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Following two recent student deaths, basketball team lifts Virginia community's spirits

Fairfax (Va.) Woodson High star Eric Bowles celebrates with fellow students after a recent playoff win. (The Washington Post)
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Fairfax (Va.) Woodson High star Eric Bowles celebrates with fellow students after a recent playoff win. (The Washington Post)

The Fairfax (Va.) W.T. Woodson High boys' basketball team is doing its best to lift the spirits of a school community stricken by two student deaths in a three-day span during the regional tournament.

Still coping from the death of Woodson sophomore Jack Chen, who was reportedly struck by a commuter train on the morning after a thrilling quarterfinal win, Cavaliers coach Doug Craig and athletic director Dan Checkosky learned of another student's apparent suicide on the afternoon of the team's semifinal game two days later, according to a Washington Post feature on Woodson's triumph through tragedy.

“We’ve been through a lot of challenges, but this last one has taught us to stick together and we can work through any problem,” Woodson star guard Eric Bowles told The Washington Post. “Now we’re playing for something bigger and trying to win for the Woodson community.”

Ultimately, Craig and Checkosky opted not to alert the players before the semifinals. Many students could be seen openly weeping in the stands, according to the story. The range of emotions reached hysteria when Woodson seemingly sealed a trip to the state's round of eight as Herndon (Va.) missed the third of three free throws with less than two seconds remaining, and the Cavaliers crowd stormed the court.

Woodson was assessed a technical foul, according to The Washington Post. Herndon had a chane to send the game into double overtime, but missed the final free throw once again. This time, fans waited until the buzzer sounded to release their emotions. The scene plays out at the 4:00 mark of this video.

"Luckily, it didn't decide the game for us," Craig told The Washington Post, "and we're alive to play another day." That expression has new meaning for the Cavaliers now.

After the wild finish, Craig told his team the news of the second Woodson student's death. The players, many of whom were friends with the deceased, reportedly left the locker room in tears. The next night, they beat Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock in the regional finals. They play in the state semifinals on Saturday.

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