Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2018

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#VegasStrong: How basketball brought rivals together, helped city heal after tragedy

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Richard Brian / Special to the Sun

Clark High School basketball coach Chad Beeten talks to his players during the Division I-A Nevada high school basketball state championship game at the Orleans Arena on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.

Whatever pleasure one's heart may desire can be found in Las Vegas.

But for several weeks this fall, all Clark High School basketball coach Chad Beeten and plenty others in the city wanted to do was to sit on the couch and hold their family close.

Clark is one of a pair of Las Vegas-area teams in this year's Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The other, Bishop Gorman, beat the Chargers for a state championship last spring.

Typically, the opportunity to one-up a rival is motivation enough. However, tragic circumstances have prompted the rivals to use basketball as a means to help their city heal.

On Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire on concert-goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Fifty-eight people died, making it the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in American history.

Nearly 550 people were also injured.

According to reports, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 rounds into the crowd of more than 22,000 people from his suite on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay.

"A few of our teachers were at the concert," said Clark standout James Bridges. "The next day was extremely rough for everyone at school, and around the city for that matter."

For Beeten, the tragic event brought back memories of another dark chapter in our nation's history.

"I immediately thought about Sept. 11, 2001," he said. "It had a lot of the same feel.

"I couldn't get out of the house for a few days. I just picked up my kids, sat on the couch and held them because I was so distraught."

No one associated with the Clark or Bishop Gorman basketball programs was affected by the shooting. However, many knew those at other schools who were.

According to Beeten, members of his team responded in two ways — the first of which the Chargers coach is most proud.

"Right after, our guys decided to give blood," he said. "It was so inspirational to see, and really spoke to the heart of our kids and the city we represent."

The other was a simple — albeit powerful — statement.

"We put #VegasStrong on a T-shirt," he said. "Back after the tragedy happened, one of our parents came up with the idea before we headed to Salt Lake City (Utah) for a tournament. She thought it would be a great opportunity to represent and bring our community together.

"The kids are not required to wear them. But they do so consistently because they love our town, and represent it to the fullest."

Since the shooting, both programs have sensed a different form of camaraderie in their hometown. In fact, aside from parents and other family members present for the tournament, the teams have no bigger cheering section than that consisting of their Las Vegas-area rivals.

"We came together as a community," said Bishop Gorman standout and University of Washington commit Jamal Bey. "Like losses on the basketball court, we're not letting that tragedy keep us down and break us.

"Vegas ... don't let it break us. We know a lot of players on the Clark team, I personally have played with plenty of their players on AAU. It's cool having people we know here."

In the belief of Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice, the tragedy taught another valuable lesson.

"If you're from Vegas, you knew someone that was there," he said. "It teaches us that we must come together, be a strong family and just support other people. It's a horrible life lesson, but we have to be good to people and support them."