'Tis the season: Stories of personal triumph inspire thanks

Thanksgiving is more eclipsed by Christmas every year. Our town’s Christmas lights went up the week after Halloween. But this year, Thanksgiving shall not pass uncelebrated. Here’s the story of two people who make me thankful, although I don't know either personally.

I’m thankful Josh Hamilton made it through another year. The Ranger’s struggle with drugs is well known. Hamilton began his baseball career a superstar draft pick, then was injured two years later. His ensuing struggle with drugs earned him an indefinite ban from baseball, alienated his wife and stepdaughter, and sent him on a crack binge that nearly killed him.

Hamilton’s journey back to sobriety was miraculous, and though he slipped a time or two, he still has what it takes to be a great baseball player and person. For Hamilton, who is drug-tested three times a week, ending this season sober is a testament to how strong his personal miracle is.

Not only was Josh Hamilton injured early this season, but on July 7 a fan died after attempting to catch a foul ball he threw into the stands. If ever there were a time for Hamilton to succumb to his demons, it would have been then. And while it must have been gratifying to end the 2011 season playing in his second consecutive World Series, Hamilton is undoubtedly more thankful for his sobriety and all its gifts than for any ring.


I know far less about Betty Lou Naff Cress than I do about Hamilton. Her obituary reveals she was from Marion, one of five children, mother of two, a loving wife of 53 years, and a Christian. But what makes her someone every sports fan would have been thankful to know: when it came to UVA basketball, Cress wasn’t just a fan. She was a super-fan.

In 1970, Barry Parkhill almost single-handedly transformed Virginia into a winning team after 16 consecutive losing seasons. From that year to 2010, Cress never missed a single Virginia home game or postseason appearance, regardless of location– not even when Alzheimer’s had gotten the better of her.

Remember December 11, 1982, the big game between Georgetown (Patrick Ewing) and Virginia (Ralph Sampson)? The game Virginia won 68-63? The game ticket-holders had to watch on TV because a storm dumped 10 inches of snow in the Washington area where the game was being played? Charlottesville's Betty Cress was there.

And she was there 28 years later, on December 20, 2010, when Virginia beat Norfolk State 50-49. She sang the national anthem and was happy to be at John Paul Jones Arena, but when UVA won, she didn’t know it. When her husband stood to leave, she asked, “Is the game over?” Alzheimer’s had taken her awareness, but not her love for her Cavaliers.

Cress died June 19 this year, and her husband, Roy, says that facing this year’s basketball season without her is unimaginable. But her presence endures, not just in her closet full of UVA attire, by in what Mr. Cress called her “Wahoo bathroom,” a room so full of memorabilia that it should be enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, much like Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian.

I never had the privilege of meeting Betty Cress, but the purity of her love for UVA basketball isn’t just an inspiration, it’s humbling. When people quibble and get ugly with one another, I hope to remember Betty Cress and be thankful for the example of her pure and passionate sportsmanship no matter the circumstances.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son and many dogs.


Correction: The print version of this story contained an error in the location of the big Virginia-Georgetown game. It was played in the Washington area, not in Richmond (specifically, in the now demolished Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland). This online archived edition corrects the error.

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Sigh. Another column from the "doctor," another error. The UVA-Georgetown game was at the Cap Centre, not in Richmond. Do y'all need a fact-checker over there for her stories? The local option story was just wrong about VT not being on television when it was on the ACC Network. I'll say one thing for her columns, they're certainly good for comments.

RIP, Mrs. Cress. You'll be missed.

You cant mention Barry Parkhill without giving guard Andrew Boninti the same billing.