Memories of ‘Miss CJ’ driving Chaminade Julienne into state basketball semifinals

When play is at the CJ end of the floor, he’s not following the ball. He’s watching the woman behind the bench — his mother, Ann Szabo.

“That’s the last game she was ever at,” Szabo said. “I will sit there and watch that game, and I will watch her. She’s going nuts and she’s cheering, and she is more excited for us than we are.”

“She was involved in so many people’s lives and so much around here, and it was always to do good,” Szabo said. “She had a knack of finding students who needed help, somebody who didn’t fit in as well as they were hoping to, and Mom would be that friend.

“We would go do a five-minute errand, and it would take an hour because she would run into three or four people she knew,” Szabo said. “She just had a gift, and everybody loves my mom. She was kind.”

“She was sitting on a couch and she said, ‘Chuck, what day is this?’” he said. “And I said, ‘St. Patrick’s Day.’ It was her favorite day of the year – she’s pure Irish. And she said, ‘I don’t know what day it is.’ I said, ‘March 17.’ She said, ‘What day of the week?’ I said ‘Wednesday.’ She said, ‘What year?’ And I said, ‘What year do you think it is?’ She said, ‘2013.’ And I said, ‘No Ann, it’s 2021. Come on, let’s go to the doctor.’”

That evening Ann was admitted to Miami Valley Hospital. She had a brain tumor, which a biopsy eventually revealed was cancerous. Charlie found his way to her room that night after hours and again early Saturday morning before the game.

“She had to tell me how proud she was and how sorry she was she couldn’t be there,” Charlie said.

Surgery was not possible because of the proximity of the tumor to areas of her brain that controlled motor skills. Ann maintained optimism and the first round of chemotherapy and radiation yielded positive results. Then she caught pneumonia. The breathing issues that ensued never allowed her to fully recover, and the treatments stopped. The tumor didn’t cause her pain or affect her long-term memory, only short-term, but eventually she asked for hospice home care.

“That was devastating to us because even through everything you still hold up hope that she can’t die,” Chuck said.

The night before Ann died she began to feel pain. Chuck called Charlie at 4 a.m.

“I said, ‘Charlie, I can’t do this anymore. Mom’s in pain. We have to take her to hospice,’” Chuck said. “So Charlie ran over. We both took turns holding her hand and telling her it was going to be OK because she was starting to really moan, and I couldn’t stand it. I would leave the room and Charlie would stay with her.”

The funeral director said he had never seen a crowd like the one for Ann’s viewing. For over four hours they stood in line to greet the family. She coached many of them in several sports in the CYO program, she knew them through her siblings, some of which were much older, and she knew them through her beloved school.

“I can’t tell you how many kids, not just from CJ now, but ones that have graduated, came up and told me a story about what she did for them that I never knew about,” Chuck said. “A lot of them said, I don’t think I would have went through school if it wasn’t for her. And what I did after school was because she told me I could do it. She gave me the confidence.”

Charlie said his mom would love this year’s team, from the ones she knew in CYO to the new ones like the Washington brothers who moved to Dayton in June. Last year’s team presented him with a plaque with her picture on it and the words “Mrs. Ann Szabo Biggest Fan Award.” He said he selfishly wishes she was sitting and cheering in the front row at UD on Friday right behind him.

“I just keep thinking to myself how much she’d love to be here,” Charlie said. “The Alter game to get here, it’s the highest stakes game we’ve ever played against them, and she would have loved it. It’s just everything about this year.

“I wish she was here to enjoy it with me because I know she’s watching.”

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