By Sean Lynch
FLORIDA — Tears gently rolled down the face of S.S Seward head coach Robert Gravelle as he talked about John Guerra.
Guerra, who would’ve been a senior this year, was killed in a car accident four months ago. He was the Spartans starting point guard the last two seasons. He averaged 23.8 points per game and scored 1,041 points in his three-year career on varsity.
Not only was Guerra a gifted athlete who made his teammates better, but anyone who met him was absorbed by his wide smile and contagious laugh. Anytime you came to Seward to watch a boys basketball game, you were left mesmerized by how natural basketball came to him.
Gravelle, who is entering his 24th year coaching the Spartans, talked about how rough it’s been for the community.
“It’s been a horrible four months,” he said. “Every day we try to heal but it’s not easy.”
For the first time in seven years, Gravelle coached a game without Guerra on his team. Not having him on the floor or on the sidelines was weird.
“It’s weird coaching and him not being on the floor.” Fighting through tears, he added, “John was a really special young man.”
Despite Guerra not playing, the S.S Seward Spartan Invitational went on as it always has, but this time under a different name.
The John Guerra S.S Seward Spartan Invitational.
The invitational has been Seward’s first game of the season for over a decade. Guerra won the invitational’s MVP award last season.
S.S Seward lost to Port Jervis 61-52 in the semifinals of the John Guerra S.S Seward Spartan Invitational on Friday night.
Prior to the game, Guerra was honored with a moment of silence that left players and spectators on the verge of tears.
Port Jervis also honored him, wearing warm-up shirts with his name on the back.
The Spartans trailed 37-19 in the first half after committing 14 turnovers. The Raiders capitalized, going 8-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half, including six from sophomore guard Nico Rodriguez.
Down by 24 halfway through the third quarter, Seward went on a 26-4 run and trailed by only two points with 2:31 left in the game.
With a little over a minute left, the Spartans were down three points with possesion. They ran an out- of-bounds play to Grant Gravelle, who missed a deep three-pointer. After the missed shot, the Raiders went on a 9-1 run to end the game.
“I wouldn’t say we played well, especially in the first half,” said Gravelle. “We were sluggish, our ball-movement was bad, our defense was bad, but we’ve got a lot of guys on the team who are learning new roles. Really the only kid who played a lot on varsity last season was Matt Stam.”
Stam led both teams with 22 points, including four 3-pointers. He scored eight consecutive points on Seward’s 26-4 run in the second half.
Like most on the basketball team, he was close with John Guerra since childhood.
On the varsity soccer team two seasons ago, Guerra was the midfielder who paced the field, trying to get the ball up to Matt Stam, who played forward.
Stam fought back tears explaining what it was like not having Guerra by his side on the hardwood.
“Basketball was John’s passion,” he said. “John put his heart, sweat and tears on this floor and it’s really tough to grasp that he’s not here playing with us right now.”
“Everything we do this season is for John.”