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After Derby High assistant principal Alison Strecker asked to see Tor’e Alford on April 20, 2017, Alford, then a sophomore, thought she was in trouble.
It was so much worse.
“They told me (my dad) had a heart attack,” Alford said. “… I had dropped my mom off at the hospital to go find my brother at (Wichita) East High when my mom called me. She’s yelling and crying, ‘come back, come back!’ When I get there, they told me he’s dead. “There was nothing I could do. I just sat in the chair and cried. I threw a couple tissue boxes. I punched the couch. He’s a healthy person. He played basketball with kids every day.”
But 20 months ago, Amos Alford, suffered a fatal heart attack while playing basketball. Amos was a longtime East boys basketball assistant coach and also a security officer at Griffenstein Wells, an alternative school in Wichita. His death devastated the Alford's. “He had an influence on anybody,” said his wife, Nancy. “It wasn’t just a kid. It was any and everybody. He always had an answer for everything and tried to have a solution.
Basketball has long been the chosen conversation topic for the Alford family. Amos Sr. played at Coffeyville Community College and Pittsburg State. He also played overseas. Tor’e, a senior, is a standout point guard for Derby, where she helped lead the Panthers to the 2018 Class 6A title. She has signed to play at Missouri State and is a key to Derby’s unbeaten start in December. Amos Jr., is a junior at East, where he has established himself as a scoring threat, especially from the perimeter. Both wear No. 24, the same number Amos Sr. wore.
“He would talk about basketball every day of your life and nag you about it,” Amos Jr. said. “Literally, you wake up, and it’s basketball. You go to sleep, and it’s basketball. You eat dinner, it’s basketball.” Tor’e added: “He’s probably the reason me and my brother do play basketball. … We’ve been playing our whole lives. There’s like three basketball goals in the backyard, two in the front. “We play the old-school way – when the street light is on, we put the goal under the street light. We’d play five on five, all night, often until 2 a.m. It was mainly guys and then me.”
Tor’e is a pass-first player with the ability to drop a no-look pass with ease. Amos Jr. is a scorer, who uses his lean, 6-foot-3 frame, to take advantage of mismatches on the perimeter.
Amos Sr. coached Tor’e and Amos Jr. – who also goes by the nickname Munch – in the summers. Amos Jr. played up a year on the same team with Tor’e for at least three years. It was the family’s favorite time. “We were all there together,” Nancy said.
And it’s also when Tor’e saw her game flourish even more. “When I was younger, I was too big and they couldn’t do anything with me,” Tor’e said. “As I got older, and they had more height and speed, I had to work at it to stay in front of them. (My dad) treated me like I was one of them, expected me to stay in front of my man, stop the defender, hit the open shot.”
Losing Amos Sr. devastated Tor’e, Amos Jr. and Nancy. But it has not destroyed them. After talking about his death for this story, Tor’e and Nancy sat in the car and cried. Nancy was at the gravesite as she recalled that she feels like her family lost the year following Amos Sr.’s death. “It’s sad to say, but I wonder why (God) didn’t just take me and leave him,” Nancy said. He’s not here to see that Tor’e still isn’t shooting as much as he wanted, that her no-look passes still confuse defenses and that she’s set on a 6A repeat. He’s not here to see Amos Jr. helping East to a 4-1 record in December. To see him getting quality varsity minutes and hitting big shots. While Nancy prays and wishes Amos Sr. was still here, she’s thankful her children had the time they did with him. And they’re sticking together.
While Tor’e plays in the AVCTL, she only missed one of Amos Jr.’s City League games in December. “We are actually really close,” Tor’e said. “I’d do anything for him, and I feel that he’d do anything for me. It’s always been that way.”
Amos Sr. still drives the two. Nancy makes sure of that. “I tell them that they’re not doing it for themselves or for me – they’re doing it for their father. He’d want to see them finish it out,” Nancy said.
Amos Jr. is motivated by his father’s memory. “Every time I don’t want to go to practice or anything, I think about what he would do,” Amos Jr. said. “He’d get up and go regardless. He’d want me to be hungry, to get it done.” Tor’e had a similar response. “Everything I do is for my dad,” she said. “Let’s say I’m about to play a game, I think that I’m going to play this for him. Or when I don’t want to wake up in the morning, I go to school for him.”
And Amos Sr. would be proud of his children. “I think he’d be proud of how she has grown as a player and as a person,” Amos Jr. said of his sister. “She’s stronger. She goes out of her way to be a good person. She’s shooting the ball way better and more confidently.” As for how Amos Sr. would feel about his son, Tor’e said he’d probably be surprised. “Just how he’s playing in the varsity game,” Tor’e said. “Honestly, it caught me by surprise. He’s D-ing up, he’s shooting it well, he’s dribbling, he’s getting steals, taking charges. I think he’s doing great.”