SCHENECTADY — In some ways, Sondra Banks’ Saturday at Schenectady High School was a lot like so many before it.
She rooted for the Patriots basketball team, hugged some players afterward, then gave a few of them a ride to their homes.
“It’s nice that she could come,” Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said while the Patriots played Columbia in their home opener, which they won 69-66. “She still has a nice relationship with the players. She set up senior night last year. She’s been like their team mom.”
Banks lost her own son, two-year varsity player and June graduate Naylon Carrington, in an auto accident on Oct. 23, and while Suburban Council schools are not allowing fans to attend basketball games at this time as a COVID-19 precaution, Schenectady made an exception Saturday by extending an invitation to the ardent Patriots supporter. Under state and county guidelines, limited fan attendance is allowed, but area “high” risk high school sports contests are largely being played in spectator-free venues.
“She,” Boynton said, “is not a normal spectator.”
Banks sat alone at the Pat Riley Sports Center, on the side opposite the teams’ benches, while Schenectady was forging a win, using Facebook Live to stream the game to family and friends. On the opposite side of the gym, her son’s No. 2 jersey was draped over a chair as it had been at Troy High School when the Patriots lost their first game of the season Friday night.
The jersey will be present throughout the season on Schenectady’s bench.
“It was definitely a good feeling,” Banks, a 1994 Schenectady graduate, said of getting invited to Saturday’s game. “I spent many hours with these boys. It was an honor. It was definitely an honor. I’m definitely appreciative.”
“She has given unconditional support, and very close to me and the program,” Schenectady basketball coach John Miller said. “Having someone like that in your corner means a lot for a lot of different reasons.”
Carrington, who was making plans to play college basketball and study veterinary medicine at the time of his death, meant a lot to the Patriots program for a lot of different reasons.
“He was an honor roll student. He never missed practice. He maximized his talent,” Miller had said the day after Carrington died at the age of 18. “These are all examples we want our younger kids to follow.”
“We’re trying to make sure he’s [Carrington] proud of us and we accomplish what he wanted us to accomplish on and off the court,” Schenectady senior Chris Davis said after Saturday’s win.
On the court, Carrington was a capable scorer whose signature move was the floater in the lane. Schenectady junior Jahsean Haggray, Banks’ nephew, used such a shot during Saturday’s game. That didn’t go unnoticed.
“I saw that Naylon floater,” Banks said to Haggray after they shared a hug following the game. “He made a lot of points with that move.”
Carrington was an above-average defender who gave everything he had, and that trademark grit resonates with the current Patriots cast.
“It helps us play better,” Davis said of having Carrington’s jersey present at every game. “You look over to the sideline and it makes you want to go harder and work as a team.”
After being cut from several lower-level basketball teams at Schenectady, Carrington continued to hone his game and made varsity as an 11th-grader.
Banks said she often looks at the final posts Carrington put on his Facebook page. One from Oct. 20 reads, “Thank you for not giving up on me when I was not worthy of your love Jesus,” and another from Oct. 23, the day he died, reads, “God has a plan for you just have to wait.”
“It was definitely a blow,” Banks said of her son’s death. “He was just finding out who he was, and what his purpose was.”
Within Schenectady basketball, that purpose it turns out was to inspire with both action and words, and Miller has emphasized that Carrington’s character will not be forgotten by his program.
That, too, is what Carrington’s mother, the Patriots’ “team mom,” now wants to see.
“I want people to remember Naylon by his perseverance. His integrity. His willingness to never give up,” said Banks, a mother of four. “His love for animals and being a great teammate and friend. I want them to remember — I can’t put it all into words — to just know that it never stops and there is always room for improvement.”