at Truman,” Abernathy said. “Tonight, I was on the court with them. I felt a lot taller than 5-foot-9. Tonight was pretty amazing.
“Coach got a lot of positive energy tonight, and that’s what this was all about. If it wasn’t for the positive energy, it was just about a bunch of old guys playing basketball.”
The stands were packed with Broughton supporters, including a who’s who of area coaches such as the legendary Bud Lathrop, longtime William Chrisman rival John Vickers, Mark Nusbaum, Randy Draper, Kevin Harrison, Josh Wilson and the list goes on and on.
“I think that shows that Steve didn’t just have an impact on his players,” his longtime friend and Truman activities director Eric Holm said, “he had an impact on the coaches his teams played against. This is such a special night.
“I’m so happy for Steve and Amy. It shows what kind of community we have. You see a turnout like this and it gives you a sense of hope.”
Broughton’s former players reveled in the fact that they got to see their former coach and participate in the game.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” said Palmer, ac cornerstone of the 1996 and 1997 final four teams who is now involved in the hospitality business in Salt Lake City. “When I found out about it, I had one question: ‘When do I need to be there?’”
Bunker, a financial consultant in Boston, came to Independence with his 7-year-old daughter Bella and 6-year-old son Luca.
“Leo, our 1-year-old, is back in Boston,” said Bunker, as his two kids took in the spectacle. “We’re here to support Coach. It’s horrible on one hand, because he has cancer and is fighting to beat it, but it’s so great to be able to come back and let him know how much he meant to all of us.”
A highlight moment came in the opening minutes of the celebration when Billy Guinnee, Broughton’s former assistant who is now the Truman boys head coach, presented his mentor with a piece of basketball court that was engraved: THE HOUSE THAT BROUGHTON BUILT.
“I didn’t know if I could get through it,” Guinnee admitted. “As I began to talk, I looked over at Amy and her eyes were tearing up. And my eyes were tearing up, but we had to present Steve with that piece of the court.”
More than $10,000 was collected in donations at the door, and Holm said an anonymous donor wrote a check to Broughton for $500 early Tuesday morning after reading the story about Broughton in Tuesday’s Examiner.
“He ... didn’t know Steve, but he wanted to help,” Holm said. “I think that sums up what I was talking ... about earlier, how something like this just makes you so proud to live in this community.”