A group of former Pickerington High School and Pickerington High School Central girls basketball players next weekend will host a fundraiser to aid their former coach and his family.
Through a tenure as assistant varsity girls basketball coach at PHS and later PHS North that spanned much of the 1980s through 2006, Keith Ebright was part of a dominant program that saw the Lady Tigers win state championships in 1985, 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1998, as well as 1999 when they won the Ohio State High School Athletic Association state title and were crowned USA Today National Champions.
Ebright also was inducted into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, but his influence went beyond X's and O's.
He was the Pickerington Local School District "Teacher of the Year" in 2006, and his former players credit him for providing years of unsolicited support and advice.
"Keith's a great guy," said Karen (Blades) Gynn, a member of the '85 team. "He's just an amazing coach and he went way above and beyond for us."
Now, Ebright's players want to give back to their coach and his family in a time of need.
Four months after Keith and Dottie Ebright's daughter, Melissa, was killed in a traffic crash at the age of 37, the Lady Tiger Basketball Alumni and other friends have organized a May 3 fundraiser in hopes of helping the family buy a new van.
A wheelchair-accessible van is much needed, according to former player Jennifer Bell Boren (PHS 1988-91), because Mrs. Ebright suffers from multiple sclerosis and can't be easily transported without a specialized vehicle.
Additionally, the Ebrights frequently care for the five children Melissa left behind.
"There aren't enough words to describe the kindness Coach and Dottie gave to us girls over the years," Boren said.
"The thing that is the most amazing is how they continue long after we played ball to support and cheer us on in life," she said.
"They are just genuine. Coach didn't just teach us the game of basketball, but how to be good people," Boren said.
"They both led by example. He didn't demand respect, he earned it. Our work ethic and championships were just a reflection of our coaches.
"He taught us to never give up," she said.
"Coach E not only was an awesome coach and guidance counselor, but he also personally came to take my dad to the funeral home when he passed at three in the morning," Boren said.
"He also held my hand as they lowered him into the ground."
The Lady Tiger Basketball Alumni hope to raise at least $25,000 at the May 3 event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at PHS Central, 300 Opportunity Way.
Tickets can be purchased for $15 in advance of the event, and donations can be made, at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ebright-fundraiser-tickets-11296932429.
In addition to Keith's guidance and unyielding support, Boren said Mrs. Ebright and the rest of the Ebright family were very much part of the Lady Tiger family.
She noted that Mrs. Ebright for many years organized a luncheon during the annual girls basketball Holiday Tournament, and was a well-known piano teacher in the community.
"She always made all of us feel so special," Boren said. "Coach and Dottie unconditionally have given to this entire community my entire life.
"They have been philanthropists of their time," she said.
"They just aren't the kind of people to ask for help. We feel like it's important to give them back some of the time they so freely gave us."
The May 3 event will feature food from Lomonico's Market and Eatery, as well as a silent auction and a presentation by Dan Ross of OHSAA. Ross is also a former superintendent of the Pickerington Local School District.
"We also are collecting silent auction items," Boren said.
"We ask that they be sent to: Hellwig Farm, 8215 Worthington Road, Alexandria, Ohio, 43001; or to contact Jennifer Boren at (614) 989-2398 to arrange a pickup of an item."