BATAVIA, Ohio — Nate Watson entered Batavia High School at 6 p.m. Friday and couldn’t help but look up at the multiple signs that greeted him. The first was, fittingly, "Win for Watson."
A warm, uplifting night of basketball and community support awaited all those who entered the building on a chilly wintry evening to open February in front of a capacity crowd in the gymnasium.
Watson, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma Nov. 12 and has received six of 12 planned chemotherapy treatments, was grateful and even overwhelmed at times by the enormity of support. Purple, the color for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma awareness, gave the evening a royal atmosphere.
"We just can't put it into words," said his father, Jason Watson. "...Every game that he plays when they call his name - the stands erupt and it's very emotional. It's hard to sit through a game sometimes without crying."
Batavia hosted Goshen in a Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference American division boys’ basketball game on a "Win for Watson Night." An estimated $7,500 was raised Friday night for Watson's family in order to help with medical expenses.
The packed gymnasium carried plenty of optimistic anticipation starting in the junior varsity game. No. 3 balloons hung in the bleachers on the home side. Another banner on the opposite side of the gym thanked visiting Goshen for its support.
An estimated 200 "Win for Watson" T-shirts were sold prior to the varsity game at $10 each, adding to the 150 already sold by the girls' basketball team in December; visitors ordered 50 more.
Friday's varsity game started 27 minutes late, but no one seemed to mind.
“It’s been incredible, the support from the whole high school basketball community,” Batavia boys’ basketball coach Aaron Brose said.
There were no tickets sold for the game. All proceeds from the T-shirts, split-the-pot and donations went to the Watson family.
Some 20 minutes before tip-off, Batavia athletic director Ben Stewart counted the cash that had been donated at the entrance and sifted through cards mailed this week from as far as Syracuse, New York. A blue folder on his desk contained hand-written notes from every one of the Cincinnati Country Day boys' basketball players, who also bought 15 "Win for Watson" T-shirts for their game against visiting Seven Hills. The Mason boys’ basketball team sent a donation and filmed a supportive message on Twitter for Watson.
West Clermont, Clinton-Massie, Clermont Northeastern and Williamsburg, Madeira numbered among the other schools that threw their support behind the 6-foot-3 senior captain. Some had never met him.
Watson started like he has for all but two games this season. He was introduced last to raucous applause. Brose had chills.
Watson stepped in for the opening tip-off. Batavia gained possession. Fifty seconds later, he made the second free-throw for the first point of the night. It was fitting given his story of perseverance this winter.
“His attitude has been incredible in terms of what he’s been dealing with and it’s carried over to other guys on the team but also just the community in general,” Brose said. “There is a tremendous amount of support for him because of what he’s going through but also how he’s handled it.”
Friday night was another opportune time for his teammates and the community to show how much they care for the 18-year-old senior, who is also a standout student. Watson had three points in Batavia's 76-53 loss to Goshen, but everyone in the gym knew what really mattered on this night.
"It was pretty cool seeing and hearing everybody," Watson said after the game. "It was probably louder than I ever heard it in the gym. It felt really good. This was above and beyond. I was probably more nervous than I've ever been."
The point of the fundraiser was to not only help the family with medical expenses but also provide an outlet for the community to show support for Watson, the second youngest of six siblings, and all others living with cancer. Batavia families have helped with restaurant gift cards, blankets and sports drinks this season. Some junior varsity and freshman players shaved their heads to support their teammate.
Watson, who was a second-team all-Southern Buckeye Academic and Athletic Conference selection as a junior while leading the Bulldogs in scoring, continues to be an inspiration for everyone around him. He's never deviated from playing the game he loves.
"He's an unbelievable basketball player," said senior small forward Adam Evans. "The kid just dunked for the first time the other day. He's going through all these chemo treatments. That alone should say something. It's nuts."
Evans and Watson stayed up until 8 a.m. after a late December game discussing everything in Watson's life regarding his health. Watson told his friend he doesn't want people to pity him. He just wants to be himself.
"He's just very down to Earth about it; he told me how he felt," Evans said. "He said he was just grateful for every moment he had, and that's just Nate."
Donations to assist the Watson family may be made to Batavia High School, Attention: Athletic Director Ben Stewart, 1 Bulldog Place Batavia, Ohio 45103.