By Trey Williams
The Unicoi County basketball team absorbed a jarring loss last week when Sharon Slagle, the mother of junior post Lucas Slagle, died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
In addition to coaching her son, Blue Devils coach Jordan Simmons knew Slagle from their time at Unicoi County Middle School.
“When you talk about Lucas’ mom you talk about someone that was a fighter, you talk about someone that was resilient, you talk about someone that was completely selfless,” Simmons said.
“I was lucky enough to work at the middle school for nine years when she was there in the community learning center, and I was around her most days,” Simmons added. “His mom was somebody who, if you were around her for more than 10 or 15 seconds, you couldn’t leave that conversation without a smile on your face and have a better day. I think Lucas has a lot of those same characteristics.”
Sharon’s son is a three-sport standout who could play football, baseball or basketball beyond high school.
“He’s a kid that’s given his all for athletics in this county,” Simmons said. “I think athletics will carry him a long way, but because of the person he is and the way he’s been brought up will carry him even farther.”
The 6-foot-6 Slagle, who’s on pace to average a double-double for the third straight season and enters Saturday’s home game against Volunteer with 981 career rebounds, has been dedicated to sports throughout his mother’s courageous fight.
“Lucas, through all of this, has just been unreal,” Simmons said. “He’s never missed a practice. He’s texted me during the day saying, ‘Hey, this is going on, I may be five or 10 minutes late.’ And I’m responding, ‘Lucas, do whatever you need to do. Basketball will be here when you’re ready, if you’re ready.’ And his response to me that first time was, ‘Coach, my mom would kill me if she thought I was missing something.’”
Sharon played basketball for Glenn Fisher at Unicoi County (Class of ’90) and coached at the middle school. Her husband Donnie was an excellent athlete there, too, as were Sharon’s sister Ronda Simpson’s sons, Connor and Clay.
“When you talk about Blue Devil families, that’s a family that you put right up at the top,” Simmons said. “I think Lucas is set on carrying on that tradition and kind of upholding those expectations in all three sports. With this, he’s been as resilient as I’ve ever seen a person be – not just a kid, but any person.”
Sharon turned 50 on Christmas. Four days later she was in Belfry, Kentucky, watching Lucas record yet another double-double in a 66-64 loss to Magoffin County.
“She was right there (watching Lucas) the night before she ended up in the hospital, and I think that is how she would’ve wanted it,” Simmons said. “When you’d come into the middle school and see her, she’d say, ‘I’m doing great. How are you?’ That was just the way she approached everything. It was never about her. She always made it about the kids at the school or the person she was talking to.
“And to know what she was battling and still keep that outlook and that perspective, it’s just incredible. I think if we’re all able to approach a day the way Sharon Slagle was able to, even with everything she was going through, this world would be a much better place.”
Simmons expects that her son will carry that torch admirably.
“It really speaks to him, his family and his support system around him that he’s still able to come in each day and focus on getting the job done,” Simmons said.
“It just kind of blows me away for a 17-year-old kid to be able to do that,” Simmons added. “Lucas is a special athlete and a special person from a special family. It’s heartbreaking to know what he’s going through, but to see how he’s kind of faced it head on and tried to keep a positive attitude, it’s just inspiring to everybody.”