There's something about this homecoming that tugs at his heartstrings, and for Kim Chambers, the sentimental journey is tied to basketball.
The Harlem High School coach leaves today with the Bulldogs. Chambers and his team are en route to Richmond, Va.
At the other end of the road, Colonial Heights High School basketball coach Bill Chambers is ready to reunite with his son.
Kim would be the first to tell you - most everything he knows about coaching was learned from his father, and Kim had a great teacher.
"He's been coaching since 1965, and he's close to 400 wins," Kim said. "He's a coaching legend in Virginia basketball, just like Jimmie Lewis is a legend here in baseball."
The Richmond native never played for his dad, but Kim's earliest memories are of being on the sidelines serving as a ball boy during games.
This week, though, the Chambers will be on opposite sides of the court.
On Monday, Harlem takes on Colonial Heights. The Dogs will follow with a Tuesday contest against Chesterfield High, but that won't be quite like the father vs. son matchup.
"For me, it will be friendly, but when we step on the court it's going to be about the game," Kim said. "We'll have fun, but we're both competitive enough where we want to win. It won't be a family thing."
Despite the game face, Kim Chambers can't hide the truth.
"The trip to Virginia is about my mom and my dad," he said, and the choked voice tells the real story.
"My mom had cancer, and I wasn't sure how long she was going to live."
This trip was more than a homecoming, more than a chance to coach against his father. For Kim, this was a gift to his mother, Beverly.
The first step was to get funds for the road trip. With the help of other Harlem supporters, Chambers secured more than $3,000 through fund-raisers, basketball camps, and by selling ads in the school's football program.
Everything was falling into place.
Then, last August, as Chambers worked as an assistant coach for the Harlem football team, he received an urgent message about his mother.
The chemotherapy treatments weren't working.
Chambers (center) and his stepdaughter Kaitlyn Vest and son Kole Chambers visit with his father, Bill Chambers, during the Columbia County Christmas Tournament.
Photo by Mike Howell
"My wife called me on Thursday, and before we could get to Virginia on Saturday, she was dead," Kim said as teardrops fell. "We had it all set up. I was really hoping my mom could see that game. I was hoping she would make it to Christmas."
When Bill and Kim Chambers first planned the reunion game, it wasn't about Beverly. Kim's parents had divorced five years ago, and while they were still on friendly terms, the homecoming hinged on the hardwood, not hard times.
"Closeness seems to come when you take a long trip like that. When I originally thought about doing this, we were trying to prepare our team for state-tournament action," Kim explained. "The main thing was to get our kids ready to play on the road, if they're fortunate enough to get back to the state tournament."
The focus changed after Beverly lost her battle with cancer at age 62.
"When I was arranging the trip, it wasn't about my mom at that time. That's what it's going to be about now."
Both coaches downplay the significance of who wins and loses this week.
Still, when Bill was here for a visit last week, he took time to watch Harlem compete in the Columbia County Christmas Tournament. You can bet he was sizing up Kim's squad, looking for an advantage for the upcoming contest.
That's what coaches do.
"We'll go after each other hard," Bill Chambers said. "It will be just like another game for both of us. I'm sure it will be real competitive."
At some point, bragging rights might be mentioned, but for now, Bill sees the big picture. "We're just excited for him to be there, happy to have him home," he said.
Going home hasn't always been an uplifting experience for Kim Chambers.
Seeing your mother buried is as bad as it gets.
At the funeral, though, basketball was a saving grace.
"I saw a lot of friends and family," Kim recalled. "They said, 'We're all coming to that game!"'
That's exactly what Beverly Chambers would have wanted.
In fact, when Bill and Kim Chambers meet Monday at Colonial Heights, there's reason to believe there will be a very spirited spectator on hand.
The epitaph etched on Beverly's tombstone reads, "She never missed a game."
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