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Darrell Huckaby - A tribute to two Jeffs

There is a wonderful restaurant in New Orleans called Tujaques. It is down near the French Market on Decatur Street, just a stone's throw from the Café du Monde, where they have those wonderful beignets and café au lait.

My family and I last ate at Tujaques on New Year's Eve. My daughter's boyfriend broke a crab shell and sprayed boiled crab all over my boss' hundred dollar sweater. Not my lovely wife, Lisa. One of my other bosses. Our wonderful evening at Tujaques came to mind Monday as I watched New Orleans battle yet another hurricane. But the hurricane isn't what's on my mind today.

Neither is Tujaques, either, really - except for its pronunciation. The word, which is presumably French, is pronounced "Two Jacks." Like one Jack and then another Jack.

Well, today I don't have two Jacks on my mind, but I do have two Jeffs on my mind - and have for a while now. Several times I have considered mentioning one or both in this space but just wasn't sure if I should. Events of the past weekend convinced me that it is the thing to do.

The two Jeffs that I am talking about are both very visible and very important members of our community. Ironically, both are involved in the world of sports. One coaches sports and the other writes about sports. And both are battling cancer right now, so I have been discussing the "two Jeffs" with God on a daily basis for a while now.

Jeff Blount is a Salem High School coach who has been around these parts for as long as I can remember. He is one of those people that you just happen to run into wherever you go. You've seen him, even if you didn't realize it. He is the guy with the platinum blonde hair and one of the few people around whose belly protruded further beyond his belt than mine did, and wherever young people were playing baseball or basketball or football, there he would be also.

The first time I got to know him other than by sight was when I started trying to coach my son's recreation basketball team. I was a terrible coach, and Jeff, who refereed most of our games, was at least as bad an official. But we both were doing what we did because we loved kids and wanted them to have the opportunity to enjoy the game, so we tolerated one another and formed a bond which became the basis of our friendship.

Coach Blount has been battling cancer for a while now. He has lost lots and lots of weight so his belly no longer protrudes and the treatments he has had to take have taken their toll on his platinum hair. You might have noticed that there have been several benefits around town recently on behalf of him and his family. I have, as I said, prayed for him daily for many months but had not seen him until last Friday's Heritage-Salem game.

I ran into him in the press box and got a chance to visit. He was incredibly upbeat. He told me that he was just starting radiation treatment and would then undergo stem cell treatment. He is putting a lot of faith in the stem cells, but even more in prayer. He is determined to win his fight and I am positive that he would appreciate having each of you as a prayer warrior on his behalf.

And at the other end of the press box sat Jeff Gillespie, sports editor of this very newspaper. But he is so much more than that to me. Jeff Gillespie is simply one of the finest human beings I have ever known, and I don't say that lightly.

I first met Jeff about 10 years ago when I was the girls' basketball coach at Heritage. I coached high school sports for almost 30 years and have been around many, many writers. None have been more fair or more positive or more accurate than Jeff. If he quotes you in the paper, you can be absolutely certain that what he writes is what you actually said. He's a big guy, too - from Pennsylvania, of all places - and knowing him has caused me to completely rearrange my thought process about Yankee-Americans.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Jeff Gillespie was diagnosed with cancer. He was pronounced cured before I even knew that he had it. When I found that out, I vowed to pay more attention to what was going on with my friends, no matter how rarely I actually saw them. And yet, I learned just a couple of weeks ago that Jeff has been diagnosed again. I realized it when I ran into him at a social function a couple of weeks ago and noticed that his hair was gone - again.

I am stupid about such things. I never know what to say, so I said nothing - which is certainly the wrong thing to say.

Well now I am saying that Jeff Blount and Jeff Gillespie are two great guys. I love them both and hope that each and every one of you will support them as they battle cancer with your thoughts and prayers - and in any other way you can think of. And when the two Jeffs are well, maybe we can all celebrate at Tujaques. And I'll buy.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.