The impact of Joe Bacon's life could be seen at halftime of the Williamsport Alumni men's game when hundreds of teary eyed friends and family honored him.
The event was a gathering some of the area's top basketball players over the past two decades, but it went a lot deeper as the recently deceased Williamsport High School grad's life was remembered during a basketball doubleheader in his memory.
The Lycoming County alumni won the women's game, 34-28, and the Williamsport alumni avenged two defeats from the previous year with the team's first win in three tries. Leroy Joiner paced the Williamsport squad with 25 points, helping it defeat the Loyalsock team, 64-51.
Jill McElhinny (24), a Loyalsock graduate, pulls a rebound for the Lycoming County team next to teammate Ellen Hemwall (Lycoming College) as Williamsport’s Alex Benshaw, left, and Maggie Benshaw, right, defend Saturday at Williamsport High School. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Although Williamsport certainly wanted to win the game, especially after last year's two losses, each game ended with friendly chatter and handshakes. The good vibes were especially strong after the men's game as most players gravitated to Bacon's wife to offer kind words.
"It shows what kind of man Joe was," Bacon's wife Erica said after the game. "It brought back so many good memories."
An award was given to Bacon's two sons, Jordan and Joey, at halftime. Both kids were then hoisted up as the fully packed gym stood and cheered. The impact of the moment could be seen on both kids faces, which were covered with tears of joy as their father was honored.
"I've always known Joe to be a wonderful man, but to see so many people felt the same way was outstanding," Erica Bacon said. "For both of my boys to see what their dad meant was very important. They know what their dad meant, but to see the legacy he left on the court was important."
What started as a friendly game between old rivals quickly became a showcase in how all of the women playing hadn't lost a stitch of their competitive fabric.
"All the instincts came back to the players. We started to push it up," 1989 Loyalsock graduate Jill McElhinny said. "It was great and it was for a great cause."
Lycoming started to press and Williamsport's line-up reflected a stepped up effort to win the game.
Alex Benshaw was key to Williamsport's second-half efforts. The 2000 WHS graduate, who now works as a full-time middle school teacher in Annapolis, Md., grabbed eight of her 10 rebounds over the final 16 minutes. She also gave the Williamsport girls the lead at the conclusion of the first half when she was fouled while making a shot. The ensuing 3-point play put Williamsport up 16-11 with 2:36 left in the half.
"It takes a little bit after you've been out of it for a while," Benshaw said of the game. "In the second half things felt a little more natural. It's not like I play basketball every day."
Benshaw might not play every day, but the skills that made her one of the area's best at the beginning of the millennium haven't drifted that far away.
Benshaw continued to play inspired throughout the second half, controlling the paint and adding two more points to her totals.
The Lycoming county girls eventually pulled away when Molly Kirby surged for the team's final seven points of the game. Kirby buried a three at the 3:24 mark to give Lycoming a 30-25 lead.
In an effort to get her team back in the game, Brenna Hill, formally Eck, connected on a long three to get Williamsport within 30-28 of tying the game. It was Williamsport's final points of the contest. Hill finished with the three points, an equal number of rebounds and a block.
"It was so much fun," Hill said. "All these memories came flooding back in. I played with a lot of these girls and it was really, really fun. It feels like we never left."
Erica Logan scored a game-high 13 points and Jill McElhinny helped key the defense by creating turnovers and grabbing boards under the basket.
Williamsport's alumni finally got to taste some success in the final game of the night. It was especially important for the Millionaires, who dropped the previous three alumni games.
Joiner scored 25 points and Dwayne Blackman added 10, while playing solid defense to help Williamsport. Fan favorite Jamie Spencer also buried a long trey in the first half, while pulling down two rebounds.
Antoine Ellison-Love paced Loyalsock with 14 points. Ryan Cioffi, playing in his second alumni game, finished with five points, but added six rebounds.
"The important message is unity," event organizer Raymond Truitt said. "We all just need to work together. We all just need to get along."