Standing at center court during Monday’s night Kentucky exhibition game against Transylvania, George Goodwin could barely keep tears out of his eyes as the crowd at Rupp Arena gave him a thumbs up.
“I’m getting teary-eyed right now,” George said Tuesday morning, his voice wavering with emotions as he recalled seeing the crowd of 20,762 rise as the announcer introduced him as the father of Lane Goodwin, who recently died after a two-and-a-half year battle with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
Lane Goodwin, a die-hard Kentucky fan and native of Beech Grove, Ky., was the source of a viral Facebook campaign – “Thumbs Up For Lane” – to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. Nearly 400,000 fans joined a Facebook page dedicated to 13-year-old Lane, and celebrities and people around the country, including John Calipari and several of his players, posted in pictures for Lane with a thumb up.
The campaign lived on Monday in Lane Goodwin’s memory through his father and family. A series of unlikely and heart-touching events brought George Goodwin to Lexington to serve as an assistant for the Kentucky basketball team for a day.
Originally, the opportunity to be an assistant coach was auctioned off at the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience in mid-September. After listening to a speech by ESPN analyst Dick Vitale at the fantasy experience and hearing about Lane’s story, the winner anonymously donated his coaching opportunity to George after his son died in the middle of October.
“I don’t know what to say other than I’m so thankful,” George said. “Hopefully, last night brought some awareness about cancer and helped unify people. If just one person goes home and hugs their kid after that, than it was worthwhile to me.”
George got to spend the day with Coach Cal and his team, starting with shoot-around Monday afternoon. There, George said he got a new appreciation for the hard work the Cats put in.
“I learned a lot,” George said. “Just to watch how they prepare was almost as good as the game. Watching the coaching staff do their job … when you watch an expert do something, they make it look easy, but it’s incredibly hard what they do.”
George continued his day by eating the pregame meal with the team and got a first-hand view for how they prep for the game when assistant coach John Robic broke down the game film for Transylvania.
“The coaching staff was awesome,” George said. “I can see why these kids come to the University of Kentucky. They’re looking at a great staff, as well as great people that are willing to learn, teach and excel.”
George and the team moved to the Rupp Arena locker room to prep for the game, then George took his seat on the bench next to the team. He talked to assistant coach Orlando Antigua throughout warm-ups and huddled around the team during timeouts.
“It’s a hard deal,” Coach Cal said after his team defeated Transylvania. “He lost his son. But I think this was fun for him. Probably wasn’t fun in the first half. He had to sit there near me. May have been fun for him after. But nice man.”
George’s wife and other son, Landen, sat on front row seats just behind him, courtesy of Big Blue Nation Cares, an organization that provides UK?basketball and football tickets to special fans.
“It’s going to be hard to watch the game on the TV after seeing it from the floor,” George said.
George was introduced at midcourt at the first timeout and given a standing ovation and thumbs up from the crowd in honor of his so
“My wife and son were crying,” said George, who gave a thumbs up back to the crowd. “I was about to cry, so I blew her a kiss. It’s the only way I’m keeping from crying.”
George said he was hopeful that the night brought some awareness and attention to his son’s cause, which he and his family had been working for since its inception.
The campaign to bring awareness to pediatric cancer started because of Lane’s indomitable spirit during his fight and his signature thumbs-up pose that could be seen in many of his Facebook pictures.
“It started because all his pictures,” George said. “He’s always doing the thumbs up. That’s just the way he was. He never complained, never stopped. Could be as sick as a dog, I’d run in, ask if he’s OK, he’d give me a thumbs up and say he’s got this.”
After a trip to the hospital that Lane’s parents thought may be their last time with their son, a friend of Lane’s on Facebook began to spread the word, asking people to send pictures giving him a thumbs up to show their support.
Celebrities, friends and more were soon sending pictures to Lane’s Facebook page, which the Goodwins discovered after returning home with Lane.
George said that he and his family are moving forward with the campaign in Lane’s honor and hope to spend their lives raising awareness for pediatric cancer. They have established the Thumbs Up for Lane Goodwin Childhood Cancer Foundation, Inc.
“Everything is almost set up with the foundation,” George said, “so we can move forward and just start doing anything and everything possible to raise awareness, to raise funds for research and families, and do whatever we can.
The campaign, “Thumbs Up For Lane,” can be found at ThumbsUpForLane.org