By LARRY VAUGHT
George Goodwin knows any Kentucky basketball fan would consider it the “thrill of a lifetime” to sit on the bench in Rupp Arena with UK coach John Calipari and his players, something he’ll get to do tonight when the Wildcats face Transylvania in an exhibition game.
However, for him it’s going to be even more special because of the emotions it will have after the recent death of his son, 13-year-old Lane Goodwin of Beech Grove, Ky. Lane Goodwin drew more than 300,000 fans to his Facebook page following his three-year battle with cancer.
An attendee at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp who submitted the top bid to be an assistant coach at a UK game this year worked through Big Blue Nation Cares — an organization that provides UK basketball and football tickets to special fans — to give his spot on the bench to George Goodwin in honor of his son’s memory after he was inspired by a speech ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale gave at John Calipari’s fantasy camp last summer.
The “Thumbs Up for Lane” campaign inspired many and FOX 56 news anchor Jennifer Palumbo even had her picture taken with Calipari’s team giving the “thumbs up” to Lane.
“I don’t even know what to say,” George Goodwin said. “I am certainly overwhelmed by it all. The only thing I have literally thought about, and I know this sounds crazy, is what to wear.”
No matter what he wears, he’ll have a gold ribbon on his shirt to honor his son’s memory. His wife, Angie, and other son, Landen, will also have front row seats for the game thanks to Big Blue Nation Cares as a result of a joint effort between BBNC members and former UK sports information director Russell Rice, a 2011 UK Hall of Fame inductee.
“To be honest, I am a little scared about it all,” George Goodwin said.
That’s because he remembers when Lane got a chance to share “Face time” with UK freshman Nerlens Noel and he advised his son what a “big deal” it was to talk to a future “championship-type guy” like Noel.
“Lane was okay and it went great, but I was so nervous,” George Goodwin said. “You look at these kids that come to play basketball at UK and think that they have to be ready to play and take care of school. After talking to Nerlens with my son, I see how great these guys are. I do not know Nerlens well, but I can say this is a nice, respectful young man and the type of kid you would be happy to invite for supper and talk to. I imagine all these kids are the same. I will be extremely humbled and polite — and also looking up to them all since I am only 6-foot tall.”
Goodwin isn’t sure what the crowd response might be like because he’s not sure fans will know who he is or why he’s on the bench.
“To be honest, I am still pretty emotional about losing Lane,” he said. “It a lot of people stand up and do the ‘thumbs up” or something, there is a very good chance I will cry. This has changed all our lives.
“My son and our family took the worst case scenario and tried to make it as positive as possible. When I start getting misty eyed walking down the hallway seeing his picture, I stop, take a deep breath, pray to keep my composure and keep on walking. I pray a lot and about half the time it is to God and half to Lane. It’s like, ‘Hey Lane, look at us’ and I talk to him. I am married to a mental health therapist, but she does not think I am crazy and what I do is understandable.
“I think at the game I am just going to be … I don’t even know. I am not the type to be scared or anything, but this is going to be so special for us all. It takes one heck of a man to coach at Kentucky. You are at the top level. To be able to sit with experts in their field and be part of this game is just great and I really appreciate what is being done for our family.”
He has no doubts that Lane will be watching everything tonight.
“It just makes me feel better inside knowing he is looking over me. I know my son is in a better place with God and is truly looking down on us and is still with us,” Goodwin said. “I know he’s looking over me daily and know he will be there in Rupp Arena with us. I am just a lucky guy. I have a strong, smart, beautiful wife, two great kids and a snappy haircut. Now I get to do something like this thanks to someone else’s generosity. It’s just hard to explain what that means.”