Every high school basketball team plays and competes for wins, league championships and district trophies.
While the Northern Lehigh boys' basketball team is trying to do the same, the Bulldogs are also playing for something bigger. Something that can't be notched in a 'W' or 'L' column, or hoisted above their heads in triumph.
No, the Bulldogs are playing out their 2012-13 season in remembrance of one of their own. And their tribute can be seen every time they take the floor.
At the end of last season, Denise Pierce, the mother of senior forward Lucas Pierce, passed away after losing her 19-month battle with brain cancer. She was able to attend some early-season games, but became too ill to make it to any more after the Christmas break. She was able to hold on until the season was over, but passed away about two weeks after the team's final game.
While she was alive the Slatington community tried its best to help out in any way possible. The town came together and held two or three fund raisers, including a spaghetti dinner that raised thousands of dollars to help off-set the cost of Denise's medical bills.
Before the start of this season, Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller came up with another way to honor Lucas's mother.
"I thought we could wear a gray strap with the initials 'DP' embroidered in purple," said Miller. "It is a velcro band that the players can attach to the upper part of their jerseys. Gray is the color associated with brain cancer so that's why we decided to go with that color.
"I actually didn't approach Lucas about the idea. I went to our other two seniors Caleb Johnson and Josh Eden and asked them what they thought about it. Caleb is especially tight with Luke and they were both all for it."
It wasn't until a few minutes before Northern Lehigh's home-opener against Northwestern on Friday, Dec. 14 that Lucas found out what his coaches and teammates had decided to do.
"I didn't know they had the bands done until like 15 minutes before the game," said Lucas, whose band says 'Mom.' "I was surprised. I had planned on wearing my shoes and a wristband, but nothing as a team. It was very unexpected and it meant a lot to me. It was nice.
"It just goes to show the type of community I have. Slatington is a great town and I couldn't ask for a better place to live. Everyone treats you like their own grandchild. I have had people I don't even know come up to me and say that if I ever needed anything to just ask. Everyone has been so supportive."
So far the bands have been smooth sailing with PIAA officials. One official did ask Lucas to take off his wristband before one game. But once Miller explained the situation and meaning behind the band the official let it go.
Northern Lehigh has raced out to a 9-4 record thus far - good for second in the TIMES NEWS area. The 'Dawgs 5-4 Colonial League record has them tied for second in the North Division. Whether the commemorative bans have anything to do with it is anyone's guess, but there is no denying the fact that they have brought everyone closer together.
"I have a really good group of kids," Miller said. "They were a close group to begin with, but I think this has brought them even closer. There have been some times where Luke would have some troubles at practice, but everyone understood his situation and was there to help.
"Everybody has been pleased with the bands. All the guys make sure they have them on before they come out of the locker room. It is something we can all get behind."
As for Lucas, he just wants everyone to know how thankful he is for everyone's cares and concerns. However, he admitted that he does look forward to practice and games since it is his time to 'get away.'
"Basketball has been a huge instrument in me getting through all of this," said the reigning TIMES NEWS Player of the Year. "Sometimes it's tough being home or having people asking me how I am doing. It's nice to be able to get away. It's nice to get to be a kid for two hours a day.
"I just want to say thank you to the team for always being there for me. They never pitied me and that's exactly what I don't want. They have treated me like just another kid. It's a sense of normalcy and that's what I need."
RAIDER TIME ... There's excitement in the air for the first time in a while around the Tamaqua boys basketball program. With their win over Panther Valley on Monday night, the Blue Raiders are one win away from hitting the 1,000-victory mark in the program's history.
The Raiders travel to North Schuylkill on Friday, host Blue Mountain next Tuesday, Pottsville on Friday, Jan. 25 and Palmerton on Saturday, Jan. 26 before hitting the road for four straight games (Tuesday, Jan. 29 at Pine Grove; Thursday, Jan. 31 at Lincoln Leadership Academy; Saturday, Feb. 2 at Lehighton and Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Jim Thorpe). The Raiders, who need two more wins to qualify for districts, end the season at home with Panther Valley on Friday, Feb. 8.
Tamaqua's all-time winningest coach was Eli "Pinky" Purnell with 282 wins and 272 losses. Purnell coached from 1934-42 and returned as head coach from 1950-68. Ed Wise, who coached from 1982-89 is the second winningest coach with 131 wins and 62 losses.
The win at PV also ended a 12-game losing streak for the Raiders against the Panthers. The last Tamaqua win over PV was back on Dec. 28, 2005 in the Raider Holiday Classic by a 59-57 score. It was Pat McCall's first win as Tamaqua coach as Jared Edmonds scored all 13 of his points in the second half and Mark Mazur added 15.
NEARING 1500 ... The Marian boys basketball team is nearing a milestone game in the program's history.
Veteran Colt scorekeeper and record-keeping historian Mark Keip said that Marian is on the verge of playing the 1,500th game in its history.
Marian entered this season with an all-time record of 904-580. The Colts are currently 11-3 this season, which improves that mark to 915-583 (a .611 winning percentage).
Barring postponements, the Colts are scheduled to play Jim Thorpe tonight and will then play their 1,500th game on Friday at Schuylkill Haven.