CARMEL VALLEY — The “coach” stood near the players’ bench, dressed in a navy blue blazer, white fitted T-shirt and sky blue jeans, a backwards baseball cap covering his bald head as he barked instructions to the “players” on the floor in Corky Smith Gym.
On the gym’s two other courts, the same scenario was playing itself out, except these games were different than your usual pickup games.
The coaches were high school players. The players, were their coaches.
And they were all there for the one young coach dressed in blues and his mother, who are fighting the battle for his life.
The “coach” is Nick Herrmann, a 17-year-old player from Torrey Pines High School who was diagnosed last year with an aggressive form of bone cancer.
Then, shortly after his diagnosis, his mother, Nicole Elliott Herrmann, was diagnosed with cancer as well.
Both mother and son have has spent the last year undergoing a battery of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
And the Southern California basketball community has rallied around them through a series of fundraisers and events, including the one held at Corky Smith on April 20, Coaches Hoop For Hope.
“It really has been amazing, all the support we’ve received,” Herrmann said during a timeout at the event. “We’ve been overwhelmed by it, really. We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for the love, support and well-wishes.”
The brainchild of San Marcos High School assistant basketball coach Michael Howell and basketball trainer Trent Suzuki, the event originally was created for bragging rights in San Diego’s highly competitive coaching community, where the question “whose coaching staff has the best players” is a topic of heated debate.
“A lot of coaches are still competitive, still active in playing, and there’s been a lot of trash talking and a lot of build up for the excitement,” Howell said in a recent interview.
But Howell said when he learned of Herrmann’s cancer diagnosis from Suzuki, he saw an opportunity to give back to a family in need.
“I thought it was important for us as coaches to lead by example, and helping such a wonderful family out was a no-brainer,” Howell said.
Nick Diaz, an assistant coach at Torrey Pines and a close friend of the Herrmann family, served as co-director for the event. He said that Herrmann’s battle has been inspirational to everyone around him.
“He is doing great, his attitude is incredible, in his mind he’s playing basketball next season and he’s going to play college basketball and if you talk to him, you’d have no idea that he’s battling cancer,” Diaz said. “His mentality is incredible.”
So on that Saturday morning, coaches from across San Diego and even into southwest Riverside County converged on the gym, donning old practice jerseys and smelling of liniment, laboring up and down the court in 10-minute halves.
In the end, a collection of coaches from the San Diego-Chula Vista area, including Olympian head coach Marty Ellis, recently hired Crawford head coach Ed Baskin and Madison head coach Mike Stutz defeated La Jolla Country Day’s coaching contingent 53-49 in a spectacular second-half comeback.
And then coaches began the long, painful walk back to their cars and home to their ice baths and painkillers, but knew it was for the worthiest of causes.