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HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL: Memory of Dillon motivates Drifters
Colonial Beach girls basketball coach Keith Dickerson was watching the Drifters’ volleyball team practice in 2012 when he noticed a lanky senior transfer on the court.
Dickerson immediately approached Chandale Dillon about joining his basketball program because he believed her height (5-foot-9) would be an asset for the Drifters.
There was just one problem: Dillon said she didn’t know how to play.
Dillon joined the Drifters anyway for the camaraderie of being on an athletic team, but never sought playing time.
“We were playing [Washington & Lee] and she never wanted to go into the game,” Dickerson recalled. “I said, ‘Chandale, are you ready?’ She said, ‘Wait, how’s my hair?’ It was moments like those that really brought personality to our team.”
Dillon was still an integral part of the Colonial Beach program after she graduated in 2013. So when she died in a car accident on Jan. 8 at age 18, it left this year’s Drifters heartbroken.
Dillon’s memory has served as motivation for Colonial Beach as it has made a second consecutive run to the state tournament.
The Drifters (21–2), who won Conference 43 regular season and tournament titles, will play Honaker (23–4) today at 2:45 p.m. in the Group 1A state semifinals at the University of Virginia–Wise.
“I think about her every day because she and I were really close,” Drifters senior guard Billie Gould said. “We spent time together almost every day. Her loss had a really big impact on the team because anything we needed, she was always there for us.”
Dillon was attending Paul Mitchell, a cosmetology school in Woodbridge, at the time of her death. She didn’t have classes on Mondays, so she visited her former teammates at Colonial Beach practices. She often brought them food from her favorite eatery, Chipotle.
“I’ve never seen a girl eat a whole burrito by herself,” Gould said. “But she could finish it.”
On game nights, Dillon would give the team hugs and pep talks in the locker room beforehand and congratulate them after big victories. Dickerson said it’s rare for a former player to remain so close to a team.
“I think it was touching,” Colonial Beach senior Kora Herrod said of Dillon’s presence after she graduated. “She really did care about the team. She thought that just her presence alone could inspire us or make us play like we mean something. She was almost motherly.”
Dickerson said Dillon remained so close with the team because it became a family for her when she transferred to Colonial Beach as a senior. Dillon previously attended King George and South Spencer High in Indiana, where she participated on its track and field team.
Dickerson said the weekend before her death, which occurred on a Wednesday, Dillon requested to visit his Colonial Beach home to indulge in his fried chicken, which is popular among the team.
“We made her feel like family because she was,” Dickerson said. “She said she wasn’t accustomed to that at any other school she had been to. We made her feel at home and warm and she became one of us.”
The news of Dillon’s passing spread quickly among team members. Many wanted to leave school when they learned of it. But Dickerson insisted the team deal with it together. Dickerson, who works at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, visited the school immediately and called the players into the locker room to express their emotions.
“We sat down for a half-hour, 45 minutes and just allowed them to vent, to get the emotions out,” Dickerson said. “It’s healthy. You can’t keep it in. We got together as a family and we bonded because we needed each other at that time.”
Dickerson spoke at the Drifters’ first game following Dillon’s death and told the crowd she was “a heaven-sent angel amongst us on earth.”
Gould said Dillon was known for flashing a wide smile and her “outrageous” laugh. Dickerson said she was so beautiful “she could’ve been a model.”
The Drifters have honored her this season by holding up two fingers on their left hand during the national anthem to symbolize the No. 2 she wore last season. They have also kept a photograph of Dillon on the bench during the game.
Gould, who lost her father in 2009, said Dillon’s death is just one tragedy that has affected the team. Leading scorer Sydni Carey transferred to Colonial Beach from Hanover High this school year to help take care of her ailing grandmother, who died in September.
“We’ve dedicated the season to Chandale and I’m sure Sydni is dedicating the season to her grandmother, too,” Gould said. “It’s our motivation to keep pushing.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526
Friday’s state semifinal
Today’s semifinal At UVA–Wise
Honaker vs. Colonial Beach, 2:45
March 15 state final at VCU
Semifinal winners, noon