GAUTER, Miss. (WLOX) – At Gautier High School, the reminders of how severe COVID-19 can be visible even during times of celebration on the basketball court.
The Gautier Lady Gators have a little extra pep in their step after claiming a district championship with a win over George County last week, but their coach wasn’t there to accept the trophy.
“She would have been jumping everywhere. She would have been on top of the moon. If you know her, she only wanted to win a district championship and we won that for her, so she would have been ecstatic,” said Gautier junior Brandi Martin
Just as school was starting in August, the girls’ coach Mary Bradley passed away following a lengthy battle with COVID-19. The weight of her loss is carried on every day by her team.
“She was a very open person; she was very helpful and emotionally available for us,” said Gautier senior Desi Robinson. “To know that I wasn’t going to be able to have that anymore, it definitely hurt.”
When Coach Bradley died, Warren Hargrove was entering his second season as head coach of the Gautier Boys Basketball team.
“I was with Coach Bradley every day in the gym during PE,” Hargrove said. “She was like a work wife, pretty much.”
With the school needing someone to lead the girls, Hargrove stepped up and has served as coach of both the boys and girls teams this season. During what’s been a balancing act, he’s kept memories of Bradley close to his heart.
“It was heavy, it was like it wasn’t real,” Hargrove said. “I just remember the last time seeing her and talking with her going out of the gym saying see you later, and from that point, you don’t get to see her later.”
Coach Bradley is never far from the players’ thoughts either. They keep a framed tribute to her on the bench every game.
“I feel like it’s our memory of Coach Bradley, and I feel like it’s motivation every time we see it,” said Gautier junior Aalyssa McSwain.
“This whole season was for her to begin with,” Martin said. “I want everybody to know that is who we’re still working for and that’s who we think about before every game.”
The work isn’t done for the Lady Gators. Friday night, they can take a big step toward a state championship hosting Laurel in the state playoffs. Maybe more important than picking up the victory for the players will be another opportunity to honor the memory of Coach Bradley.
Coach Hargrove has also led his boys basketball team to the playoffs this season. The Gators will be in action at home on Saturday.
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