You could say Lucy Baker drew the long straw.
That’s why she was in the WVU Coliseum Friday night watching West Virginia edge Duquesne, 78-70, in a charity basketball exhibition that was benefiting the Dayton Foundation’s Oregon District Tragedy Fund.
As a representative of the Foundation, Baker could have been sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary, a large, maximum security prison in Salem, Oregon.
Since the mass shooting in the downtown Dayton on Aug. 4, Baker said people around the world have reached out to the city—and the Foundation, which is collecting donations – to help the victims of the gun carnage and the people affected by the series on Memorial Day tornadoes that ravaged the Greater Dayton area.
Baker said two inmate groups at the Oregon Penitentiary – “the Latino Club and an African American cultural club” – formed a partnership and planned a bake sale with the proceeds going to the Oregon District victims.
As for the WVU event, it was cooked up by Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, who knows Dayton quite well.
“Coach Huggins has to get the credit for this,” said Matt Wells, WVU’s senior associate athletic director. “He worked with the administration and others on this, but the initial idea came from him.”
Huggins has deep Ohio ties. He played high school basketball for his dad at Indian Valley South in Gnadenhutten in the eastern part of the state and played a season at Ohio University before transferring to WVU.
As the coaching level, he was an Ohio State assistant and then the head coach at Walsh, Akron and from 1989-2005 at the University of Cincinnati.
He’s recruited the Dayton area for a long time and in 2011 Juwan Staten left the University of Dayton and starred for Huggins at WVU. This season Sean McNeil –who played at Sinclair last season, where he was the nation’s leading junior college (Division II) scorer – is on the Mountaineers team and had 12 points against Duquesne.
Huggins is best known by some Dayton folks because of his annual speaking engagements at the often-raucous Agonis Club.
“They keep calling, so I keep showing up,” he said Friday night.
And with a laugh, he added: “That bunch is crazy!”
His last visit with them was Sept. 16.
Thanks to an NCAA ruling that was implemented three years ago, Division I schools can now play one charity game against another D-I team in the preseason.
That prompted Huggins to call Keith Dambrot, the head coach at Duquesne, which is “right up the road,” (Wells words) in Pittsburgh and has a long history with the Mountaineers. The schools use to be in Eastern 8 Conference and then the Atlantic 10. Friday night was their 89th meeting
Although the teams had not met since 2013, Dambrot said he embraced the invite and the cause.
“Huggs and I are both from Ohio,” he said, then smiled. “Well, I guess Huggs (born in Morgantown) is from West Virginia and Ohio. But when he asked me, I couldn’t really say ‘No,’ could I?”
Dambrot was born in Akron, played at Firestone High School and then played baseball at the University of Akron. He coached basketball at Ashland, Akron St. Vincent St Mary, where he mentored LeBron James for two seasons, and then was an Akron assistant and the Zips head coach from 2004-2017.
”I don’t really understand the world today sometimes,” Dambrot said. “What happened in Dayton was tragic. The shootings there and at the Pittsburgh synagogue were just a shame. I’m glad we could play tonight and make some money and hopefully help some people. Maybe they can begin to heal after what happened to them.
That was Huggins’ thinking, too:
“With what happened in Dayton and what’s’ happening around the country, we thought it would be great to give to that fund and help some of those families
“I think it’s only right that we help.”
Request out of the blue
Hugins is one of a number of college coaches who believes the so-called “secret scrimmages” or closed scrimmages teams have in the preseason would do more good if they were opened to the public and became a charity event to help others.
“Actually, Bill Self (Kansas coach) kind of spearheaded the deal,” Huggins said. “It was like, ‘Why do we have a secret scrimmage that no one can attend?’ Why not have a scrimmage that generates money?’
“And at first we gave it to hurricane relief – we did that here for two years – but then came the opportunity to help Dayton.”
Baker said WVU’s request to help came “out of the blue,” but left her feeling overwhelmed and quite proud.
She’s originally from West Virginia, so this effort was especially “heart-warming.”
She’s felt that way time and again the past few months as people responded to the tornadoes that damaged or destroyed nearly 2,600 homes and 173 businesses in the area and then the mass shooting that claimed 10 lives (including the shooter) and injured 27.
“Usually in a year we get about 8,000 gifts to all our (Foundation) funds,” said Baker, who is a donor services assistant. “But in just the past four months we’ve gotten over 6,000 gifts.”
She said donations have come from big corporations as well as “lemonade stands, benefit concerts and workplace initiatives.
“People in other countries have donated. Our finance people have had to convert pounds to U.S dollars.”
She told of one little girl who sent in $8 she collected to help tornado victims.
“Part of my job is preparing the acknowledgement letters for the gifts,” she said. ”I get to see the notes people write and sometimes I just cry.
“And it’s been hard to see people in our community who are dealing with tragedy and are in pain. But to see the community come together to help them and to see people from the outside want to help, it’s just so inspiring.
“These gifts are helping people. They are making us stronger. The best of humanity has come out of a dark event.”
And she said Friday night’s effort between West Virginia and Duquesne was a perfect example of that.
Getting everyone involved
Baker was especially proud Friday night.
She’s from Chester, WV – “home of the world’s largest teapot,” she laughed – and she said two of her and husband Tim’s kids were born in West Virginia. She used to work at a newspaper in Charleston and her oldest daughter, Jean, is a senior at WVU.
And 13-year-old son Dominic goes to Oakwood High, where he often wears his WVU gear.
“It’s the same colors (blue and gold) as Oakwood High,” he smiled.
Another Dayton-area connection involved in the game – besides WVU’s McNeil – was Duquesne’s freshman guard Jake Harper, who grew in Bellbrook. His dad Dave, a Wright State grad and former assistant athletic director at UD is now Duquesne’s athletics director.
To get as many people as possible involved in Friday night’s charity drive, WVU ran numerous “how to give” announcements for the Oregon District fund on the jumbo video board that towered above the crowd of 9,705.
“We worked with the Dayton Foundation so we could give everyone the information they need to text donations or go onto the Foundation’s website,” Wells said. “And we worked with our television partners AT&T SportsNet out of Pittsburgh. They’re broadcasting the game regionally and are sharing the same information with their audiences, too.”
After the game, Huggins – who was carrying a “Dayton Strong” T-shirt he’d been given – was pleased with the way the charity event had gone and especially his school’s response.
“My bosses were all in,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those deals like, ‘Do we have to give all of it?’ Everyone was like ‘Yeah, all of it.’
Near the end of the game, Lucy Baker – surrounded by her family with her beloved Mountaineers leading Duquesne throughout and the public service announcements featuring the familiar “Oregon” arch of the of the Oregon District constantly being shown on the video board — had gotten everything out of the night she had hoped for.
Well, almost everything.
She wanted to meet Huggins:
“Of course,” she smiled. “He’s Huggy Bear!”
And on this night, the black-clad, old school coach had given Dayton a much-needed hug.
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