There are many things people can say about Goodpasture girls basketball coach Joey Spann. That he has anything less than a fabulous sense of humor isn't one of them.
Just moments after suffering a heart attack on the court, Spann -- second from left in the photo above -- admitted that he relaxed in an ambulance ride to the hospital, secure in the knowledge that his team was ahead when he went down. Perhaps the only thing he wished he had taken care of before leaving the gym was the scoring edge; his Goodpasture team led 14-12 when he collapsed in front of the scorer's table during a regional quarterfinal playoff game against rival David Lipscomb (Tenn.) High on Feb. 25.
"That's the stupid coach side of you," Spann told the Nashville Tennessean. "The coach down at Wayne County is a cousin of mine, David Byrd. He sent me a card and in that he said, 'I don't understand. You're ahead. If you're behind, I understand the heart attack, but not when you're ahead.'"
As it was, Goodpasture fell in the rescheduled conclusion to the game, perhaps too distracted by the future health of its coach to focus on the game at hand. At the time, Spann was recovering following a quadruple bypass surgery at Vanderbilt Medical Center. The heart surgery also repaired an aneurysm that doctors said could have killed Spann in years down the road.
While the heart attack may have precipitated a less than ideal ending to Goodpasture's season, it helped build new bonds between two previously bitter Nashville rivals and gave players, parents and coaches a deeper sense of appreciation for the risks everyone faces on a daily basis.
Naturally, that was felt more keenly by Spann than any other.
"One guy said I was fortunate to get a glimpse of my funeral -- how people might react and I know it sounds silly, but there's a lot of truth in that," Spann told the Tennessean. "To see the support was pretty awesome.
"I didn't see any white lights or anything. I wasn't gone that long, but supposedly I was gone. For something as bad as this was, I was in the right place at the right time. It was the perfect storm in a positive manner. There were four or five nurses and my wife, Peggy, was one that was there. And they were cardiac nurses. My wife said she has been on response teams at the hospital that didn't work like they did. Had I been in another gym, I might not be here right now."
His recovery on steady pace -- he has already resumed teaching at the school -- Spann relayed to the Tennessean's Chip Cirillo that he would be back next season to coach … and keep both referees and opposing coaches on their toes.
"For the referees I'm going to hold my heart next year when they make some calls, so I'll milk it as much as I can," Spann joked to the Tennessean.