Next weekend, the Newton and Conover communities will bond to help one its own.
A 3-on-3 charity basketball tournament is being organized for former Newton-Conover High School boys' basketball coach Steve Lytton, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
The "Play It Forward" tournament, which is 8 a.m. May 7 at Newton-Conover Middle School, will benefit Lytton in his fight against cancer.
The idea for the tournament was originally established by one of Lytton's relatives.
"His niece contacted me and wanted to do a fundraiser," said N-C Middle School assistant principal Shane Whitener. "We talked about ways to do a fundraiser, including a run. I told her we were thinking too small. This man loves basketball. He has been involved with basketball for over 30 years. So we decided to do a basketball tournament."
When Lytton found out his niece was organizing an event to benefit him and his ailment, he was pleasantly surprised.
"It is a very humbling thing," Lytton said. "I am just thankful that they want to do this for me. I am surprised more than anything else."
The goal set for the tournament is $5,000, and Whitener said the community opened up its hearts and wallets.
"We've had a great reception," Whitener said. "We've had people in the community call us and ask if they can make a donation. The community has been very gracious so far. We are optimistic we can reach our goal."
Lytton spent eight years at Newton-Conover High School, including four years as the head coach of the Red Devils from 2003-06. The last two years, he has been at Newton-Conover Middle School, where he's taught physical education and coached the boys' basketball program.
Whitener said that Lytton has a special relationship with the students at Newton-Conover Middle School that is unique on many levels.
"He is one of those people that I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about," Whitener said. "He is just very genuine and one of those people you don't see very often. His ability at 67 years old to create relationships with middle school-age kids is incredible. Even though he doesn't teach all 600 kids here, all 600 kids know who he is and love him to death. He has been a great asset for us here."
Lytton says making an impact in the lives of children is something he takes great pride in.
"I think having a chance to work with young people as a teacher and a coach is one of the greatest occupations a person can experience," Lytton said. "The number of people you have a chance to come into contact with, learn something from and give something to them that will help them in their tough days is incredible."
Some of Lytton's former players, including Julius and Adrian Powell, Marcus Shuford and Mike Harold, are returning to help with the fundraising effort by participating in the tournament.
"The relationship I had with coach (Lytton) was special," Shuford said. "He is a very classy guy. He taught me a lot of things, like not only how to become a better basketball player, but how to become a better person in life. I just feel honored to come back and help in his fundraiser. I just want to help him out and his family out because he did so much for us in high school."
The four-player teams' entry fee is $40.
For more information, please contact Shane Whitener at Newton-Conover Middle School at (828) 464-4221. To make a donation, contact Monica Lofland at (828) 464-4221.